Ethics may be defined as a set of beliefs in relation to what is considered to be right or wrong. Behavior that is regarded as being ethical usually follows rules and guidelines that are acceptable in society (Reynolds, 2007). More often than not, those who act ethically are perceived as people of high integrity. They make use of the same standards of morality at all times and treat everyone with an equal amount of respect and thoughtfulness (Reynolds, 2007).
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According to Allen (1990), ethics play an important role in shaping people’s attitudes and ensuring that they get to behave in the right manner. They lay the foundation for the kind of behavior that we must all expect in our relationships with one another (Allen, 1990). Introna (2007) points out that information technology is increasingly becoming a major part of our lives and consequently, it is important that we all get familiar with the moral issues that come with these new developments. Floridi and Sanders (2000) argued that the rapid change in technology created numerous legal issues that were totally unexpected. They further noted that the subject of Computer Ethics (CE) gained its popularity from the impact that IT has he society (Floridi & Sanders, 2000). According to (Bynum, 2001), the idea of computer ethics was started by Professor Norbert Wiener, a professor of Massachusetts Institute of Technology but never became a reality until much later.
Meaning of Ethics in Information Technology (IT)
According to Rikowski (2006), it is very difficult to isolate ethics from our human emotions and as a result, it becomes impossible to achieve an elaborate definition of ethics in IT or any other field. Some ethical concerns that have been identified by Rikowski in the IT world include; plagiarism, etiquette, and the digital divide. Subsequently, the meaning of ethics in IT could be given based on the conditions surrounding the different ethical issues (Rikowski, 2006).
In so many ways, ethical issues in IT have been found to greatly differ from ethics in other areas. Ethical issues in IT are mostly characterized by little or no contact at all whereas in most situations, ethics are linked to face-to-face encounters with people. Another fear is associated with the speed of a computer system (Rikowski, 2006). There are times when people may perform some actions out of anger and later be faced with moments of regrets just because one did not take time to think about his or her actions. There is also a very high likelihood of information being changed when it is in electronic form than when it is in paper form (Rikowski, 2006). It can be easily reproduced leading to issues such as the violation of intellectual property rights and plagiarism. There are also uncertainties regarding information sharing that may sometimes be confused with a breach of confidentiality. IT is also highly exposed to practices that are not ethical simply because there is no system that is currently in place to facilitate the use of information in an ethical manner (Rikowski, 2006).
To guarantee sanity in the computer sector, a number of standard-setting bodies were constituted. A key institution in this regard is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Other organizations include the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) as well as the Association for Computing Machinery (Rikowski, 2006). Although the different organizations may have ethical standards that are different, the general purpose is the same (Rikowski, 2006). They all provide guidelines for professional relationships that require people to act in complete honesty and to securely and confidentially keep any private information disclosed by clients (Rikowski, 2006).
Ethical Dilemmas faced by Project Managers
Rikowski (2006) identified a number of dilemmas that face IT project managers. In some cases, it is difficult to tell the offender’s intention; whether good or bad. In the case of hacking for example, it is certainly a challenge to determine if the hacker’s objective was to test the performance of a system or if he or she had ill motives. It is therefore very critical for one to understand what should be regarded as ethical and what should be considered unethical in IT.
According to Reynolds (2007), concerns about the ethical use of IT include issues like monitoring people’s emails and access to the Internet, network violation through peer to peer networks, sending out emails that are not solicited to others, hacking, identity theft, and plagiarism; copying and presenting other people’s work without proper acknowledgement (Reynolds, 2007). Some of these issues are discussed in the following sub sections.
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This is whereby an author copies work done by others and presents it as though it was his or hers without making references to the original author of the information. This is a very unethical act and given that there is so much information that is currently available freely through the Internet, the situation can only get worse (Rikowski, 2006). Some academic institutions are very strict on this matter and will subject offenders to punishments such as suspension from school, lose of marks or even expulsion. In some countries, offenders risk being jailed.
This happens when software that has been created by someone is illegally copied by someone else and in the process, those who own the software end up losing huge sums of money (Rikowski, 2006). Considering the fact that programmers spend too much time behind their machines to generate codes for different programs it is only fair that their products are protected from illegal access. Calluzo and Cante (2004) observed that software piracy in most organizations occurs due to the fact that ethics in the use of software and technology is never clarified to the employees.
This involves breaking into a system and it may happen for different reasons. Whilst others will hack to understand how a system works, some will hack to interfere with the general operation of a system and cause trouble for the users. According to Rikowski, hacking can put managers in a dilemma especially because there are moments when hackers actually become very useful to organizations (Rikowski, 2006).
Computer Associated Crimes
Computer related criminal activities are a common scene globally and the many crimes that are committed form part of the ethical issues that must be addressed (Rikowski, 2006).
Other issues of ethical concern include; computer viruses that may be a real nuisance to the users of computers and a threat to the data they have stored in their computers, ergonomic or health issues such determining the reasonable amount of time that one is allowed to use a computer, the digital divide that has to do with the actual number of people who have access to and are able to use the computer and gender issues; females are subjected to various discriminations in the IT world.
Basden (2009) also identified other ethics related to the use of IT such as the accessibility of IT to people with disability as well as IT application whether good; spreading the gospel and teaching Christian morals or bad; providing way in to pornography.
Strategies to Deal with Ethical Dilemmas
Although it may be easy to deal with some of the dilemmas mentioned above, it is quite a challenge to handle others. Generally, all the issues may be dealt with by reinforcing set standards. All offenders must be subjected to severe punishment. Stakeholders at different levels should be involved to help fight any illegal activities. It may also be helpful for the general public to be taught the effects of their involvement in plagiarism and piracy.
There are certainly numerous ethical issues in IT. Although there are some that can be solved quite easily, others are very complex. As we go about our business on a daily basis and interact with different people, we are generally governed by these ethical considerations. It is therefore beneficial for to have a good understanding of ethical issues found in IT sector (Withers, 2011). We must ensure that whatever we do with IT is geared towards transforming the lives of others in a positive way.
According to Basden (2009), the IT field is quite vast and its relation to ethics is also wide spread. It is therefore very important that as one explores the ethical issues in IT, they do so with a well established framework (Basden, 2009).
Moor (2005) pointed out that even though new technology presents us with opportunities to work differently, this should not be taken to mean that people can now act unethically and later blame it on the use of machines. It is very important to come establish new policies that will address issues in the ever advancing technology world (Moor, 2005).
Allen, S. J. 1990. The Meaning of Ethics Today: A Critical Structure for Evaluating Modern Ethics. New York: The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. Web.
Basden, A. 2009. Ethics of Information Technology. Ethics in Brief, Vol. 13 No. 6.
Bynum, T. W. 2001. Computer ethics: It’s Birth and it’s Future. Ethics and Information Technology, 3: 109–112.
Calluzo, V. J. and Cante, Charles J. 2004. Ethics in Information Technology and Software Use. Journal of Business Ethics, 51: 301 – 312.
Floridi, L. & Sanders, J.W. 2002. Mapping the Foundationalist Debate in Computer Ethics. Ethics and Information Technology, 4: 1–9.
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Introna, L. D. 2007. Maintaining the reversibility of foldings: Making the ethics (politics) of information technology visible. Ethic and Information Technology, (2007) 9: 11 – 25.
Moor, J. H. 2005. Why we Need Better Ethics for Emerging Technologies. Ethics and Information Technology, 7: 111–119.
Reynolds, G. 2007. Ethics in Information Technology, Second Edition. Boston, MA: Course Technology. Web.
Rikowski, R. 2006. Teaching Ethical Issues in Information Technology: How and When. London, UK: London South Bank University. Web.
Withers, J. 2011. What Is the Meaning of Ethics? Santa Monica, CA: Demand Media, Inc. Web.