IT ethics is a new branch of ethics that is growing and changing rapidly as IT technology also grows and develops. The term “IT ethics” is open to interpretations both broad and narrow. On the one hand, for example, IT ethics might be understood very narrowly as the efforts of professional philosophers to apply traditional ethical theories or virtue ethics to issues regarding the use of IT technology. On the other hand, it is possible to construe IT ethics in a very broad way to include, as well, standards of professional practice, codes of conduct, aspects of IT law, public policy, corporate ethics – even certain topics in the sociology and psychology of computing.
In the industrialized nations of the world, the “information revolution” already has significantly altered many aspects of life – in banking and commerce, work and employment, medical care, national defense, transportation and entertainment. Consequently, information technology has begun to affect community life, family life, human relationships, education, freedom, democracy, and so on. IT ethics in the broadest sense can be understood as that branch of applied ethics, which studies and analyzes such social and ethical impacts of information technology (Bynum).
In recent years, this robust new field has led to new university courses, conferences, workshops, professional organizations, curriculum materials, books, articles, journals, and research centers. The introduction of the World Wide Web in 1990 has catalyzed the expansion of the Internet, which is still growing today at unprecedented rates and IT ethics is quickly being transformed into “global information ethics”. The recent growth of the Internet has resulted not only in an increase in the amount of available knowledge, but also in an increase in the problems inherent to its usage and distribution. It has become clear that traditional rules of conduct are not always applicable to this new medium, so new ethical codes are now being developed.
Edward F. Gehringer gives broad and wide-ranged classification of ethical issues in information technology area. He distinguished following main aspects of IT ethics (Gehringer):
Basics;Commerce;IT Abuse;Intellectual Property;Privacy;Risks;Social Justice Issues;
Although, in practice every case involves at least two of those issues. At first, let us discuss problems of copyrights in present-day IT industry. It seems that this issue deals with almost every aspect listed above and it will be good example of ethics implementation in IT.In article “Napster, DVD cases raise copyright questions in digital age”, we can observe some problems concerning copyright issues of IT industry. The article discusses this problem on example of Napster, the Internet search engine which allows over 60 millions consumers to find and download free music. “Experts say the high-tech context in which copyright questions are being raised – as exemplified by the Napster case in California and a DVD-encryption case out of New York – also shows that the law is always a few steps behind technology.” The Recording Industry Association of America filed a lawsuit against Napster in December 2000, accusing the company of encouraging the illegal copying and distribution of copyright music on a massive scale. Author asserts that the case raises fundamental questions about freedom of information and activity on the Internet and what copyright protections musicians have or do not have in cyberspace. “For those and other reasons, legal experts point to the Napster case as crucial to the future of cyberspace and copyright law in the United States, the world’s leader in high-tech issues”, he states.
In this article, the writer also describes how copyright law needs revision because it has become so complicated and counterintuitive. He also maintains that many content providers and copyright lawyers tend to propagate “made-up rules” that purport to clarify ambiguities such as the legality of sharing music on peer-to-peer file sharing networks. Author asserts that copyright rules, however, are in considerable flux these days and very little is clear about these new technologies. According to article, we surely have no obligation to follow made-up rules, although it is sometimes easy to confuse these specious requirements with real ones. Given this confusion, it concludes that the need for copyright reform is urgent.With the dawning of the Internet and other highly advanced technology, people all around the world are now able to copy, download, and distribute copyrighted material with ease. Unfortunately, the use of the Internet has increased the conflict with copyright laws. In 1998, Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to address the tricky issue of copyright protections in a digital environment. An important aspect of that law was anti-circumvention protection, which barred people from circumventing password-protected and other secure Web sites that provide access to creative works. The law said the copyright owners could file civil lawsuits against those who break into such secure Web sites. This is the directly applicable law in the DVD case. At its core, copyright law says that the creators of certain literary and artistic works have the right to ensure that unauthorized people do not use their work for unauthorized purposes. The creators hold the copyright. They can give up their exclusive right to publishers or other authorized entities for a limited time or permanently. Legislation and court rulings have held that people have a significant right to make use of exceptions within the copyright law to avoid lawsuits.
On the other hand, if the overwhelming majority of actors regulated by the copyright law are ordinary end-users, it makes no sense to insist that each of them retain copyright counsel in order to fit herself within niches created to suit businesses and institutions, nor is it wise to draw the lines where the representatives of today’s current stakeholders insist they would prefer to draw them. Extending the prescriptions and proscriptions of the current copyright law to govern the everyday acts of non-commercial, non-institutional users is a fundamental change. To do so without affecting a drastic shift in the copyright balance will require a comparably fundamental change in the copyright statutory scheme.In a whole, issues in article raised very well, opposing two different views on copyright problem – from creator’s and from consumer’s side. Undoubtedly, both the Napster and DVD cases raise free speech, fair use and copyright issues, which makes them important to future legal and legislative action in the high-tech area. Using those cases writer shows controversial issues and concludes that the need for copyright reform is urgent. On the other hand there is no strong support for reasons in which way legislation concerning copyrights could be established.In my opinion, the eloquence surrounding digital copyright in general, and peer-to-peer file sharing and DVD encryption in particular, heated in article, inspires great confusion about what the copyright law does and does not prohibit. In general, most of the key legal questions are still unsettled, in part because copyright defendants have run out of money and gone out of business before their cases could go to trial. In that vacuum, some copyright owners are claiming that their preferred rules of conduct are well-established legal requirements. There may be an ethical obligation to follow real rules, even when they seem unreasonable. But there is any ethical obligation to follow made-up ones. Indeed, in this context, we may have an ethical obligation to resist them.
When considering this new and advanced way of sharing information, with regard to copyright laws, the following factors must be assessed: the legality of the situation, financial losses and gains, and moral issues. Two different views can be inevitably argued over this controversial issue; those who think the downloading of copyrighted material, without the permission of the author is theft, and those who believe file sharing of copyrighted material is their right in the information age. Although the digital age has made advanced technology available to everyone, the principles of justice and fairness should still prevail.As an IT professional, we have the moral responsibilities to point out when necessary about copyrights. We should be aware that copyrighted material on the Internet is available for free download only if the creators give consent to its publication and distribution. It can be certain that the debate on copyright in the digital age will continue, and that a definitive solution will take a while to reach for each side. Technology will always be here and will continue to advance, but the industries must be willing to work with the technology to meet the demands of the consumer in the information age.
Hacking is also one of the most significant issues nowadays, which involves almost every aspect of IT ethics. Second article I have submitted for hacking ethics topic is “Under the skin of digital crime” from BBC News.The article discusses issues of “positive” and “negative” hacking. It claims that there was a time when hacking was something positive. It was done in the name of intellectual curiosity rather than financial reward. Now hacking has become an activity that holds two positions and is therefore both solemnized for its insightful inventiveness and defamed for its devious acts. Article claims that the ethics behind hacking and the actions taken by hackers constitute a manifesto that transcends ordinary understanding of this activity. Hackers argue that their actions promote a means for tighter security by way of detecting flaws and patches for systems and software. However, these very actions are viewed as violations of the rights to privacy and security for both individuals and organizations. Consequently, this establishes a cautionary attitude toward ethical issues such as, privacy, security and the future of the Internet.
Another trend that article raises is the creeping criminality of hacking, much of which is now carried out for explicitly financial reward. Some criminal hackers are threatening to bombard some web-based businesses with gigabytes of data unless large amounts of cash are handed over. It is extortion with a hi-tech gloss. In author’s experience, many of these criminal hackers have full-time jobs in technology. “Professional hackers are professional in all senses of the word,” he states, “they work in the industry.”The fundamental doctrine or ethic that hackers use in order to justify their behavior is the idea that hacking offers a mode of investigation, which allows an individual to gain knowledge necessary to infiltrate systems that contain vulnerabilities. Acquiring this knowledge allows one to develop strategies that facilitate exploration of their functions and the inner components of the systems. The “hacker ethic” states in part that all information belongs to everyone and there should be no boundaries or restraints to prevent disclosure of this information. This philosophy that is upheld by the hacker community introduces ethical questions regarding the freedom of information and the loss of privacy. One more argument supported by the hacker ethic is that break-ins elucidate security problems to those who can do something about them. Hacker intrusions into systems surpass the traditional understanding of violating the laws of trespassing. Hacking involves the exploitation, or the manipulation of a bug, or a backdoor that is inherently present within the system. In this view, hacking is not a threat against the integrity of the system being exploited, but instead is a means of implementing corrections and enforcing tighter security.Although issues in article risen well, the writer did not make a conclusive support argument of the statement that many of criminal hackers have full-time jobs in technology. There is not strong support for causes of criminal actions by hackers. The only reason that they carried out hacking, he argued for explicitly financial reward. Concerning hacking ethics, problem discussed very particularly, and the common statement depicts real situation.Undoubtedly, hackers and hacking problems are real ones, but how might they be solved? Security requires much more than designing a secure technical infrastructure that resembles an impenetrable fortress. The key to a secure network is the development of real time enforceable policies that take advantage of security bulletins and published security holes. “It is ethically wrong to wait until systems under protection are compromised in order to begin patching up the holes. Securing a network doesn’t begin with high cost software and security firewalls aimed at halting the intruders, but begins with utilizing available knowledge that calls for improvements made by ethical hacking.” (Mikkkeee).
Whatever the case, hackers believe that when they compromise a system they are in effect introducing fixes that force the system administrator to take the necessary precautions in patching up the hole, thereby tightening the security of the system. From this position, the hacker is actually doing a service to the system administrator who is unfamiliar with the bugs that can lead to a system compromise. If there is any criminal intent on the part of the hacker, then they should be held legally accountable for violating the security of the system and their actions should be punishable by law.From the point of view of IT professional, we have the moral responsibilities to point out when necessary about hacker activities. Even though hacking undoubtedly has led to productive improvement in IT and software security, it has in effect created many disruptive problems online and offline. Hacking is an activity that introduces a method of analysis that targets and works on various components. Therefore, hacking has the potential to cause harm and to violate legitimate privacy and property rights. By ethical standards hacking does introduce crucial security fixes, but does so at the expense of violating privacy and the security of individuals. Furthermore, hacking activities lead to disruptive and dangerous problems for society, which tend to be difficult to eradicate. But, with awareness of those problems, we also should take into account that hacking is underside of technical progress, and could not be considered apart of it. As The Mentor warns in the conclusion to his manifesto, “I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto. You may stop this individual, but you can’t stop us all” (Mentor, 1). Even if the authorities catch a hacker, as long as there is a motivation, hacking will persist. On the other hand, IT professionals should clearly recognize boundary between real professionalism and hacking in their own activity, because that line is very transparent.
In conclusion, we should note, that significant attention paid to issues erected above in public press. Many publications leave negative impression about hacking and copyrights, as those are lawless anyway. The Napster and DVD cases received the most publicity because it involves highly popular software that millions of people around the world use to share music and films. Concerning hacking issue, media tend to use the word “hacker” as a synonym for cyber vandal, digital criminal and basically any person who uses digital means to perform criminal or malicious activities. Nevertheless, it would be better to consider not only consequences, but causes as well.
For the first look hacking and copyrights are on the contrary sides of ethics, but when we examine details, there are much more common between them. These problems are permanent topics of news nowadays. With penetration of information technology into mass media, which now functioning very closely related with World Wide Web, moreover, when Internet becoming a main media, issues of hacking and intellectual property ethics are affecting mass media itself noticeably. Thus those problems widely covered now in press and will cover on with spreading of information technology. The question is in qualitative impact of subjects on mass media.
Bynum, Terrell, IT Ethics: Basic Concepts and Historical Overview. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2001 Edition), Edward N. Zalta(ed.),
Gehringer, Edward. “Ethics in Computing.” Ethical Issues. Homepage. 2001
Chebium, Raju. “Napster, DVD cases raise copyright questions in digital age.” CNN.com News. August 7, 2000
Ward, Mark. “Under the skin of digital crime.” BBC News Online. 11 May, 2004
Mikkkeee. “Hacking: Ethical Issues of the Internet Revolution.” New Order Portal. March 29, 2003
The Mentor, “The Conscience of a Hacker,” Phrack, Vol One, Issue 7, Phile 3, January 8, 1986. February 10, 2003.