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The 10 Commandments of Computer Ethics

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Computers have evolved in our society to a point where almost everything runs off of them and cannot function without them. The days of balancing a checkbook by putting pen to paper have all but passed, today, there’s an app for that. But as times change and as technology advances, the bounds of limitation increases, and consequently people are able to perform much more devious or conversely much more righteous things. Ethics by itself means: a system of moral principles, or “the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.” So by extension we can surmise that computer ethics are the set of principles that we should adhere to when engaging in any computer related activity. For example, we know plagiarism to be morally wrong, we understand internet piracy to be morally wrong (although this is a topic of great debate), and we understand that invasion of one’s privacy through “hacking” or “tunneling” (infiltrating a network to snoop around) is inherently wrong. There are actually a set of principles that are universally recognized called “The 10 Commandments of Computer Ethics”. These commandments, listed below, will be further discussed in the following essay.
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. Thou 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 ensure consideration and respect for your fellow humans.
Given that computers are, mostly speaking, a common part of everyday use, whether personal or work related, how can anyone realistically govern over all of cyber-spaces “cyber laws”? The short answer, you can’t. The next question becomes: If you cannot control it, how can you prevent abuse, with the caveat that you cannot infringe on people’s rights? (I.e. freedom of speech and expression) Unfortunately there is no clear cut answer to this question either; all we can do is hope to instill a base set of principles that people will carry over into responsible computing practices. While commonly most people will adhere to these guidelines, there are always outliers that will seek to challenge societal norms. Known or unbeknownst to us, we have all experienced or engaged in at one point or another, a morally questionable act. Ever download music from a website? Technically speaking you’ve committed piracy; piracy being when you take something from someone else. In this case, music being downloaded and not purchased reduces the income of the artist(s) and in the larger scheme, the entire music industry. This argument may apply to other niches as well, such as software piracy.
Maybe you’ve lived on the straight and narrow your entire life, and have paid the .99 cents on iTunes every time you wanted to download a song. Well, to the converse of perpetrating a morally questionable act is being the victim of one. Instances of this might include being flooded with pop-up messages, pop-up windows, windows you are unable to close, etc. Or even nastier, automatically downloaded viruses when you come upon a particular website or open an email. While most malware is only meant to be disruptive, today viruses have evolved into ways of stealing personal information, halting and/or adversely affecting processes; recall the STUXNET virus that destroyed dozens of centrifuges in an Iranian nuclear power plant one year ago, had that virus not been caught in time the results could have been catastrophic. When something of this magnitude is perpetrated we all know it to be inherently wrong, but are limited in what we can do about it, the best we can do is to safeguard our hardware with anti-virus programs and engage in more responsible practices.
Ethics are very subjective by nature, and computers only further complicate the matter. The complex nature has led to an array of disputes on varying subject matter, notably, big brother, and as discussed earlier, piracy. “Big brother” is something that most companies and employees are all too familiar with. The company doesn’t know if they can, constitutionally, monitor their employee’s computer activity; and if they are allowed to, should they? Piracy is also difficult to get a bearing on because it’s rooted in sharing. If I purchase a DVD legally, why should I not be allowed to lend it to my friend to watch? Isn’t that essentially what downloading a song is?
While it is impossible to thwart all of what the government deem, irresponsible, there are laws in place meant to keep the spectrum of activity under control; these sanctions are intended to catch anything that is overtly criminal. Computer ethics will never be fully definable, it is best just to say that computer activity, in an ideal world would remain within a given set of parameters, and that people would adhere to these guidelines religiously. However we know this to be untrue, so we have to take the good with the bad, and do the best we can. Technology is constantly moving forward; what’s impossible today might be a reality tomorrow. With this continual evolution comes the advent of many new moral conundrums; ethicalities that we are all presented as a society, to which responding right or wrong is entirely up to you.

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