Ethics in Cyberspace


Cyberspace is a global community of people using computers in networks.
In order to function well, the virtual communities supported by the Internet
depend upon rules of conduct, the same as any society. Librarians and
information technologists must be knowledgeable about ethical issues for the
welfare of their organizations and to protect and advise users.
What is ethics? Ethics is the art of determining what is right or good.
It can also be defined as a general pattern or way of life, a set of rules of
conduct or moral code. Ethical guidelines are based on values.
The Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) is one national organization
which has developed a statement of its values. Every member of ACM is expected
to uphold the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct which includes these
general moral imperatives:

1) contribute to society and human well-being
2) avoid harm to others
3) be honest and trustworthy
4) be fair and take action not to discriminate
5) honor property rights including copyrights and patents
6) give proper credit for intellectual property
7) respect the privacy of others
8) honor confidentiality.

The very nature of electronic communication raises new moral issues.
Individuals and organizations should be proactive in examining these concerns
and developing policies which protect liabilities. Issues which need to be
addressed include: privacy of mail, personal identities, access and control of
the network, pornographic or unwanted messages, copyright, and commercial uses
of the network. An Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) is recommended as the way an
organization should inform users of expectations and responsibilities. Sample
AUPs are available on the Internet at gopher sites and can be retrieved by using
Veronica to search keywords "acceptable use policies" or "ethics."
The Computer Ethics Institute in Washington, D.C. has developed a "Ten
Commandments of Computing":

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 computer 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 copy or use proprietary software for which you have
not paid.
7) Thou shalt not use other people\'s computer resources without
authorization or proper compensation.
8) Thou shalt not appropriate other people\'s intellectual output.
9) Though shalt think about the social consequences of the program you
are writing or the system you are designing.
10) Thou shalt always use a computer in ways that show consideration and
respect for your fellow humans (Washington Post, 15 June 1992: WB3).

The University of Southern California Network Ethics Statement specifically
identifies types of network misconduct which are forbidden: intentionally
disrupting network traffic or crashing the network and connected systems;
commercial or fraudulent use of university computing resources; theft of data,
equipment, or intellectual property; unauthorized access of others\' files;
disruptive or destructive behavior in public user rooms; and forgery of
electronic mail messages.
What should an organization do when an ethical crisis occurs? One strategy
has been proposed by Ouellette and Associates Consulting (Rifkin, Computerworld
25, 14 Oct. 1991: 84).
1. Specify the FACTS of the situation.
2. Define the moral DILEMMA.
3. Identify the CONSTITUENCIES and their interests.
4. Clarify and prioritize the VALUES and PRINCIPLES at stake.
5. Formulate your OPTIONS.
6. Identify the potential CONSEQUENCES.

Other ethical concerns include issues such as 1) Influence: Who determines
organizational policy? Who is liable in the event of lawsuit? What is the role
of the computer center or the library in relation to the parent organization in
setting policy? 2) Integrity: Who is responsible for data integrity? How much
effort is made to ensure that integrity? 3) Privacy: How is personal
information collected, used and protected? How is corporate information
transmitted and protected? Who should have access to what? 3) Impact: What
are the consequences on staff in the up- or down-skilling of jobs? What are the
effects on staff and organizational climate when computers are used for
surveillance, monitoring and measuring?
As the schools incorporate Internet resources and services into the
curriculum and the number of children using the Internet increases, other
ethical issues must be addressed. Should children be allowed to roam cyberspace
without restriction or supervision? How should schools handle student Internet
accounts? What guidelines are reasonable for children?
Organizations need to be proactive in identifying and discussing the
ethical ramifications of Internet access. By having acceptable use policies and
expecting responsible behavior, organizations can contribute to keeping
cyberspace safe.

Selected Resources on Information Ethics

"Computer Ethics Statement."