Information technology offers potent tools that can serve to fulfill an individual's life, to further organizational goals, pursue national interest, or support environmentally sustainable regional development. The same technology can also be used to infringe on property in a digital form, invade individuals' private sphere, and to hold them in fear of omnipresent surveillance. The way the technology is deployed depends on our decisions as professionals and as users of information systems. It also depends on the enacted policies and legislation. All of us, therefore, should make the relevant decisions guided not only by the economic, organizational, and technological aspects of information systems, but also in consideration of their effects on individuals. Our knowledge of ethics helps us in making such decisions. What we may call infoethics is the application of ethical thinking to the development and use of information systems.
Ethics is a study of the principles of right and wrong that ought to guide human conduct. Ethics concerns itself with what values are worth pursuing in life and what acts are right. Therefore, ethics is a study of morality.
Human behavior and decision making fall into three domains :
1. Legal Domain
The legal domain governs a variety of relatively well defined behaviors, specified by law enforceable in the courts of a given country or within a local jurisdiction. International bodies increasingly address legal issues that cross national borders. Computer crime and abuse, such as destruction of databases with the use of computer viruses or misrepresentation of electronic identity toward financial gain, are the breaches of law and fall into this domain.
2. Discretionary Domain
However, not every legal action is ethical. The domain of ethics is governed by the general norms of behavior and by specific codes of ethics. To see whether your decision-making in a given case involves an ethical issue, you may apply the “sunshine principle”: “What if I read about my decisions and subsequent actions in tomorrow's paper?” Ethical considerations go beyond legal liability, and the breach of norms not punishable by law meets with social opprobrium. Only if the action is both legal and ethical, does it fall in the discretionary domain, where we properly act entirely according to our preferences.
3. Ethical Issues
Knowledge of ethics as it applies to the issues arising from the development and use of information systems, which we may call info ethics, helps us to make decisions in our professional life. Professional knowledge is generally assumed to confer a special responsibility in its domain. This is why the professions have evolved codes of ethics, that is, sets of principles intended to guide the conduct of the members of the profession.
The principal code of ethics for information systems professionals is the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, binding on the members of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). The code should be familiar also to all those whose professional life is affected by information systems.
To select a course of action in an ethical dilemma, we turn to ethical theories.
Ethical theories give us the foundation for ethical decision making. There are two fundamental approaches to ethical reasoning:
1. Consequentialist theories tell us to choose the action with the best possible consequences. Thus, the utilitarian theory that prominently represents this approach holds that our chosen action should produce the greatest overall good for the greatest number of people affected by our decision. The difficulty lies in deciding what the “good” is and how to measure and compare the resulting “goods.” The approach may also lead to sacrificing the rights of a minority. There are certain acts that are wrong in themselves and should be always avoided. The unethical acts interfere with the rights of others, the rights that may be derived from the other principal group of ethical theories.
2. Deontological theories argue that it is our duty to do what is right. Your actions should be such that they could serve as a model of behavior for others—and, in particular, you should act as you would want others to act toward you. Our fundamental duty is to treat others with respect—and thus not to treat them solely as a means to our own purposes.
Treating others with respect means not violating their rights. It is, therefore, vital that we recognize the rights of each human individual.
The principal individual rights recognized in democratic societies are:
1. The right to life and safety;
2. The right of free consent—individuals should be treated as they freely consent to be treated;
3. The right to private property;
4. The right to privacy;
5. The right of free speech, extending to the right to criticize truthfully the ethics or legality of the actions of others;
6. The right to fair treatment—individuals who are similar in regards relevant to a given decision should be treated similarly;
7. The right to due process—individuals have a right to an impartial hearing when they believe their rights are being violated.
Social and Ethical issues arise from the processing of data into information. The phrase "Social and Ethical Issues" refers to issues that affect direct and indirect users of the system. They may be legal issues but they may also be moral issues and the dangers to society from the misuse of the information. The phrase "Social and Ethical Issues" refer to a range of issues which are covered under:
Acknowledgment of data sources
The freedom of information act
Accuracy of data and the reliability of data sources access to data, ownership and control of data
New trends in the organization, processing, storage and retrieval of data such as data warehousing and data-mining
The ethical issues involved are many and varied; however, it is helpful to focus on just four:
2.Freedom and Censorship of Speech - people have to respect Copyright laws, and many of these laws are being violated, resulting in other laws being enforced banning people from downloading things like music off the Internet. It is good for musicians who don't want their music stolen, but bad for musicians who are wanting their music to be downloaded so they can become popular. There are also people who warp what other people say, or criticize it. This isn't fair because the Internet is open to anyone to say whatever they want.
3.Security - it is becoming increasingly easy to hack into people's computers and websites. This needs to be stopped because hacking into someone’s computer is the equivalent to breaking into someone’s house - it shouldn't happen.
4.Computer Crimes and Computer Related Crimes - like Security, more and more people are hacking into computers and program. A lot more crimes are being committed over and because of the Internet also. For example people can hack into bank accounts and steal money, or manipulate systems to cause destruction. A man in Australia hacked into a sewerage system and released millions of liters of raw waste into rivers and parks.