Overview of ethics and information technology


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This module provide an overview of Ethical Theories and how these are used when making decisions. There is an Information Technology focus in the slides.

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Overview of ethics and information technology

  2. 2. Contents 2 Objectives What are Ethics? Historical Determinants Contemporary Views General Ideas Legality Guidelines Codes of Ethics Computing Issues
  3. 3. Objectives of this resource 3 To provide a foundational understanding of ethical theory To provide a process for analysing ethical situations and for making decisions in response to them To provide the opportunity for students to consider some ethical circumstances involving Information Technology that have the potential to harm individuals, organisations, or society
  4. 4. Introduction: What are “Ethics”? 4 “The study of what it means to „do the right thing”  (A Gift of Fire: Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues for Computing Technology, (4th ed) Sara Baase p.333) “Making a principle-based choice between competing alternatives”  (Ethical decision making and information technology : an introduction with cases. E A Kallman & J P Grillo, p.3) Ethics comes from a Greek word meaning “usual” or “the instituted order”  Making principled decisions  Making defensible decisions
  5. 5. What are ethics? 5 Principles based on our understanding of what is good, right, proper, moral, or ethical. Ideas of behaviour that are commonly acceptable to society We are influenced by a variety of sources such as family, religious institutions, educational institutions, professional organisations, government, etc.
  6. 6. Why care about ethics? 6 Self-interest:  Some unethical actions are also illegal  Some can effect our careers and reputation For the interest of the others  Some unethical decisions can hurt other individuals, the organisation we work for, or society  Ethical decision making impacts on the type of society that is created  Ethical practices are a reflection of the factors that the members of a particular society place value on
  7. 7. What is Ethical Decision Making? 7 When faced with an ethical dilemma the objective is to make a judgment based on well-reasoned, defensible ethical principles The risk is poor judgment i.e. a low-quality decision A low-quality decision can have a wide range of negative consequences
  8. 8. Historical Determination of Ethics 8 Religious ethical Ten Commandments standards– Judaism, Christianity and Islam Divine Command Theory Good actions are those aligned with the will of God and bad actions are contrary to the will of God.Further Information on Christian Religion Beliefs
  9. 9. Historical Determination of Ethics 9 Community ethical standards. Usually a consensus interpretation of religious ethics but added to or modified where necessary Moral philosophers – Socrates and Plato – mused on the nature of men and of explanations for their actions More information about Socrates More information about Plato
  10. 10. Immanuel Kant 10 Philosopher. 1724 - 1804 Deontology Absolutism Kantian Ethics Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Deontology
  11. 11. Deontology 11 From the Greek word deon meaning “Duty” Etymology De (to disestablish connection). Ontos (Greek ontoV Meaning “being). Immanuel Kant‟s use of the word essentially means that we should “separate ourselves” and our own needs and preferences from our ethical decisions. Thus we do right as a matter of “duty”Our ethical methods and values should arise outside ourselves. They do not depend on humans for their existence.
  12. 12. Kant‟s Principles 12 Kantian Ethics – also known as Absolutism Based on the idea that the only consideration is the “Act” itself Actions are either intrinsically moral or not moral Decisions should be based on whether or not the action is a moral one
  13. 13. Kant‟s principles 131. The principle of CONSISTENCY: Judge your actions by considering the outcome should your action be made a universal law. (i.e. What if it was compulsory for everyone to do what you are doing?)2. The principle of RESPECT: Always consider human beings as ends in themselves, never as means to an end. (i.e. Treat others as valued people. Never just use them for your purposes.) This is Kant‟s principle of “respect”.3. The principle of DUTY: Actions performed out of a sense of duty (that also conform to 1 & 2 above) are morally praiseworthy actions.
  14. 14. Kant would say… 14 We have responsibilities and duties. Some things are “right” and some are “wrong” regardless of whether we agree or not. Doing “right” will not necessarily be to our advantage. In fact, whether an action is or is not to our advantage is a very poor way of judging its merits.
  15. 15. Strengths of Kantian ethics 15 In Theory it is based on “pure reason”:- Provides a much needed challenge to moral relativism. Facilitates ethics based on the big picture. What is seen as “hypothetical” is really a “logical extension” of consequences. Takes moral consequences seriously. Avoids problems caused by the complexity and diversity of human opinion, culture and need.
  16. 16. Challenges to Kantian ethics 16 “Pure reason”:- Lacks compassion. Leaves no flexibility to take human frailty and diversity into account. Offers a single moral solution to what is really a complex and diverse problem. Can be challenged as “essentially hypothetical”. Can be challenged as being simplistic.
  17. 17. Contemporary Ethical Theory 17 Emphasis on the individual rather than the community. Rights rather than duties or responsibilities. Harm minimisation. Relativism (rejection of external authority sources). Egoism Consequentialism. (Teleology = telos = goal)
  18. 18. Societal changes 18 A move from Absolutism to Relativism Similar shift in Ethics towards the consequentialist approach , where the focus is on the results or the consequences of the “Act”
  19. 19. Relativism 19 Relativism – No real distinction between truth and opinion. Right and wrong are relative to individual or community opinion. Subjective and Cultural  No standards or rules of behaviour can be reasonably applied at all times and all places.  Actions must be judged as moral depending on the time and culture in which they take place.  What is considered moral can change considerably over time within a culture.
  20. 20. Utilitarianism 20Act and Rule  Consequentialist theory  Attempts to determine whether an action is moral by considering the consequences.  Actions are moral if they create the greatest happiness (utility) for the greatest number of people.  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Utilitarianism
  21. 21. The Morality of Murder? Whats the right thing to do? Professor Michael Sandel at Harvard Law
  22. 22. Two Types of Ethical Choices 22 Right vs wrong: choosing right from wrong is the easiest Right vs right  Situation contains shades of gray i.e. all alternatives have desirable and undesirable results  Choosing “the lesser of two evils”  Objective: make a defensible decision
  23. 23. Choosing Right from Wrong 23 Examples:  Stealing  Lying  Murdering Society prohibits these acts Does the scale of the situation change things? Finders Keepers?
  24. 24. Scale Scale: Murder is murder. However, what about stealing? If you receive $100 in error in your bank account that you know is not yours, what do you do? What if it‟s $1,000? What if $100,000? What if $1? Finding things: Wallet with lots of money? Coins left in a phone box? Is Wrong a continuum from “badly wrong” to “not very wrong”? White lies? Telling the police you weren‟t speeding?
  25. 25. Choosing Right from Right Is it wrong to steal if your child is starving?  It is right not to steal. It is right not to allow your child to starve. Is it wrong to lie to an ill friend?  It is right to tell the truth. It is right to be optimistic when talking to a sick friend Ethical choice is often complex
  26. 26. Making Defensible Decisions 26 First step in ethical decision making is to recognise that an ethical dilemma exists “defensible decision”  Two well-meaning individuals can examine the same situation and arrive at different courses of action High-quality ethical decision: based on reason and can be defended according to ethical concepts Ethical decision making is not a science. It is however a skill -- a survival skill
  27. 27. Behavioural model for ethical decision making Govt/Legal Environment Work Legislation Social environment Administrative environment Corporate goals agencies Religious values Stated policy Judicial system Humanistic values Corporate culture Cultural values Societal valuesProfessional Decision Processenvironment Information acquisition Ethical behaviourCodes of conduct Information processing DecisionLicensing requirements Cognitive process Unethical behaviourProfessional relationships Percieved rewards Percieved losses Individual attributes Moral level Personal goals Motivation mechanism Position/status Personal Self concept environment Life experiances Peer group Personallity Family 27 Demographics
  28. 28. Ethics vs Legality 28 Actions can be  Ethical and legal  Ethical but Illegal  Not ethical but legal  Not ethical and Illegal If case in 1 or 4, decision is obvious If case in 2 or 3, or if law is not clear then further analysis is needed. If law provides answer, no further investigation is needed
  29. 29. Actions can be… 29 Ethical and Legal  Not Ethical and Not Legal  Using licensed s/w  Murder  Obeying speed limit  Sexual harassment  Buying s/w online, buying cd  Child porn Not Ethical and Legal  Downloading music  Gambling  Hacking any sites  Having an affair  Ethical and Not Legal  Prostitution  Vigilante stuff  Visiting adult porn web site  Political activism  strip clubs  Smacking
  30. 30. What is the Law‟s Place in Morality? 30Law is basically legislated morality. The purpose is to enforce penalties and sanctions upon those who do not act morally.Laws are usually enacted when either1. There is a need to restrain some morally harmful activity.2. There is a risk that people may do something morally harmful.3. When voluntary and professional restraints on morality either aren‟t working or the potential outcomes of immoral actions are sufficiently serious as to concern the whole community.
  31. 31. Progression from Morals to Law 31 Accepted Moral No legal force. However, these constraints behavioural constraints are agreed by “Community Consensus” and enforced by relational sanctions.Quasi legal authority. Enforced outside Professional Codes ofof the legal system. These behavioural Ethics & “Goodconstraints are agreed by the individual‟s Practice“Professional Body” and enforced byprofessional sanctions. Legal authority. Codified and enacted by Parliament. Enforced by the justice Legislative system. These moral constraints are Constraints on agreed by the whole community and business practice given “teeth” by the Law.
  32. 32. How is legislation developed? 32 Exercise:  Investigate the mechanisms in your society for the development of new Law. Discuss with friends and colleagues what opportunities you have to participate in this process.  Investigate the mechanisms in your society for the revision of existing Law. Discuss with friends and colleagues what opportunities you have to participate in this process.  Develop a plan for participation based on the mechanisms used locally.
  33. 33. What is the New Zealand Parliament? 33 The supreme legislative power  The Sovereign (Governor-General)  The House of Representatives Four main functions  Provide representation for the people  Pass the legislation  Scrutinise the activities of the Government  Approve the supply of public funds to the Government Parliament makes the Law The Government administers the Law The judiciary (the courts) interprets the Law New Zealand Parliament
  34. 34. Legislative Process in New Zealand 34 The law is the framework within which citizens consent to be governed Legitimacy given by citizens to lawmakers by virtue of their election Citizens consent to abide by these laws Bills are proposed  Government Bills – Policy platform  Members Bills – Introduced by Ballot  Local Bills – Promoted by Local Authorities  Private Bills – Relate to exemptions from general law for an individual or group
  35. 35. How a Bill becomes an Act of Parliament Bill Introduced 1st Reading – Initial Debate Select Committee – Public submissions, Amendments, Reports to house2nd Reading – Main Debate on the principles after amendments from Select Committee Committee of the whole house – Detailed consideration of each clause 3rd Reading – Final Debate on whether bill should be passed Royal Assent – Governor General assents to the bill becoming an Act of Parliament (Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives 2006)
  36. 36. Guidelines to Ethical Decision Making 36 Informal Guidelines to recognise if facing an ethical problem Is there something you or others prefer to keep quiet?  The shushers test: Who wants to keep things quiet?  The Mum test: Would you be ashamed to tell your mother?  The TV test: Would you be happy if your actions we on national TV  The market test: Would your company be able to use the behaviour as a marketing tool? The smell test: does your instinct tells you something is wrong?
  37. 37. Informal Guidelines 37 Does the behaviour violate the “Golden Rule”?  treat others the way you wish them to treat you. This is the rule that most rational people use when making decisions about how to behave. It is very easy to determine whether we would like a particular thing to happen to us – so we are able to use the “other persons shoes test” in order to determine the appropriate action.
  38. 38. Informal Guidelines 38 Exercise:  Discuss with friends if you have used any of the informal guidelines in the last seven days?  Write a list of those you used and for what reason.  How helpful were these in deciding what the best behaviour should be.
  39. 39. Guidelines to Ethical Decision Making 39 Formal Guidelines Is the act illegal? Does the act violate corporate policy? Does it violate corporate or professional code of conduct or ethics? What if all above guidelines not helpful?  Look at ethical principles
  40. 40. Professional Codes of Ethics 40 What characteristics mark a profession?  Must have:  Extensive training  Intellectual skills  Ability to provide an important service in society  Might have:  Certification or licensing requirement  Organisation of members  Autonomy  Code of Ethics
  41. 41. Professional Codes of Ethics 41 Professional groups often adopt particular standards and enshrine these is Codes of Conduct or Codes of Ethics In New Zealand computing professionals can be members of the Institute of Information Technology Professionals This group – IITP have a Code of Professional Conduct that guides members in their ethical decision making
  42. 42. Professional Codes of Ethics 42 Exercise: IITP Code of Professional Conduct Read the IITP Code of Professional Conduct  In particular, consider the Tenets of the Code (Pg 5)  What ethical theories do you think underlie the tenets of the Code?  Are they historical determinants, or more contemporary models?  Are informal guidelines obvious in the tenets? Discuss your thoughts with others  What are the sanctions for breaching the Code?
  43. 43. Computer Ethics vs Regular Ethics 43 Is there an ethical difference between browsing through someone‟s computer files and browsing through her desk drawer?  No difference  New technologies can make them seem different  Technology makes some unethical actions easier to take and easier to conceal  Technology makes it easier for people to be emotionally and physically distant from the consequences of their actions
  44. 44. Are “computer” ethics different? 44 Computers may provide more opportunities to breach ethics  Opportunities: much more information is stored electronically now. Payroll data might be available more easily in a business, for example, whereas in the past it would have been locked away.  Physical distance means you don‟t have to open any doors marked Private. “I only looked at the file, I didn‟t take it.”  The volume of computer data also links to privacy issues.
  45. 45. Difficulties posed by computers 45 Altered relationship  Personal contact reduced and the speed of the communication Electronic information is more fragile  Easily changed  More vulnerable to unauthorised access  Easily reproduced without affect the original Protection of information needs conflict with the benefits of information sharing. Order of magnitude effect  Effort effect
  46. 46. Order of Magnitude effect 46 Many unethical activities that are possible without computers are not done because  Their limited scope also limits the rewards (e.g. Scam letters) Computer use greatly increases the “effect” of some activities (e.g. SPAM) thus even a very small hit rate is worthwhile due to the vast (order of magnitude) of distribution.
  47. 47. The effort effect 47 In any group of people some will do unethical things provided  There is a reasonable chance of getting away with it.  It is “worth the effort” (rewards greater than costs) Computers  Reduce the effort for unethical users  Offer anonymity  Appear to provide barriers that make detection difficult
  48. 48. Why should we care? 48 Live an authentic life  integrity Increase success  Well suited to the kinds of interactions needed for a thriving business Cultivate inner peace  Calmer and more focused Creates a stable society  Ethical people working together in coordinated ways. May help in afterlife  Religious traditions believe ethics is the key to something greater
  49. 49. Summary 49 Ethical decisions impact on the quality of our lives Ethical expectations are all around us and influence our behaviour Ethical decisions are complex and may well differ over time Ethical decision making has been studied for centuries Computing provides a space for poor behaviour