Why not just have a short list
of commandments to handle any situations arising from computer
technologies that present moral questions? Get a list of some really
basic rules and just apply them. Well consider the following such
list. Please note that no official group has put out this list nor
is it endorsed by any significant groups or authorities on anything.
It is simply offered here for your consideration in terms of the approach
and its limitations. No simple list could ever cover everything that
might arise nor does it make clear how it would be adapted to situations
not addressed directly in the original list.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF COMPUTER
created in 1992 by the
Computer Ethics Institute.
1. Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people.
2. Thou shalt not interfere with other people's computer work.
3. Thou shalt not snoop around in other people's files.
4. Thou shalt not use a computer to steal.
5. Thou shalt not use a computer to bear false witness.
6. Thou shalt not use or copy software for which you have not paid.
7. Thou shalt not use other people's computer resources without
8. Thou shalt not appropriate other people's intellectual output.
9. Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you
10. Thou shalt use a computer in ways that show consideration and
do you get such rules, or any like them, and you will have questions and
Humorous YouTube Feature
COMMENTARY ON THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF COMPUTER ETHICS
by N. Ben Fairweather
As with all short
codes of ethics, this code is short of detail of sorts which would give
practical guidance in many situations. This is an inevitable consequence
of the brevity that at the same time makes the code easy to remember and
It is easy to find
exceptions to the short dos and don'ts of the 'ten commandments' (see
below). The ease with which these can be found, described and repeated
gives rise to the possibility of generally good guidance falling into
unwarranted disrepute: indeed, every time such a short code of ethics
falls into unwarranted disrepute, the whole idea of acting morally is
brought into disrepute too.
The 'ten commandments'
might possibly be a useful starting point for computer ethics, but they
definitely are not a complete code - so just because you keep within the
ten commandments does not mean that what you are doing is OK (see other
'commentary'). For comparison, look at the "Software Engineering Code of
Ethics and Professional Practice (ACM/IEEE-CS)".
Additionally, some of
the 'ten commandments' appear to be decidedly trivial compared to the
others: yet the listing suggests that all ten are equally important.
1. Thou shalt not use
a computer to harm other people.
Is it just people that
we should not harm? What about the environment and animals (the
environment is clearly harmed by the production and use of computers,
and by the disposal of waste computers)?
2. Thou shalt not
interfere with other people's computer work.
3. Thou shalt not
snoop around in other people's files.
What if the 'other
people' are using the computer to do harm? Should we still refrain from
interfering? Should computer files be private even if they are being
used as part of a criminal conspiracy?
4. Thou shalt not use
a computer to steal.
5. Thou shalt not use
a computer to bear false witness.
What if stealing or
bearing false witness is the only way to prevent someone from doing a
much greater harm?
6. Thou shalt not use
or copy software for which you have not paid.
This is too
simplistic. Many of us use software on University or business computer
systems where somebody else has paid for us to use the software. Beyond
this, though, what if the software house that produced the software has
used immoral methods to gain an excessively large share of the software
market, which thus prevents competition, and enables it to over-charge
for software? Under these circumstances is it wrong to use or copy
software without paying the software house?
7. Thou shalt not use
other people's computer resources without authorization.
What if it is an
emergency, and the only way to stop a great harm is to use computer
resources without authorization?
8. Thou shalt not
appropriate other people's intellectual output.
Even here, it is
possible that somebody has a brilliant idea that can produce great
social benefit, but which will not be taken seriously if the true author
is known. By appropriating their intellectual output, society as a whole
will gain substantially.
9. Thou shalt think
about the social consequences of the program you write.
by action, is pointless. They must act upon those thoughts. Further, it
is not just in writing of software that thought of social consequences
and action should follow: although both are necessary in the writing of
10. Thou shalt use a
computer in ways that show consideration and respect.
There may be
situations in the world where more good can be done by not showing
respect for all, and the possibility of doing such good should not be
dismissed out of hand.
will guide humans in approaching and resolving conflicts over the morally
correct response to take to various situations where computer technologies
have presented problems or dilemmas involving moral concerns?
The answer to this question is ethical inquiry and the dialectical process
of thought that will be presented in the next chapter and in some of the
readings presented in and through this work. In this chapter there will be
more material on the nature of the discipline that has arisen within
Philosophy dealing with moral issues and the computer technologies.
turn to next section