Computer & Information Ethics
by Marsha Cook Woodbury, Ph.D
Department of Computer Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Copyright © 2002
Marsha Cook Woodbury
Stipes Publishing L.L.C.
204 West University Avenue
Champaign, Illinois 618210
0 READ ME.. 1
2 The Roots of Ethics 27
3 Decision Making and Professionalism 55
4 Cyber History and Cyber Etiquette ..85
5 Computer Crime and Infowar ...105
10 Big Myths About Copyright Explained.. .149
6 Information, Privacy, and the Law 157
7 Risk, Reliability, AI, and the Future . 209
8 E-commerce and Business Ethics ..249
9 Social Issues 289
Engineering Code of Ethics
and Professional Practice ..326
ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct .. .334
Glossary .. 344
Index .. ..348
The point of studying ethics is to continue learning about values and reasoning. Ethics not only helps to guide us with our actions; it helps us figure out why other people do what they do.
An ethics course is critically important, and we only need to look around us to see why. Computers not only grease the wheels of the information society, they help with weapons, airplanes, cars, motorcycles, microwaves, telephones, watches, laptops, and electronic organizers. The Internet is giving us more and faster international contact than anyone could have imagined even a decade ago.
Here are the key points to keep in mind when we "login" to computer and information ethics
We have to learn what computers do. That is the bottom line. We can discuss ethical issues in the abstract (What is theft? What is invading privacy?) However, this book is about computer and information ethics issues, and to understand what the issues are, we definitely need to comprehend the basics of what computers are, how they operate, and how they change and manipulate information. The flipside is that if we know only how computers work, then the time has come to grasp the other more critical dimension, the "who, what, how, when, where, and why" of computer and information ethics.
We will learn about ethics through the best means of all, practice. Just as we can improve a jump shot or trumpet playing, we can develop our moral reasoning. That is the whole purpose of this book. Moreover, by learning how to explain our reasoning to our coworkers or employers or employees, we will become more effective people.
Will we learn to be moral people by taking an ethics course? In a way, we will, because we will have the opportunity to grapple with issues in the safe environment of a classroom. By honing our skills, we ready ourselves for the tough choices in the professional world. We can have some stimulating debates, expressing ourselves in language that everyone around us can understand.
Who says ethical discussion must be dispassionate? We can show feelings and let others express theirs. It's OK. No one is automatically wrong because of tears in his eyes or right because of a commanding voice. Listen to the moral reasoning and go from there. Let everyone have a chance to articulate a position.
Learning to differentiate between an emotional disagreement and a name-calling or nonproductive exchange is essential to working with people from many cultures and backgrounds. We can learn how to gently move the conversation back on track when people stop using reason with one another.
We will practice some ground rules for discussing the pros and cons of our reasoning. That is what this book is for.
Keep in mind that people slip up. Occasionally, for the sake of convenience or short-term gain, we ignore some of the values that we hold near and dear. That makes us human.
Learning about ethics is not learning to be perfect (and perhaps robotic). Rather, the whole exercise of taking an ethics course is to raise our "ethical consciousness." Perhaps a not-so-hidden purpose is to broaden our understanding of society as a whole, and just how important ethical behavior is.
The ethical issues surrounding computers even affect people who eschew all electrical goods ‑ those people who use horses or bicycles for transport. These people, too, must live in a world threatened by computer error. Computers control such things as their personal information, voting and governance information, hazardous waste storage, and nuclear weapons launch. The lives of the Amish, and others who do not participate in technology, could take a rather nasty turn unless these people take some interest in the direction that technology is taking them, or that we, the more active participants, are taking technology.
Nuclear weapons are a distant threat; however, the penetration of the computer into modern life is rather like Rock 'n Roll. In 1950, there was no such musical category, and by 1990, we could visit the enormous Rock and Roll museum in Cleveland, Ohio. In the same way, computers were once so large that a single one filled an entire building on a university campus. Students would communicate with these gigantic machines via piles of punch cards, and few students even thought about the ethical use of such a massive and complex "thing." In those days, a course in computer and information ethics would have served only a handful of students. Worrying about the ethics of computer use would have been like worrying about the ethics of the Hoover Dam.
Taking time to think about computer and information ethics will not supply set answers to the choices we have to make, but it will prod us to reflect, ponder, evaluate, learn, and cogitate.
One teacher of a medical ethics course quit the job because so many students cheated on tests. Sounds rather depressing, and not the optimistic way to begin a book, and yet we do need to lighten up and learn to laugh about the complexity and perplexity of human behavior. Let us hope those medical students are not operating on us, and let us hope we will not try to slide through this course, but take up the challenge to learn something new.