Ethics for IT Professionals/What Is Ethics

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What is Ethics, Morals and Laws[edit | edit source]

According to Dickson (2014, Rundu Campus), ethics are a set of moral principles that govern a persons' or groups' behavior. Someone is considered to be behaving ethically if they conform to generally accepted practices of the society or group making that consideration. Most ethically acceptable practices are almost universal across human cultures, and are increasingly so due to globalization and cultural hegemony. For example, using animals in research, abortion, or using cookies to track software, where organizations are able to gather users information to track their search behavior and their buying patterns on the Internet are all found with similar ethical and moral debates in various states. Furthermore, while these topics remain open to debate in their nuances, they are intrinsically seen as amoral and ultimately unnecessary and avoidable. Each society retains a set of rules that sets the boundaries for accepted behavior, these rules often expressed in statements about how one ought to behave. These statements come together to form a moral code by which a member of a society lives by. Morals are those ideas defining what is right, and wrong, and these ideas can sometimes come into conflict.

Dickson (October 19, 2013) also states that one's behavior (morals) follows a set of shared values (manners) within a society, and contributes to the stability of that society. Everyone operates by their own individual moral code, acting with integrity towards that code. Laws, on the other hand, are a system of rules that a society strictly imposes, and enforces. Laws aim to be more well defined than morals, so as to be limited to interpretation, and defendable in practice. States enforce their laws through institutions such as law enforcement, whereas morals are enforced typically by passive interactions by an individual, or group. For example, the moral code of a club may be enforced by excluding from participation those who do not abide the code. While a society's moral code often forms the base for its legal systems, a given law may or may not abide by an individual's moral code, or by the ethical considerations of a society. It is a process that is dependent not only on the legislation itself, but also the legislator and the participation/representation of the citizen's moral values.

Ethics is also most commonly defined as the norms of conduct that distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behavior [1]. Most individuals learn ethics through social activities and institutions, such as at home, school and church. As children, we are taught by our parents/guardians what is 'right', and 'wrong'. We gain a more finely tuned understanding as we age, as moral development further occurs as we mature. Although morality is not to be confused with commonsense, ethical norms are often so ubiquitous that one is tempted to assume they unanimous across cultures.

Ethical theory[edit | edit source]

While ethics defines the practice, Ethical Theory aims to not only generalize and sublimate ethical considerations but to think ahead, to be a continual process of reflection that provides different procedures and categories to determine what is ethically relevant to specific situations, and to project into the future considerations and precautions regarding ethics. There are four broad categories of ethical theory: consequence-based, duty-based, contract-based, and character-based. These categories are more commonly referred to as: utilitarianism, deontology, rights, and virtues, respectively.

Consequence-based[edit | edit source]

According to a consequence-based theory, what distinguishes right actions from wrong actions is that they have better consequences.  In order to do the right thing, we should perform actions that have the good consequences [2]. The most common example of a consequence-based ethical theory is Utilitarianism [3].

Criticisms[edit | edit source]

Critics of utilitarianism reject emphasis on the effects of individual acts. They point out that we tend not to deliberate on every single action in our day-to-day activities as if that action were unique. Rather, they argue that based on certain principles or general rules that guide our behavior, we are inclined to deliberate [4].

Duty-based[edit | edit source]

This category of ethical theory states that when engaged in decision-making, people should adhere to their obligations and duties when ethics are in play. This is why the category is commonly referred to as deontology because the meaning stems from the Greek root deon, which means duty [4]. Immanuel Kant argued for this theory and rejected utilitarianism because in his view, morality has nothing to do with promoting happiness or achieving desirable results.

Criticisms[edit | edit source]

At times, a person’s duties may have conflicts. Deontology does not address these conflicts inherently or provide a method to resolve them. However, David Ross attempted to address this flaw with Act Deontology. He argued that when multiple duties are conflicting, we must determine which one is overriding by using a rationally intuitive process. A common criticism of this theory is that intuition is considered an irrational process which made his theory controversial and not widely adopted.

Contract-based[edit | edit source]

This category focuses on moral systems that are created from contract agreements. A well-known early version of this is Thomas Hobbes Leviathan, which was his outline for a social-contract doctrine. His idea was that this contract will give people motivation to be moral; the rights established are considered ethically correct and valid since a lot of people endorse them.

Criticisms[edit | edit source]

This theory promotes a minimalist morality, meaning that you are not required to make any effort beyond what the contract entails [4]. Another issue is deciphering what is seen as right in a society. The society needs to determine their goals and priorities and the most logical way to do so is to use another ethical theory to determine or base their goals.

Character-based[edit | edit source]

This theory judges a person by their character rather than their actions. Aristotle believed that to be a moral person, one had to acquire the right virtues [4]. This category differs from the others because it is more focused on the individual themselves versus rules and actions the individual needs to take.

Criticisms[edit | edit source]

One weakness is that it does not consider the moral character change of a person. There may be clashing or competing virtues as well and this was also not taken into account. This theory would be difficult to implement in a society that does not emphasize the role of an individual, so the best chance of success would be to implement this in a Western society.

Ethical Relativism[edit | edit source]

Ethical Relativism is the theory that an ethical viewpoint can be specific to a given society. In particular, this acknowledges that what may be considered the norm in one culture, is out of the ordinary in another. Morality is therefore relative to the norm of one's culture. As anthropologist Ruth Benedict illustrates in Patterns of Culture, diversity is evident even on those matters of morality where we would expect to agree: "We might suppose that in the matter of taking life all peoples would agree on condemnation. On the contrary, in the matter of homicide, it may be held that one kills by custom his two children, or that a husband has a right of life and death over his wife or that it is the duty of the child to kill his parents before they are old. It may be the case that those are killed who steal fowl, or who cut their upper teeth first, or who are born on Wednesday. Among some peoples, a person suffers torment at having caused an accidental death, among others, it is a matter of no consequence." [5]

According to ethical relativism, there are no universal moral standards--standards that can be applied to all people at all times. The only moral standards that can judge a society's practices are its own. If ethical relativism is correct, there can be no universal framework for resolving moral disputes, or agreement on ethical matters between members of different societies.

Criticism[edit | edit source]

Most ethicists reject ethical relativism: some claim while moral practices of societies may differ, the fundamentals of the moral principals underlying these practices do not. For instance, in some societies, killing one's parents after they reach a certain age was common practice, stemming from the belief that they were better off in the afterlife if they entered it still vigorous and able. While in modern societies this practice is condemned, we would agree with this practice on the underlying moral principle--the duty to care for parents. Therefore, while societies may not agree on their application of moral principles, they may agree on the principles themselves. It is also argued that some moral beliefs are culturally relative while others are not. Certain practices may be dependent on the local customs, such as the definitions of decency and proper attire. Others may be governed by more universal standards, such as slavery and the defense of the innocent.

Ethics is an inquiry between right and wrong through a critical examination of the reasons underlying practices and beliefs. As a theory for justifying moral practices and beliefs, ethical relativism fails to recognize some societies have better reasons for holding their views than others. But, even if the theory is rejected, we must acknowledge that the concept raised important issues, and encouraged us to take a look at the other societies beliefs and cultures.[6]

Subjectivism[edit | edit source]

Subjectivism is an extension of relativism, as applied to individuals rather than societies. The moral interpretation of a practice or event is based on the personal perspective of the individual analyzing it. In other words, the judgment of an event is dependent on the individual doing the judging.

Objectivism[edit | edit source]

Something is objective when it is independent of any individual's personal beliefs. It is, in other words, a fact of the universe, separate from human beliefs -- such as the weight of an object. This forms the basis for moral realism: The idea that ethics and morals are not invented, but rather discovered over time. Ethicists typically try to maintain objectivity in their analysis, stressing that it does not matter who the person is, or what they choose to do; rather, they try to determine what the person should do, or what their decision ought to be.

Ethics Within Business[edit | edit source]

Enron Complex

The corporate world has begun promoting ethics in the work place after major corporate scandals like Worldcom,[7], Tyco [8] and Enron. [9] To regain credibility amongst the public, many companies have created positions such as Corporate Ethics Officer and Corporate Compliance Officer, who ensure ethical procedures are created and adhered to by everyone within the organization. This decision may help the company gain goodwill and favorable publicity, and protect the organization from legal action, and foster ethical practices within the organization, or it may simply be a public relations scheme to elude the public and avoid legislative interference forcing the company to comply to specific regulations.

Reading International Business Park - - 182264

Ethics has become increasingly more important in the business world as each day, the risk of inappropriate behavior by employees and board members increases. Many companies today are expanding internationally, into different cultures and societal environments, making business operations increasingly complex [10]. Many companies have begun to explore why employees would behave unethically.

There are many reasons to have good business ethics, like gaining the goodwill of the community, creating a consistent company image, protecting the company and its employees from legal actions, etc. All companies want their businesses to grow, and to do that, they have to build trust throughout the organization. Organizations have their own values, culture, and approach to be stable in the business world. In order to become and remain successful in business, companies’ ethical policies play a great part in keeping everyone aligned on the same path.

There are a lot of employees at larger companies that have been involved in unethical behavior. For example, in 2005, HP chairperson Patricia Dunn had to hire detectives to investigate HP board members for leaking long-term company strategies to the media. [11] Investigators used phone records and Social Security numbers to get access to all of the phone records of the board members. When this happens in a company, the board members will lose trust in one another, customers will have trouble trusting the company, and even the employees will have problems trusting their employer [10].

Corporate Policies[edit | edit source]

In order to combat the recent corporate scandals and protect the companies reputation, companies have begun to form more comprehensive corporate policies concerning ethics. These policies generally offer guidance to employees as well as serving as a reminder of a company's expectations. In order to be employed, companies may require employees to sign a contract stating they will follow the procedures stated within the handbook.

As it has been shown that establishing a code of ethics is not necessarily sufficient to promoting ethics in the workplace, more long-term actions must be taken at the corporate level. Continuous communication of a company's ethics policy is crucial to ensure that it is embedded throughout the company's culture. Organizing awareness campaigns is a way of communicating these policies to a company's employees while simultaneously engaging those employees. However, although this method is practiced by some companies, a more commonly used method is training. This method, while also interactive with its employees, ensures the exploration and discussion of ethical issues within a company, thereby reinforcing the company's ethical policies.

Once the ethics of a company has been established and continuously reinforced, implementation becomes crucial. Creating an atmosphere and culture of open communication ensures the application of the ethical values within a company. Likewise, this type of corporate environment also ensures the report of misconduct, especially with the use of effective speak-up arrangements that any individual in contact with a company can have access to. When a multitude of methods and measures have been taken and used, taking serious action against the violation of these policies then becomes a fully justified measure, as all actions have been taken to create awareness surrounding these policies.

IT Ethics[edit | edit source]

In order to promote ethical behavior we must also lay the ground work by promoting technological literacy. This book will discuss the issues that are related to ownership, access, privacy, community and security, the areas that are open to ethical dilemmas in the world of information technology and are increasingly becoming prevalent on society.

Computer Ethics[edit | edit source]

Computer ethics can be considered the ethical considerations regarding the social impact of computer technology. It involves the formulation as well as the justification of the ethical policies for the use of the computer technology. It is not one sided - it takes both the personal impact and the social impact into account for the policies.

This brings about the idea that things should be conceptualized before creating a policy for ethics. In this way, the specific details can be worked out so that there will be no confusion. Computer Ethics takes into account the relationships between conceptualizations, facts, values, and different policies that deal with constantly changing technology.

Because of the ever changing computing technologies, computer ethics can not be a static set of rules. It requires constant reflection about new policies and their implications and to be able to shift with our values. Computer ethics should encompass both conceptualizations that help people understand things, and also policies for using the computer technology ethically.

Cyberethics[edit | edit source]

Cyberethics is the field of ethics study involving moral, legal, and social cybertechnology issues [4]. Cybertechnology refers to any computing or communication technologies. This is arguably a more accurate term than computer ethics because it encompasses all technologies rather than just computers. There is a debate on whether or not cybertechnology brings in new or unique ethical issues, which would call for a new perspective or special consideration. There are two main views on this issue: traditionalist and uniqueness proponent. Traditionalists argue that nothing in this field is new in the sense that crime is still considered crime and fraud is still considered fraud, even in the cyber realm. The uniqueness proponents argue that there are new unique ethical issues that did not exist before cybertechnology. A common confusion in this thought is mixing up unique features of cybertechnology with unique ethical issues. The term unique, per Merriam-Webster, is defined as the only one or being without a like or equal [12]. The issues surrounding cybertechnology, such as privacy, property, and others are not new concerns. However, cybertechnology does have unique features that muddle the solutions for these types of issues.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Resnick; D.B.. "What is Ethics in Research & Why is it Important?". National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. 
  2. Fallis, D. (2007). Information ethics for twenty-first century library professionals. Library hi tech, 25(1), 23-36. Retrieved April 27, 2019.
  3. Mill, J. S. (2016). Utilitarianism. In Seven masterpieces of philosophy (pp. 337-383). Routledge. Retrieved April 27, 2019.
  4. a b c d e Tavani, H. (2016). Ethics and technology: controversies, questions, and strategies for ethical computing. Place of publication not identified: Wiley.
  5. Ruth Benedict (1934). Patterns of Culture. Mariner Books. 
  6. Velasquez, etc. (1992). "Ethical Relativism". Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Retrieved April 25, 2016. 
  7. Simon Romero, Riva D. Atlas (July 22, 2002). "WORLDCOM'S COLLAPSE - THE OVERVIEW - WORLDCOM FILES FOR BANKRUPTCY - LARGEST U.S. CASE". Retrieved April 26, 2016. 
  8. "Timeline of the Tyco International scandal". 2005-6-17. Retrieved April 26, 2016. 
  9. "Enron scandal at-a-glance". August 22, 2002. Retrieved April 26, 2016. 
  10. a b Reynolds, George (2014). Ethics in information technology. Australia: Cengage Learning. ISBN 1-285-19715-1. 
  11. The comprehensive story of HP spying scandal along with critical discussion on involving corporate governance and ethical issues is available at Davani, Faraz (August 14, 2011). "HP Pretexting Scandal by Faraz Davani". Scribd. Retrieved 2011-08-15. 
  12. Unique. (2018). In Retrieved April 27, 2019.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • An Overview of Ethics. (n.d.).
  • Resnick, D. B. (n.d). What is Ethics in Research & Why is it Important? Retrieved April 25, 2016, from
  • Valesquez, M. (n.d.). Ethical Relativism. Retrieved April 25, 2016, from
  • Graham, G. (2004). Eight theories of ethics. London: Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group.
  • OBJECTIVITY, SUBJECTIVITY AND MORAL VIEWS. (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2016
  • ETHICS FOR I.T. PROFESSIONALS WITH ASPECTS IN COMPUTING by Charlemagne G. Lavina, Melchor G. Erise, Corazon B. Rebong, Susan S. Caluya (MINDSHAPERS CO.,INC. 61 Muralla St., Intramuros, Manila, Philippines)
  • Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), 1933
  • Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), 1984 & 1994
  • Computer Security Act, 1987
  • Privacy Act, 1974
  • Electronic Communications Privacy Act
  • Communications Decency Act, 1995
  • Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act, (HIPAA) 1996
  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002
  • Homeland Security Act of 2002 with the Cyber Security Enhancement Act
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  • Barman, T., & White, S. (2014, June 13). Implementing an effective corporate ethics policy. Retrieved April 26, 2016, from
  • Reynolds, George Walter. Ethics in Information Technology. Boston, MA: Course Technology, 2003. Print.