Computers, Information Technology, the Internet, Ethics, Society and Human Values

Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.

Queensborough Community College,  CUNY

Chapter 10 Information Technologies and

Professionalism and Professional Codes

Questions

Is software design and programming a profession? 

 

Is the operation of an information network a profession?

CASE  Steve Blouin is a lead software engineer for Database Solutions 

·          Who is responsible for the results of a software program?

·          Has Steve acted responsibly?  Explain your answer.

·          Has Richard acted responsibly?  Explain your answer.

·          Has IIS acted responsibly?  Explain your answer.

CASE What is the morally correct thing for Nancy to do?  Why? Nancy’s Dilemma -PROFESSIONALISM-Relationship-to-Employer  http://www.southernct.edu/organizations/rccs/textbook/addl_cases.html#nancy

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The following are remarks, reflections and responses to issues and questions related to this matters in this chapter.  Each offering is proceeded by the authors name and institutional affiliation.

 
How is moral responsibility to be determined for those who make computers, software, information networks, and set up and maintain the Internet and internet sites?  What role do the various codes of the various professions play in answering this?  Are the codes the basis for responsibility or are they a reflection of it?

Chris Murphy, CUNY, SPS, 2007

In its simplest manifestation moral responsibility can be seen in the individual relationships between people.  We can use ethical principles to apply moral values to actions.  However, with software designers, and creators of digital networks the interactions tend to be indirect and affect a larger populace.  In most cases you have groups of people working in conjunction to create digital information mediums on behalf of the companies they work for.  Though it might be possible to isolate each individual and apply moral values, and even pursue liability claims, it would be hard to levy a specific portion of blame as per each worker. Risser, drawing from Feinberg's “Typology of Collective Moral Responsibility Arrangements”, argues that we need to identify and develop ethical principles that address collective entities, such as corporations, as a whole.  More specifically he looks at the organizational structure of modern business and the distribution of power as a nature means to determine liability. In this way he believes that we can protect society to a greater extent while keeping the individual working for informed and aware of their accountability and responsibility to the public. 

It follows that organizations, in an attempt to maintain their ethical responsibility on the whole, have developed and implemented ethical codes.  This serves two purposes, one, to ensure that the moral responsibility of the organization is met, and two, that employees, on an individual basis, get the sense of responsibility implicit to a profession.  From this, not only do you get a more accountable organization, but also there is a general positive effect on the profession as a whole.  In essence we have organizations promoting professionalism through a code of ethics particular to their operating model. 

Codes, if determined properly, should come from ethical principles, which determine the good and in doing so our duty to act according to it.  Therefore, I would say that codes are the basis for our responsibility and not the reflection of it.  Responsibility in this sense is being accountable for some duty to some individual or group.  We cannot get the duty from the action because we would have to recognize it as a responsibility first to know it was a duty.  This reasoning runs in circles and I prefer not to chase my own tail.  Instead we must have principles to determine the responsibility and guide our actions accordingly.  So it is plain to see that these codes determine for us our responsibility.

 

Jack Friedman, CUNY, SPS, 2007

What are the professional responsibilities for those who make computers, software, information networks, and set up and maintain the Internet and internet sites?

How is moral responsibility to be determined for those who make computers, software, information networks, and set up and maintain the Internet and internet sites?  What role do the various codes of the various professions play in answering this?  Are the codes the basis for responsibility or are they a reflection of it?

An interesting approach to answer these questions is found here:                            

•     Ordinary citizens have ethical responsibilities

•     Professionals have extra ones:

o     Shun participation in deception

o     Avoid conflicts of interest with other obligations

o     Be faithful agent to client interests

o     Follow the ethical guidelines set by their profession http://courses.cs.vt.edu/professionalism/Ethics/notes.html

It certainly applies to what I would hope computer professionals would agree are their responsibilities. My only open question is whether there are any strict ethical guidelines for the profession. Certainly there are some, by various software engineering and design organizations, but each is a little different and none of them truly globally accepted. I think using this summary of responsibilities that we can conclude that computer professionals could use Utilitarian theories of benefiting the majority of society as a good reference point.

Another answer that would pertain equally to computer professionals comes from a similar discussion from the field of pharmacology. I’m not sure that computer professionals set of responsibilities are truly unique and as I read the following, found it hard to find differences in programming, designing or engineering of computer products or on the internet that would require a change from these principles.     

“Since each group of professionals has its own code of ethics, this is one place to start. you do not betray the trust expected by the public of a professional. But what is this trust expected of professionals? Trust means, firstly, that as a pharmacist you are expected to be honest in all your dealings with the public, not telling half truths or misleading patients or others. Secondly, as a professional you will be expected to keep promises. Professional judgment involves finding out all the facts of the situation, as far as possible, then based on these facts, determining the options or courses of action that are reasonable  there will be a need continually to update your existing knowledge and skills, as well as acquiring new ones.” http://www.pharmj.com/students/tp1999/professional.html

What these professional responsibilities have in common is that they are either derived from Utility or Kantian thought. None of these are Egoistic, as an Egoistic approach to professional responsibility would be hard for the public to accept as ethical. Because the public has certain expectations from those who call themselves professional or are members of a profession, there is a need to make moral decisions that rely more on Utility and not using people as a means to an end.

The ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct is an example of a code of professional responsibility for computing professionals. Because computers are unique and so much of what occurs from a program or internet site is so anonymous and invisible to the user, compliance to basic ethical concepts is even more important. I am only attaching selections from the entire document:

Preamble

“Commitment to ethical professional conduct is expected of every member (voting members, associate members, and student members) of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).”

“The Code and its supplemented Guidelines are intended to serve as a basis for ethical decision making in the conduct of professional work. Secondarily, they may serve as a basis for judging the merit of a formal complaint pertaining to violation of professional ethical standards.”

This preamble is important as it acts as an acknowledgement by the professional of adhering to these guidelines. Further, it provides those outside the profession a basis to complain about unethical behavior and ultimately litigate illegal behavior.

Listed next are the General Imperatives that make up the code:

“1.1 Contribute to society and human well-being.

This principle concerning the quality of life of all people affirms an obligation to protect fundamental human rights and to respect the diversity of all cultures. An essential aim of computing professionals is to minimize negative consequences of computing systems, including threats to health and safety. When designing or implementing systems, computing professionals must attempt to ensure that the products of their efforts will be used in socially responsible ways, will meet social needs, and will avoid harmful effects to health and welfare.

In addition to a safe social environment, human well-being includes a safe natural environment. Therefore, computing professionals who design and develop systems must be alert to, and make others aware of, any potential damage to the local or global environment.”

This imperative is based on both Utility and  Relativism as it speaks to both the good for society in general while recognizing cultural differences may exist.

“1.2 Avoid harm to others.

"Harm" means injury or negative consequences, such as undesirable loss of information, loss of property, property damage, or unwanted environmental impacts. This principle prohibits use of computing technology in ways that result in harm to any of the following: users, the general public, employees, employers. Harmful actions include intentional destruction or modification of files and programs leading to serious loss of resources or unnecessary expenditure of human resources such as the time and effort required to purge systems of "computer viruses."

Well-intended actions, including those that accomplish assigned duties, may lead to harm unexpectedly. In such an event the responsible person or persons are obligated to undo or mitigate the negative consequences as much as possible. One way to avoid unintentional harm is to carefully consider potential impacts on all those affected by decisions made during design and implementation.

To minimize the possibility of indirectly harming others, computing professionals must minimize malfunctions by following generally accepted standards for system design and testing. Furthermore, it is often necessary to assess the social consequences of systems to project the likelihood of any serious harm to others. If system features are misrepresented to users, coworkers, or supervisors, the individual computing professional is responsible for any resulting injury.

In the work environment the computing professional has the additional obligation to report any signs of system dangers that might result in serious personal or social damage. If one's superiors do not act to curtail or mitigate such dangers, it may be necessary to "blow the whistle" to help correct the problem or reduce the risk. However, capricious or misguided reporting of violations can, itself, be harmful. Before reporting violations, all relevant aspects of the incident must be thoroughly assessed. In particular, the assessment of risk and responsibility must be credible. It is suggested that advice be sought from other computing professionals.”

 This section is interesting because it recognizes that errors and unforeseen consequences are likely to occur, but that does not diminish the responsibility of those involved to accept accountability try and resolve the problem. Again, we can point to kantian or Utilitarian theories to support this imperative. 

“1.3 Be honest and trustworthy.

Honesty is an essential component of trust. Without trust an organization cannot function effectively. The honest computing professional will not make deliberately false or deceptive claims about a system or system design, but will instead provide full disclosure of all pertinent system limitations and problems.

A computer professional has a duty to be honest about his or her own qualifications, and about any circumstances that might lead to conflicts of interest.

Membership in volunteer organizations such as ACM may at times place individuals in situations where their statements or actions could be interpreted as carrying the "weight" of a larger group of professionals. An ACM member will exercise care to not misrepresent ACM or positions and policies of ACM or any ACM units.”

Honesty is a Categorical Imperative. It is one of those principles which crosses all borders, cultures and ethnicities. It is a value which any society would hope that their people used as a guiding force.

“1.4 Be fair and take action not to discriminate.

The values of equality, tolerance, respect for others, and the principles of equal justice govern this imperative. Discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, age, disability, national origin, or other such factors is an explicit violation of ACM policy and will not be tolerated.

Inequities between different groups of people may result from the use or misuse of information and technology. In a fair society, all individuals would have equal opportunity to participate in, or benefit from, the use of computer resources regardless of race, sex, religion, age, disability, national origin or other such similar factors. However, these ideals do not justify unauthorized use of computer resources nor do they provide an adequate basis for violation of any other ethical imperatives of this code.”

This can be supported by the maxi-min principle. Section 1.4 calls for justice for all without any minimization of justice to those who are different or perhaps disadvantaged.

“1.7 Respect the privacy of others.

Computing and communication technology enables the collection and exchange of personal information on a scale unprecedented in the history of civilization. Thus there is increased potential for violating the privacy of individuals and groups. It is the responsibility of professionals to maintain the privacy and integrity of data describing individuals. This includes taking precautions to ensure the accuracy of data, as well as protecting it from unauthorized access or accidental disclosure to inappropriate individuals. Furthermore, procedures must be established to allow individuals to review their records and correct inaccuracies.

This imperative implies that only the necessary amount of personal information be collected in a system, that retention and disposal periods for that information be clearly defined and enforced, and that personal information gathered for a specific purpose not be used for other purposes without consent of the individual(s). These principles apply to electronic communications, including electronic mail, and prohibit procedures that capture or monitor electronic user data, including messages, without the permission of users or bona fide authorization related to system operation and maintenance. User data observed during the normal duties of system operation and maintenance must be treated with strictest confidentiality, except in cases where it is evidence for the violation of law, organizational regulations, or this Code. In these cases, the nature or contents of that information must be disclosed only to proper authorities.

1.8 Honor confidentiality.

The principle of honesty extends to issues of confidentiality of information whenever one has made an explicit promise to honor confidentiality or, implicitly, when private information not directly related to the performance of one's duties becomes available. The ethical concern is to respect all obligations of confidentiality to employers, clients, and users unless discharged from such obligations by requirements of the law or other principles of this Code.”

As with 1.3, I believe privacy and confidentiality to be  basic values of all society. I believe that it is Categorical Imperative theory that supports everyone’s rights to a basic amount of privacy or at very least, the least intrusive means of obtaining personal information and confidentiality.

The entire second section deals with more specific professional responsibilities. These have to do more with personal behaviors and individual work ethic and expectations one would have from a professional. They are more job specific than section 1 and have lessto do with true core values.

“2.1 Strive to achieve the highest quality, effectiveness and dignity in both the process and products of professional work. 

2.2 Acquire and maintain professional competence.                                                                        2.3 Know and respect existing laws pertaining to professional work. 

2.4 Accept and provide appropriate professional review.                                                  

2.5 Give comprehensive and thorough evaluations of computer systems and their impacts, including analysis of possible risks.                                                                       

2.6 Honor contracts, agreements, and assigned responsibilities.                                              

2.7 Improve public understanding of computing and its consequences.                                  

2.8 Access computing and communication resources only when authorized to do so.”

Section 3 involves the part of profession and professionalism that speaks to the autonomy of the concept of a formal, regulating body. The background note speaks to the fact that there are other codes, besides the ACM code that have been established for computing professionals.

“BACKGROUND NOTE: This section draws extensively from the draft IFIP Code of Ethics, especially its sections on organizational ethics and international concerns. The ethical obligations of organizations tend to be neglected in most codes of professional conduct, perhaps because these codes are written from the perspective of the individual member. This dilemma is addressed by stating these imperatives from the perspective of the organizational leader. In this context "leader" is viewed as any organizational member who has leadership or educational responsibilities. These imperatives generally may apply to organizations as well as their leaders. In this context" organizations" are corporations, government agencies, and other "employers," as well as volunteer professional organizations.”

Finally, Section 4 concerns compliance. Part of being in an autonomous profession is the ability of others in that profession to enforce a manner of compliance. Basically, it state that if you don’t follow our rules or more importantly, subscribe to our ethical principles, you may be excluded from our organization.

“4.1 Uphold and promote the principles of this Code.

The future of the computing profession depends on both technical and ethical excellence. Not only is it important for ACM computing professionals to adhere to the principles expressed in this Code, each member should encourage and support adherence by other members.

4.2 Treat violations of this code as inconsistent with membership in the ACM.

Adherence of professionals to a code of ethics is largely a voluntary matter. However, if a member does not follow this code by engaging in gross misconduct, membership in ACM may be terminated.”                                                                                  http://www.acm.org/about/code-of-ethics

Tthere are many codes from various computing organizations. A draft of a Software Engineering Code of Ethics has been approved by the IEEE Computer Society and the Association for Computing Machinery as part of a joint activity on "Software Engineering as a Profession".  There is also the suggested "Software Code of Ethics" by the Software Publishers Association. http://courses.cs.vt.edu/~cs3604/lib/WorldCodes/WorldCodes.html

Unlike doctors who require licensing or lawyers who pass a bar exam, computer professionals have no such requirement. A specific position or employer may require that a worker must pass some exam, require some specific accreditation, or achieve a certain level of education or training. However, at this point, in the development of the computer profession, formalized licensing does not exist. That makes these various codes of conduct even more important. In order for someone to be a true professional, a basic recognition of an ethical code of conduct must be acknowledged. While these codes carry no legal enforcement, they are useful as a tool to the consumer when choosing a product and useful to an employer in selecting a potential candidate. We would hope that Egoism is not the sole ethical theory people in computing live by. That would be very dangerous. Rather, we see from the examples above that several different ethical theories can be used to support the imperatives found in these codes. 

Joseph Snellenberg, CUNY, SPS, 2007

“There are several professional roles that…might be called strongly differentiated (Goldman, 1980), that is, the role gives the role-holder powers and/or responsibilities that are exceptions to ordinary morality…The role of computer professional is not strongly differentiated. That is, when you become a computer professional, you do not acquire any special, socially recognized power or privilege by virtue of being a computer professional.”

--Johnson, Deborah G. Computer Ethics. Third Edition. Prentice Hall. Upper Saddle River, NJ. 2001. Pg. 57. 

“Most computer professionals must master an esoteric body of knowledge to do what they do…Some argue that computer science does not yet have its own body of knowledge; it relies on other fields (e.g., mathematics, engineering, physics). Others argue that computing does not really rely on a systematic or abstract body of knowledge and in this sense the body of knowledge on which it draws is not esoteric; rather computing relies on knowing how to do things. It is more application than science.”

--Johnson, Deborah G. Computer Ethics. Third Edition. Prentice Hall. Upper Saddle River, NJ. 2001. Pg. 64 

            I feel that the method of establishing moral responsibilities for those who work on computer and information technology should be based on what form of technology these people work on. While all forms of digital technology have a basic set of moral responsibilities, each form has its own unique set specifically created for the people who make them. For example, the moral responsibilities for a computer manufacturer are different from the moral responsibilities for an operator of an information network because the technology that the operator works on demands more ethical judgment and observation than the technology that the manufacturer works on. By creating moral responsibilities based on the technology itself rather than, say, the type of people who use the technology or the implementations of the technology, I feel that such codes can be the most effective because instead of looking at the target audience of the technology or how it will be used, such codes would look at the design of the technology and what its capabilities and limits are to judge how the people creating and maintaining such technology should conduct themselves on an ethical level.

            Since computer and information technology is a relatively new field of professional work (roughly 30 to 40 years old), the moral guidelines for both the related technologies and the people who design and maintain said technologies are not yet fully established. “While there is no single code of ethics binding all computer professionals, ACM and IEEE, as well as other more specialized computer professional organizations have codes, and they are relatively similar in what they specify as the responsibilities of computer professionals.” (Johnson, 65) There are some basic and generic moral guidelines that are “borrowed” from other professions and adapted for computer and information technology already in place. However, the individual technologies do not have their own personal set of ethical guidelines. For example, moral guidelines that apply to accounting are generally not the same as moral guidelines that apply to physical therapy. So why shouldn’t the same concept be applied to the sub-fields of computer and information technology? Each sub-field has its own unique kind of professional working on a particular form of technology; however, each form of technology can perform at different rates and can do their own different tasks and functions. Thus, one would think that software design and Web site maintenance have their own sets of moral responsibilities. This is not the case because software designers and Web site maintainers think differently, yet are seen as thinking along the same mindset.

            Computer manufacturers, for example, are unique in that while they deal with computer and information technology, their actual profession is—at first glance—similar to building a car or building a piece of furniture. To the untrained eye, building a computer appears to be simply taking a group of pieces and/or parts, putting them together in a pre-determined fashion, checking for defects, packaging the final product and shipping it out to consumers. However, unlike computers, cars and furniture do not help people interact and communicate with each other digitally. Because of this, computer manufacturers should be held to a significantly different set of moral codes than the ones that car manufacturers are held to. Even though on a physical level, these professions seem similar, these professions differ completely on an ethical level because of how the technologies manufactured are designed. Cars are designed to transport people from one destination to another in a more efficient manner, and not to do much else; computers are designed to help people communicate with each other digitally and efficiently, and do it from almost anywhere and with limited difficulty. Thus, the moral responsibilities of the people who make computers should not be a carbon copy of the moral responsibilities of a car manufacturer because by enforcing the wrong set of moral responsibilities, the risk of unethical practices runs high.

            In order to prevent unethical practices from occurring in the workplace, various professions have put in place professional codes designed to teach workers how to conduct themselves in a professional manner. Some of these codes refer to how an employee should dress or what kind of language they should not use in the workplace. Other codes are designed to set certain rules for the workers, like what time they should arrive in order to start the day or when their lunch break is. In terms of establishing moral responsibilities in the workplace, professional codes play a significant role in determining how moral responsibilities are set up for a certain profession. “Perhaps the most important function of a code of ethics is as a statement embodying the collective wisdom of members of the profession. You can read a code of ethics as a statement of what members of the profession, with many years of experience, have found to be the most important things to think about and do when working as a computer professional. The code expresses both the experience of many members and the consensus of many members.” (Johnson, 76)

            Professional codes are designed with the intention of teaching employees how to act professionally, thus, the codes influence how moral responsibilities are determined. For example, if the profession is software design, and the professional codes call for its workers to dress casually and be respectful to others and their opinions, then the moral responsibilities of that profession should emulate the professional codes in some form. The moral responsibilities for that kind of profession should look something like: design for the casual user, but make sure that the software can interact with anyone and not cause problems or difficulties. Here, the software is designed for the common user (dress casually), and is designed to interact with anyone and work smoothly (be respectful of others); in the moral responsibilities of the designers, their work and how they go about creating it is based upon how they act professionally, and their work reflects that professionalism.

            In terms of moral responsibilities for information networks, the responsibilities are similar to those of telephone companies in that information networks carry data and information from one point to another and cover a wide area. Because of what they carry, some of the moral responsibilities that apply to telephone companies also apply to information networks.  However, information networks have one significant difference from telephone companies: the area of coverage and how connected the network is. Unlike telephone companies, information networks are accessible from almost anywhere in the world and can transfer information to anyone who can access and use the network. Thus, there are additional moral responsibilities that come with the increased capabilities of an information network. Since information networks are able to perform more functions than telephone companies, the networks should not be simply held to the same regulations as telephone companies because information networks would be taken advantage of. For example, if an information network holds data on social security and the operators and users of that system are only limited to the same ethical rules as telephone operators, then the possibility of immoral behavior is increased because nothing is there to stop an individual from gaining access to someone else’s social security information and use it for malicious purposes. The reason an individual can get away with this kind of crime is because the individual feels that he has not violated any ethical responsibilities. For that reason, information networks have their own set of moral responsibilities, specifically designed for that kind of technology.

            The moral responsibilities created for operators of information networks, like those for computer manufacturers and software designers, are affected by the professional codes for that job. The operators are asked to act in a certain manner in regards to their work—that being if they see illegal behavior on the network, they have a moral duty to respond accordingly. If the illegal behavior is something like trolling, then the operators are required to contact the individual committing the offense and ask him to stop or face further punishment. If the illegal behavior is hacking, however, not only are the operators required to stop the hacker, but to also contact the appropriate authorities to arrest the hacker. On top of external network security responsibilities, operators of information networks have internal network responsibilities. In other words, these operators view information that is private and sensitive (depending on the network); as such, the operators are expected to treat that information accordingly. For example, if the network contains bank accounts, the operators are expected to not take the account information and use it for malicious purposes. Information networks are one form of computer and information technology that require the individuals overseeing the operation of the technology to have an increased hands-on role as dictated by the moral responsibilities for the individuals.

            The other form of computer and information technology that requires this level of hands-on control is the Internet, specifically the rules for the maintainers of the Internet and websites. Like information networks, the Internet covers a wide reaching area and has a near infinite amount of connection ports. Unlike information networks, the Internet has no equivalent in other forms of technology; as such, the moral responsibilities of Internet maintainers are not just pre-existing responsibilities from other professions and technologies customized for the Internet and websites because the Internet is so unique. The responsibilities of Internet and website maintainers are based on a different set of factors: public opinion, existing ethical wisdom, and to a lesser extent, customized pre-existing responsibilities and professional codes. The factors of public opinion and ethical wisdom play the largest roles in deciding the moral responsibilities for maintainers of the Internet, not professional codes like the other forms of computer and information technology. This is because of not only the uniqueness of the Internet, but because public opinion and ethical wisdom are important for deciding how new forms of technology should operate on a moral level.

            Public opinion matters in deciding moral responsibilities for new technologies is because the public usually has the final word on whether or not a new technology will be popular enough to demand a set of moral responsibilities be created. The Internet—in its early days—had very little regulation or moral responsibilities placed on it. When it became clear that not only were more and more people were using the Internet, but that some of the people using the Internet were potential criminals (people who had never committed a crime before but were using the Internet to commit one) or registered criminals, the alarm was sounded for the implementation of moral responsibilities for the Internet. Since the Internet was so new and original, there were very little pre-existing moral responsibilities used by other technologies as well as professional guidelines for various professions that could carry over to the Internet and still be enforceable. Thus, the only place left to turn was ethical wisdom for establishing the moral responsibilities of maintainers of the Internet and websites.

            With a completely different set of moral responsibilities, the Internet and website maintainers must follow a different method of acting professionally. What defines a professional Internet/website maintainer is how efficiently a maintainer can judge user behavior and how quickly a solution to a problem can be implemented. In most cases, a maintainer can respond to most problems with little or no difficulty, but when a brand new problem arises (like a new virus or Trojan), for example, a maintainer must do everything in his power to warn others and continue to find a solution. Failure to sufficiently warn the public could be seen as a lack of professionalism, depending on media’s spin on the problem or the public’s opinion on the matter. On top of this, maintainers of websites have an extra responsibility that does carry over from other technologies: user behavior monitoring and judgment. If a website user is acting improperly or disrespects the rules of a website, then a maintainer is required to step in and ask the owner of the website to control the problem and punish the user accordingly. If the maintainer and the owner are the same person, then the maintainer simply acts like the owner and takes the duty of punishing the user into his own hands.

            Professional codes do more than lay out a set of guidelines for employees. Professional codes are designed to be reflected in the work of employees as an example of what the profession looks like compared to other professions. For example, a profession with a laid-back set of professional guidelines will not look as appealing or trustworthy to most consumers when compared to a profession with a strong set of professional guidelines. This is because professional codes are the basis for moral responsibility; since these codes are what moral responsibilities are derived from, a company can establish itself on the marketplace by having a set of professional codes in place. “In effect, the code says to the public that this profession will serve the interests of the public and will adhere to certain standards of behavior as well as aspire to certain ideals. In making this statement, the profession wants to show it is worthy of trust as well as special status. In this way, the code also sets expectations; it informs employers and clients as well as the public of what to expect in their dealings with members of the profession.” (Johnson, 77) In the computer and information technology market, establishing your name is only half the battle; if you cannot prove to customers that you can not only deliver a reliable product, but can also act responsibly and professionally, you stand to lose potential customers and revenue.

            In the end, the moral responsibilities of the divisions of computer and information technology are not things that can be simply taken from other professions and slapped onto a computing profession. Computing professions are jobs that require a detailed look at what a form of technology can do because one form of technology does not do the same amount or types of functions as another form of technology. By failing to separate different areas of computing technology from not only each other, but from other professions as well, you can create a situation where it is possible for immoral practices to arise. The reason for this is that sinister people in those professions that must abide by the same codes regardless of what they do can claim that they broke no moral code because they followed the codes laid out for them, even though some of those codes cannot be applied to their profession. Overall, I feel that by treating each form of computing and information technology as a separate profession not just physically, but ethically as well, only then can effective moral responsibilities be created for those professions.

Jennifer Lowe, CUNY, SPS, 2007

It is difficult to compare the computing industry to any others out there.  It is in its infancy and changes occur daily.  When most professions evolve over time the computing industry is in a constant state of “revolution” (the changes happen quick and fast). With that it is very hard to determine what is right when every day there is a whole different set of rules.  There are going to be basic morals that we are going to expected to be adhered to (see below) but how do we handle the daily changes.  I think one way is to review how problems were handled in the past.

“Moral Exemplars

This section gives detailed stories of scientists and engineers in difficult circumstances who have demonstrated wisdom that enabled them to fulfill their responsibilities as scientists and engineers. Their actions provide guidance for others who want to do the right thing in circumstances that are similarly difficult. Many of our stories of moral leadership are illustrated with graphics   “   http://www.onlineethics.org/CMS/profpractice/exempindex.aspx

This link will give you access to see many stories of moral problems that came up and how they were handled.  It gives you some “food for thought”. This can help with potential issues which may happen in the future.

Most professional industries have some sort of code or “rulebook” to follow i.e. the medical profession has the Hippocratic Oath, the legal profession has the Bar Association, etc. Without rules there is no structure – no structure creates chaos.   The ACM has created “moral” guidelines that their members are required to follow (it is the Bar Association of the computing world). See below for its “General Moral Imperatives”.

1. General Moral Imperatives

As an ACM member I will . . .

1.1 Contribute to society and human well-being

This principle concerning the quality of life of all people affirms an obligation to protect fundamental human rights and to respect the diversity of all cultures. An essential aim of computing professionals is to minimize negative consequences of computing systems, including threats to health and safety. When designing or implementing systems, computing professionals must attempt to ensure that the products of their efforts will be used in socially responsible ways, will meet social needs, and will avoid harmful effects to health and welfare.

In addition to a safe social environment, human well-being includes a safe natural environment. Therefore, computing professionals who design and develop systems must be alert to, and make others aware of, any potential damage to the local or global environment.

1.2 Avoid harm to others

"Harm" means injury or negative consequences, such as undesirable loss of information, loss of property, property damage, or unwanted environmental impacts. This principle prohibits use of computing technology in ways that result in harm to any of the following: users, the general public, employees, employers. Harmful actions include intentional destruction or modification of files and programs leading to serious loss of resources or unnecessary expenditure of human resources such as the time and effort required to purge systems of computer viruses.

Well-intended actions, including those that accomplish assigned duties, may lead to harm unexpectedly. In such an event, the responsible person or persons are obligated to undo or mitigate the negative consequences as much as possible. One way to avoid unintentional harm is to carefully consider potential impacts on all those affected by decisions made during design and implementation.

To minimize the possibility of indirectly harming others, computing professionals must minimize malfunctions by following generally accepted standards for system design and testing. Furthermore, it is often necessary to assess the social consequences of systems to project the likelihood of any serious harm to others. If system features are misrepresented to users, coworkers, or supervisors, the individual computing professional is responsible for any resulting injury.

In the work environment, the computing professional has the additional obligation to report any signs of system dangers that might result in serious personal or social damage. If one's superiors do not act to curtail or mitigate such dangers, it may be necessary to "blow the whistle" to help correct the problem or reduce the risk. However, capricious or misguided reporting of violations can, itself, be harmful. Before reporting violations, all relevant aspects of the incident must be thoroughly assessed. In particular, the assessment of risk and responsibility must be credible. It is suggested that advice be sought from other computing professionals. (See principle 2.5 regarding thorough evaluations.)

1.3 Be honest and trustworthy

Honesty is an essential component of trust. Without trust an organization cannot function effectively. The honest computing professional will not make deliberately false or deceptive claims about a system or system design but will instead provide full disclosure of all pertinent system limitations and problems.

A computer professional has a duty to be honest about his or her own qualifications and about any circumstances that might lead to conflicts of interest.

Membership in volunteer organizations such as ACM may at times place individuals in situations where their statements or actions could be interpreted as carrying the "weight" of a larger group of professionals. An ACM member will exercise care to not misrepresent ACM or positions and policies of ACM or any ACM units.

1.4 Be fair and take action not to discriminate

The values of equality, tolerance, respect for others, and the principles of equal justice govern this imperative. Discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, age, disability, national origin, or other such factors is an explicit violation of ACM policy and will not be tolerated.

Inequities between different groups of people may result from the misuse of information and technology. In a fair society all individuals would have equal opportunity to participate in, or benefit from, the use of computer resources regardless of race, sex, religion, age, disability, national origin or other such similar factors. However, these ideals do not justify unauthorized use of computer resources nor do they provide an adequate basis for violation of any other ethical imperatives of this code.

1.5 Honor property rights including copyrights and patents

Violation of copyrights, patents, trade secrets and the terms of license agreements is prohibited by law in most circumstances. Even when software is not so protected, such violations are contrary to professional behavior. Copies of software should be made only with proper authorization. Unauthorized duplication of materials must not be condoned.

1.6 Give proper credit for intellectual property

Computing professionals are obligated to protect the integrity of intellectual property. Specifically, one must not take credit for other's ideas or work, even in cases where the work has not been explicitly protected, for example by copyright or patent.

1.7 Respect the privacy of others

Computing and communication technology enables the collection and exchange of personal information on a scale unprecedented in the history of civilization. Thus there is increased potential for violating the privacy of individuals and groups. It is the responsibility of professionals to maintain the privacy and integrity of data describing individuals. This includes taking precautions to ensure the accuracy of data, as well as protecting it from unauthorized access or accidental disclosure to inappropriate individuals. Furthermore, procedures must be established to allow individuals to review their records and correct inaccuracies.

This imperative implies that only the necessary amount of personal information be collected in a system, that retention and disposal periods for that information be clearly defined and enforced, and that personal information gathered for a specific purpose not be used for other purposes without consent of the individual(s). These principles apply to electronic communications, including electronic mail, and prohibit procedures that capture or monitor electronic user data, including messages, without the permission of users or bona fide authorization related to system operation and maintenance. User data observed during the normal duties of system operation and maintenance must be treated with strictest confidentiality except in cases where it is evidence for the violation of law, organizational regulations, or this code. In these cases, the nature or contents of that information must be disclosed only to proper authorities (See 1.9)

1.8 Honor Confidentiality

The principle of honesty extends to issues of confidentiality of information whenever one has made an explicit promise to honor confidentiality or, implicitly, when private information not directly related to the performance of one's duties becomes available. The ethical concern is to respect all obligations of confidentiality to employers, clients, and users unless discharged from such obligations by requirements of the law or other principles of this Code.”

http://www.onlineethics.org/CMS/profpractice/ethcodes/13411/ACM.aspx#gen 

I believe these codes to be both the basis for responsibility as well as a reflection.  As I’ve said previously this industry is in a constant state of flux. Rules and associations of professions that have been in existence gives the general “guidelines” of what is and is not morally correct.  For the computing world though the same rules do not apply.  As this industry changes so does the playing field and the rules of the game.  How issues are dealt with today will determine what the “morally correct” method will be tomorrow – learning from example (see Moral Exemplars above).

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Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution. ppecorino@qcc.cuny.edu                @copyright 2006 Philip A. Pecorino                       

Last updated 8-2006                                                              Return to Table of Contents