Ethics in Information Technology

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Are the ethical decisions that a technology user must make fundamentally different than those facing the ordinary person? No, because it is difficult to resolve competing interests no matter what the nature of action or behavior is contemplated. Is the existence of competing interests' reason enough to impose a set of rules, or codes of conduct, within the technology environment? Unfortunately, the large number of activities, and their complex nature, conducted by information technology professionals, and users, can sometimes have serious repercussions, and affect the well being of many individuals. When these activities include, theft, destruction, or fraud, most would agree these types of activities are wrong. However, when can the behavior with respect to, privacy issues associated with databases and electronic mail, and electronic monitoring be considered wrong? Developing a set of rules, or codes of conduct will identify accepted actions for technology users. Privacy concerns have heightened the unease about ethics within technology. And it is this unease that prompted many professional organizations, such as the Association for Computing Professionals (ACM), to develop ethical codes of conduct for information technology professionals and users to provide guidance about ethical behavior. This paper will discuss the form of some of these codes and their effectiveness. The code of ethics adopted by ACM consists of 24 imperatives (ACM, 1992). These imperatives, similar to Immanuel Kant's (1724-1804) Deontological theory, are rules that command a type of action without regard to the type of desired end. For instance, ACM's General Moral Imperative 1.5 "Honor property rights including copyrights and patents" presupposes situations where matters of public security require custody of personal property in order to acquire information of unlawful activity. For example, under this theory, it is not considered ethical to steal a loaf of bread even if your...
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