Morality, Free Speech, Ethics and Computers

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Critical Thinking

To this day since the introduction of the electronic medium, opposing conflicts of computer ethics and freedom of speech have been tested by many in this nation. It is up to frequent users of computers to decide their own executed use of computers. Laws alone have not, but not entirely, defined a constitutional morality or ethical use of a computer when Freedom of Speech comes into play. For this reason, many cyber rights and activists groups are now supporting people’s right to free speech on computers.

Before the internet became widely available to civilians, the introduction of company/office – based internal networking (Cisco and Xerox networks), was the first to raise many questions about the do’s and don’ts of free speech on computers. The main concern was censorship between inter-networked employees. Was it right for employers to prohibit and censor employees from sending personal memos to a friend on the other side of the office? Is it an invasion of privacy for employers to monitor their employees’ written messages? If so, should employees be warned beforehand and then would it still be alright to consider the practice as a formal policy to censor these messages?

Zero-tolerance privacy is almost impossible in this computer age. By using a credit card or ATM card, entering a raffle, or subscribing to a magazine, people provide electronic information about them that can be sold to marketers and distributed to data bases throughout the world. After all, this is access to written data in the form of free speech and doesn’t have any protective laws for the user. Although, initiatives for outlawing spam and junk mail are becoming extremely popular; wouldn’t it be considered censoring one’s right to free speech? Even though how annoying and repetitive spam gets, it is still someone’s written words expressing something or another.

A very broad and hot subject of free speech currently is computer crime. There are many different types of computer crime. Most of them specifically listed in state RSAs and federal Title 18 under the Computer Abuse Act of 1987. Three main types of crimes are making computer viruses, making illegal copies of software under copyright infringement, and actually stealing computers and/or its information.

Computer viruses have been around since the early 1980s but they became infamous when the Michelangelo virus caused a scare on March 6, 1992 and then again more recently Code Red in 2001. Most would agree that a computer virus, worm or Trojan may have been written to cause harm and raise an unethical use of a computer… but the underlying fact still remains that compiler code is the author’s form of free speech. Compiled code that is executed into assembly language is still free speech, even though it is in the form of another language that only computers understand.

All programs and compiled code is a form of free speech in the list of open instructions. If a person who wrote a letter of instructions for someone to do, it would be up to the reader’s decision to execute those instructions. This goes for the same of computers, but the computer is going to try and execute this code under any circumstance. This is where moral and ethical issues arise and if censorship should be applied and users who write viruses should be punished. A virus may not by offensive verbally, but definitely can corrupt a computers’ internal data.

After moral and insecurity issues have risen from virus attacks, companies sell software to civilians to block these viruses from ever reaching their computer as suggested by the government. In a basic sense, companies are helping the government ban free speech from programmers. I, for that matter, have also had the experience of dealing with censorship from one of my programs because it deemed as dangerous code by my school.

The biggest news related to computers lately seems to always be about the Internet. The Internet began decades ago, but is just becoming more and more popular with the general public now that technology is advancing and readily available almost anywhere. There are many aspects of the Internet that can lead people into discussions concerning morality and ethics.

Much of the discussion of the Internet has to do