Societal changes caused by information technology and the resulting ethical usage The information technology advancements continue to impact the workplace, societies and cultures. In today’s world, information technology is almost part of every business, educational institute, and even personal activity (Brooks, 2010).
Computer and internet access have found their way to households, schools, libraries, people’s cell phones, banks, hospitals, governments, coffee shops, and other public places. As the industry evolves, so do the needs and special niches of society from mainframe systems, to micro systems, to PC-based LAN and WAN systems, to virtual systems and the internet.
Advanced technology means unlimited prospects for the society. In the same token, new technologies mean increased exposure to engage in unethical behaviors. The growing concerns have given rise to efforts in developing code of ethics to prevent violations and address ethical dilemmas. When policies are ambiguous, ethical decisions can vary depending to the personal judgment or interpretation of the manager.
There are instances where the lines are blurry that it becomes difficult to draw the line between ethical and unethical behavior (Brooks, 2010). This is the reason why it is important for education systems and businesses to address the ethical concerns of information technology usage and to develop a code of ethics to prevent ethical dilemmas and violations.
New capabilities of computers give rise to new choices for action. This results in situations where either there is no conduct for guidance or there is inadequate policy to address the situation. James H. Moor, a Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy at Dartmouth College published an article “What is Computer Ethics?” where he identified this situation as policy vacuum (Moor, 1985).
History of the development of Code of Ethics in computing
In the 1950 era, a new technology in the form of TAB machines was introduced by accountants. Very few understood the capabilities of these machines and even fewer had the skills to operate them. The machine accountants were faced with challenges in the usage of the TAB machines and did not have any guidance to follow. The National Machine Accountants Association (NMAA) was founded in 1960 to address the growing issues of this new technology. The changing nature of processing information brought about by the introduction of computers in the early 1960’s gave rise to another challenge.
The industry was changing and the widespread interest on computers required a change in the mission and goals of NMAA. The association’s name was changed to Data Processing Management Association (DPMA) to be more reflective of the new objectives that promoted continuing education and professional certification of its members.
As the computing industry evolved, business leaders, accountants, and educators recognized the need to advance Information Technology (IT) professional development, support IT education, and formulate IT policies that will guide the usage of IT in many facets of society. The association adopted yet another name in 1996 which is now the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP). Development of Code of Ethics
There are at least two basic factors that influence the development of Code of Ethics for IT. One is from sources outside of the corporate structure, and the other is from the corporation’s governance.
AITP as an outside source. The accounting environment established the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board to oversee, regulate, and discipline accounting firms that do not conform to accountability and transparency standards. In the information technology world, similar professional agencies were formed to provide guiding principles in the usage of information technology to ward off undesirable and unethical behavior. A prominent professional association that lends oversight to the guiding principles of information technology is the AITP.
AITP is an association composed of a premier network of IT business professionals focused on providing a community of knowledge, education and resources to its members bound by the association’s guiding principles on Guiding Principles reflect AITP’s beliefs about your role as a member and the impact we want AITP to have in the IT profession. The association extends opportunities to its member to become better leaders that excel through honesty demanding ethical behavior and fiscal responsibility.
The association’s webpage shares news, IT developments and events with chapter members, IT professionals, faculty advisors, student members, and various community groups. Today, there are over 1,000 U.S. regional chapters with members that are linked in who make continuous network connections around the country and across the globe.
Corporate governance as an inside source. Prudent governance of an organization’s IT functions is viewed as an integral part of corporate strategy in facilitating information-based competitive advantage in promoting organizational growth and progress. Enterprise leaders like the board members, executive management and chief information officers are entrusted with the responsibility of raising awareness and understanding to ensure IT meets and exceeds expectations, its risks mitigated, and standards followed (IT Governance Institute, 2003).
These officers are uniquely positioned to fulfill their role in harmonizing the organizational strategy with the accounting, auditing, operational and IT controls that is central in adhering to corporate ethical behavior. It is important for top management to lead in promoting awareness of ethical compliance within their organization as it sends messages to employees that inevitably shape the culture of their organizations. Enforcement issues related to a code of ethics for information technology
The expansion of Internet brings together different cultures and societies where norms of ethical and acceptable behavior, and the role of computing and communication networks within the society vary a lot. In protecting globally distributed systems that employ open public networks, there is a great demand to specify what individuals’ rights and responsibilities are in regard to these networks. The distributed global nature of networks makes this a significantly difficult task.
The lack of centralized authority and differences in moral codes between different groups, such as original developers of networks, business users, private users and governmental organizations lead to significant consistencies. These situations can easily trigger enforcement issues that can result in ethical dilemmas.
Differences of organizational culture can also become problematic when dealing with how operational policies and methods are enforced. Various groups within the company may have significantly different objectives and requirements for the use of networks, and balancing different needs and wishes may be a difficult task. The task of adopting or designing a common communication network to adapt to the various departmental needs becomes complex.
The issue becomes even more complicated when considering the non-technical issues. For instance, it becomes difficult to establish a common ethics guideline that can provide comprehensive protection and security for all aspects of the organizational structure.
There is also an enforcement issue on banning people from downloading data like music off the internet. This is a clear violation of the Copyright laws but protecting the authors is difficult to enforce considering that the internet is open to anyone who has access to a computer. The downloading of music does not cause actual harm to anyone, but it is unethical. A hacker can argue that a crime is not committed since there is no theft, vandalism or breach of confidentiality.
In an Examiner article published by Scot Trodik on “Ethical Issues on Hacking” (Trodik, 2011), the Hacker Manifesto states that the only crime committed is the crime of curiosity and since the information is free, hacking is therefore justified. Conversely, the Computer Fraud and Abuse act of 1986 recently expanded in March 2013 made it illegal to tap into a computer without authorization and access private government, financial or credit card information.
However, this act was flawed because of its broad scope and vague wordings that would criminalize many everyday activities allowing outlandishly severe penalties. Establishing a code of ethics in an online educational environment
Technology has enormously changed the teaching world from the traditional classroom to online learning. Distance learning allows a student to choose courses to enroll in and enables a student to develop a personalized schedule. Higher education institutions that offer online learning should not lose sight in stressing the importance of ethical character development of both the faculty and the learner in the pursuit of a personal, academic and professional excellence.
This educational revolution can pose an ethical challenge because the interaction between the faculty and the learner becomes less personal in comparison to a face-to-face classroom instruction.
It is for this reason that it is crucial to establish and adopt a code of conduct that gives guidance to the maintenance of effective and responsible distance learning programs. Institutions should provide policy guidelines for faculty and learners to follow and incorporate technology ethics in the curriculum. An Academic Conduct Committee should be established to enforce academic rules and promote an atmosphere of learning. Penalties for violators of the code should be weighed with fairness keeping in mind the intent to preserve the integrity of distance learning educational process.
A student handbook on the rules of academic integrity should be a required reading material so that students know what the instances that violate academic integrity. Examples of these violations include plagiarism, fabricating citation, use of unauthorized assistance, and falsifying or altering results of research work.
Among these violations, Plagiarism is one of the most common academic misconduct in a distance learning setting. Many factors lead students to commit plagiarism. Some of these reasons may be because of new rules to learn, academic pressures, poor time management or poor research skills. Notwithstanding these, students should have the responsibility to educate themselves honestly.
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