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Ethics in Information and Communications Technology

Case Study: Jailbreaking

‘Jailbreaking’ describes how to hack the operating system of a device to remove the restrictions placed on them by the manufacturers; if you jailbreak an iPhone you can run any apps on it rather than just those which have been approved by Apple. Apple have argued that jailbreaking prevents the company from being innovative, and that they need copyright protection in order to develop devices like the iPhone, and provide a platform for app developers.

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However, in July 2010, US federal regulators announced that it was no longer illegal to ‘jailbreak’ an iPhone. Yet this ruling only applies to the phones – it is still illegal to hack the operating system of other devices. In August 2009 Matthew Crippen from Anaheim, California, was taken into custody after running a home business in which he jailbroke X-boxes. When interviewed, Crippen said that he didn’t intend to conduct illegal piracy, but instead wanted users to be able to use decrypted copies of games rather than those which were ‘DRM-laden’. If convicted, Crippen faces up to ten years in prison.

Case study Analysis

The case study about jailbreaking is a clear indication of the extent to which computer ethics is being violated in the society. It shows the legal systems inability to effectively deal with ICT crimes. It also points out the effect of piracy on intellectual property rights and innovation. Piracy kills software companies’ innovativeness and destroys the platform form developing of ICT equipment. The case study shows the extent of hacking levels in the society and the reasons as to why people involve in piracy.


ICT today has become a very important tool for communication, such as in the collection of information and knowledge and thus should be made regarded as a basic human right. Digital convergence in the globalized world has brought about many ethical, social and legal concerns. The right to access to information as well as freedom of expression has impacts on other rights such as the right to privacy and confidentiality. In addition it also affects the right to intellectual property.

Computer-related crimes began as early as 1970s although the magnitude of the crimes was still low. In 1960s, the term hacker was used to refer to a person who was considered to be a very creative programmer who was capable of writing good codes. However, some time in the 1970s, small computer-related crimes emerged and in the 1990s to date, new and more complex computer crimes have emerged. Computer crime is no longer done with computer experts only, but includes even the general public.

According to Sembok (2003, p. 241) computer-related crimes threaten the electronic environments and social systems in the society. Today, the society faces various problems which violate the rights to confidentiality and privacy. Horner and Mullen (2004, p 188) although computers were developed with a good intent, it has come with serious criminal problems which include fraud, forgery, digital security problems as well as piracy. Computer technology has given people the knowledge and opportunity to hack electronic data and even to interfere with the content of the original data.

ICTs and in particular computer technology has increased access and innovations which allow people with malicious motives to practice their malice. Technology has changed the workplace and the intentions of online use; cybercrime and spying have tremendously increased. This affects privacy in the workplace as well as personal privacy.

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Freedom of information and the increased democratisation of technology increase the level of online crimes such as hacking and application of malware. Content related offenses have gone to the extent of developing child pornography (Rogerson 2002, p 160). In many countries today cyber crime is a serious challenge to the application of ICTs in government services and other economic sectors such as banking, trade and security services. The existence of the international communication networks is great challenge to the social systems in the society.

ICT Ethics

Horner and Mullen (20004, p. 189) defines computer ethics as an analysis in regards to the nature of computer technology and its social impacts as well as the corresponding policies that govern the ethical use of computer technology. There are many problems that arise from the design and use of computer technology as well as computer networks. Computer technology application results to a wide range of moral concerns which justify the need for computer ethics so as to guide the applications of computer use policies. There are many ethical concerns on data security, system security and reliability, software theft among many others.

ICT Ethical Issues

Application of ICT in the society has had various impacts which range from positive to negative. In as much as application of ICTs has enabled us capture real data, process, and use and disseminate information, the magnitude of its negative impacts is also seriously felt and these causes the ethical concerns. The ethical issues that results from the application of ICTs range from digital divide, cybercrime, unemployment, piracy to human rights problems (Sembok 2003, p. 244).

Digital Divide

Although democratisation of technology has increased the rate of ICTs innovation as well as access to information, digital divide still exists. According to Sembok (2003, p 246) the rise in the use computers has widened the gap between the rich and the poor. There exists a disparity gap between those who have the capacity to access information technology and those who do not have access to information technology. The disparity in access to ICTs is a major concern in many countries and regions. The young generation is the most affected by the digital divide since they are the ones who mostly utilize and live in the information-age and depend on it to meet most of their needs.


Cybercrime encompasses a wide range of computer-related crimes which range from hacking of computer systems and data to posting of malware to computer systems and websites. Computers are being cracked and controlled remotely by malicious individuals. Hacking is a great threat to privacy and confidentiality of information. Hackers illegally break into the databases of institutions and individuals and get access to important electronic communication and data.

Data are erased and ICT equipment is destroyed. They use the information they get from company databases to blackmail the companies or individuals. According to Sembok (2003, p. 248) hackers have gone to the extent of cracking government websites to obtain important government information such as social security and police security details. Hackers are also able to crack computer systems handling airplane landings thereby endangering the lives of those who use the planes and the entire security industry of the nation.

Hackers even access private financial information of individuals by either hoodwinking them through online executive advertisements or by cracking their bank details. According to Horner and Mullen (2004, p. 190) it is not easy to trust online commercial transactions and this causes barrier to adoption and diffusion of e-commerce. Online purchasing has become risky business. Hackers use the knowledge and software to carry out fraud from financial institutions and from individual accounts. They take advantage of the transnational networks to steal and illegally transfer money from accounts to accounts in other banks across the globe (Hamelink 2000). Money laundering is a global crisis and some of the finances acquired through internet fraud are used to finance criminal activities and terrorist activities.

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Cybercrime also involves the use malicious software such as virus and malware to destroy or erase data in other computers. Computer crackers use software to intercept information in other computers illegally or to take partial control of a user’s computer. They also use other software which enables them to automatically load and display advertisements on a user’s computer even when the user has not requested for them. Companies manufacturing ICT equipment also use such software to secretly transmit details about what is happening in a computer and the mask the files being installed in a user’s computer.

According to van den Hoven (2000, p. 131) the wide use of the information technology also facilitates illegal trade of credit cards. Hackers crack bank computer systems and data or individuals’ data to get access to their credit-card numbers and make counterfeit credit cards and ATM cards which they use to steal millions of dollars.


Another moral crime in the society that arise a result of the use of internet is pornography. According to van den Hoven (2000, p. 131) this has attracted millions of internet users across the globe. Images of child pornography are posted on websites and in addition to that, child pornography trade occurs through the internet. Today, the general public and several global networks use the internet to exchange child pornography. This poses risks to children.

Piracy and loss of Intellectual Property Rights

Research carried out in 2001, by the Business Software Alliance (BSA) on global software piracy showed that poses great challenge to the software industry (Weckert & Adeney, 1997). Millions of dollars are lost in software piracy across the globe. Software piracy discourages ICT innovation and inventions and also violates intellectual property rights.


Computer programmes are prone to human and sometimes device error. Defects in information processing may cause serious errors and misleading information about an institution or an individual. Such errors can result to financial loss and worse still, loss of lives.


Finally, adoption of comprehensive ICTs such the use of automated teller machine; in a company or institution usually leads to redundancies. Automation of work enables organizations to reduce their workforce and operate at a lower cost. This results into employee cutbacks in such companies which negatively impacts on those who are laid off.

ICT Ethical Issues in Workplace

ICT has changed the working environment and the nature of the work at workplace (Johnson, 2000). To some extent, the increasing technologies enable software companies to monitor and limit the usage of its software, however, hackers are still able to crack their systems and obtain unauthorized use of their software. Some employees in organizations hack the company’s computer system and data to obtain illegal entry into the company’s vital information. They are therefore able to defraud the company, change data content, erase data or illegally extract information for personal use. Hacking of an organization’s computer system leads to loss of finances and vital information from the company. According to Van den Hoven (2000, p. 129) most theft cases that normally occur in companies today are through the internet and computer systems.

Some sadist employees even decide to send malicious virus to other employees’ computers to get their own back whenever interpersonal relations are constrained. Instead of solving the problem they find it easy to send software into their computer which disrupts their operations. The situation worsens when the recipient of the virus realizes the source of the virus and decides to pay malice for malice. Another ethical issue caused by the application of ICTs in workplace is loss of privacy. Some nosy employees usually crack other users’ computers or just gain entry into those computers illegally; and gain access to their private information, read their mails and monitor their activities within the company (Hamelink, 2009). Such employees may affect the social lives of other employees since they use such information to blackmail them and can sometimes provide the information to their significant other persons.

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Some corporate organizations and in particular, those dealing with the manufacture of computers and computer equipment are also involved in moral malpractices. Some install files onto users’ computers even when the users have not signed the End User License Agreement. Besides, they do not explain how to fully uninstall such programs in their manuals.


Implementing policies governing application of ICTs may not be easy since most of the moral crimes committed through the internet occur at home or in public cyber cafes. However, much still needs to be done to address ethical concerns ranging from information production, dissemination and use of electronic information.

Organizations need to be more innovative and develop software which enable them monitor all activities on their websites and the computer systems and electronic data and be able to deny access to suspected illegal or malicious users. Organizations need to develop uncrackable passwords and alert systems which help them detect and protect their computer systems and data. Finally, there is need to develop policies which enhance social justice particularly in promoting equality in access to information technology.


Design and application of ICTs in our society also come with serious ethical issues which cause dilemmas on whether to fully adopt such technologies. The ethical issues are not very new since they have existed for a few decades now. ICTs in general and the electronic environment do not call for total new regulations or innovative ethical approaches since many policies and ethical standards in regards to moral computer application already exists. Policies concerning business environments including e-business as well as those governing corporate responsibilities and ethical cultures are already in place. However, it is important to create new benchmarks to regulate the new ethical issues.

Reference List

Hamelink, C.J., (2000), The ethics of cyberspace. London: Sage Publications.

Horner, D. S., & Mullen, H., 2004, Ethical problems for e-government: An evaluative framework. Electronic Journal of e-Government Volume 2 Issue 3 (187-196) London: Academic Conferences Ltd.

Johnson, D.G., (2000), Computer ethics. 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.: Prentice Hall.

Rogerson, S., (2002) Computers and society. In: R.S.Spier, Science and technology ethics. London: Routledge, pp. 159 – 179.

Sembok, T. M. T., 2003, Ethics of information communication technology (ICT). Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

Van den Hoven, J., (2000) The internet and varieties of moral wrong doing. In: D. Langford, Internet Ethics. London: Macmillan, pp.127 –153.

Weckert, J and Adeney, D. eds. (1997) Computer and information ethics. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood.

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