With proliferation in information technology, stakeholders are now raising concerns about ethical issues that arise out of the use of information systems. Although issues of morality and ethics in this computer age have been discussed at length for many years, ethical issues in mainstream Information Technology became a serious matters just a decade ago.
A number of issues remain salient in discussions about ethics in information technology. They include issues of privacy, intellectual property, cybercrime, software piracy, computer hacking, security and social exclusion (Brooks, 2010). This paper focuses on the ethical issues in information technology, societal changes and issues arising from these subjects, as well as the process of establishing a code of ethics. The rest of the paper will explore an interpretation of how a code of ethics would be established and enforcement issues related to a code of ethics for information technology.
Ethical issues in information technology
Many critiques have observed that while ethical concerns are essential in ensuring that people access information systems in a manner that respects all other users and the systems themselves, advancements in technology have continue to pose challenges of dealing with ethical problems in the field (Brooks, 2010; Davison et al., 2009). For instance, technology provides for anonymity, which significantly eliminates the likelihood of implementing any sort of punishment to those who misuse IT systems (Robin, Briggs & Nicholson, 2011). Since it is not possible to administer a punishment for unethical conduct, it is almost impossible to deal with ethical issues that come with the use of technology (Robin, Briggs & Nicholson, 2011). What is the likelihood that a person would act morally if he or she decides to be invisible? Since personal judgments vary from one person to the other, it becomes difficult to act in an ethically uniform manner (Culnan & Williams, 2009).
When argued from the perspectives of utilitarianism and consequentialism, ethical concerns in IT can take a different direction altogether. Using consequentialism, for example, one may argue that a good action is the one which outcomes produce overall good and minimizes harm (Culnan & Williams, 2009). From this standpoint, the minority rights can be severely abused while a majority of the people will benefit from unfettered access to one’s authorship (Brooks, 2010).
These are possessions such as inventions, symbols and business names, or content that an individual or an organization uses. As an intangible asset, the use and abuse by intellectual property has come on the forefront with the advancements in technology; and the use of IT that facilitates the use of other people’s innovations as own ones. Lack of proper nationwide legislation and policies to guard businesses, especially young business, has impacted negatively the ability of owners to gain maximum financial benefits.
Computer crimes, especially cybercrimes, are illegal actions by computer and internet users and they may include unauthorized use or theft, sabotage, embezzlement of funds and computer-aided theft. Studies have shown that a good number of businesses have been affected by cybercrimes, which put them at a less profitable position. The challenges of monitoring the internet and the magnitude of the funding needed to check and fix loopholes make it difficult for organizations to set up essential security measures (Robin, Briggs & Nicholson, 2011). Small businesses remain easy targets for cybercrimes since they think these attacks target only established and highly profitable companies (Davison et al., 2009).
Piracy has been one of the major challenges the owners of certain technologies across the world are facing. It refers to illegally copying and using someone else’s software. Piracy violets property rights, copyright laws—and many businesses lose millions of money in illegal copies of their pieces (Brooks, 2008).
However, the rightness of an action does not rest on the magnitude of the damage the action causes to the other party (Robin, Briggs & Nicholson, 2011). The dilemma, however, crops in when individual piracy is escalated to higher levels, as this scenario can cause serious losses for those who manufacture the software.
One may argue that large corporations such as Microsoft can hardly suffer significantly from small-scale piracy, but small manufacturers can be forced to close their business. This threatens to kill innovation, as people fear that their creativity and hard work would be stolen.
Societal ethical changes caused by information technology
The society has been a victim of the emergence and development of the information technology. Researchers, especially sociologists and anthropologists argue that in the computer age, the concept of “we” has slowly degenerated into the “I” concept, which is a major concern for societal growth (Awasthi, 2008). In his observation, Hiruta (2006) notes that technology is slowly breeding two groups of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’—a characteristic of ‘have’ has an unfettered access to IT systems and the internet, and people whose access to these facilities is limited. Clearly, questions of ethical dilemma arise in those who have no access to developing a sense of discrimination and a denial to access opportunities (Robin, Briggs & Nicholson, 2011).
According utilitarianism, anything from which a majority can gain a maximum benefit should be pursued. Contrary to utilitarianism, the computer rekindles the already dying norm of individuality, which has been viewed as capitalistic in nature (Brooks, 2008).
Ethical usage of information technology
While the use of information has been lauded as a game changer, ethical usage of information technology remains an elusive goal for most organizations that rely on IT infrastructure to grow their business. The use of technology has undergone sharp criticisms with critics saying that privileged access to information technology by certain people or professionals denies other users the chance of exploiting the opportunities therein (Robin, Briggs & Nicholson, 2011; Himma, K., & Tavani, 2008). When some people have privileges to monitor and use computers with utmost discretion, chances are that they will infringe on the user rights of other people.
The development of a code of ethics associative with these ethical issues
While most companies have IT usage policies in place, these policies are varied based on the size, nature of operations, organizational culture and the type of management (Madon, Reinhard & Roode, 2009). The fact that private and public organizations vary in the manner in which they conduct their businesses; it follows that IT policies will vary considerably (Mingers & Walsham, 2010). Against this backdrop, it is clear that however good an IT policy is, it cannot purport to cover all ethical issues both current and emerging. A code of ethics that addresses these ethical dilemmas should be developed and updated, as well as applied indiscriminately (Awasthi, 2008).
Enforcement issues related to a code of ethics for information technology
As organizations struggle to beat the odds and remain top of their information technology usage, more and more issues arise. This situation is escalated even more as new and advanced technologies are adopted. The problem of enforcing the code of ethics for information technology comes in the spotlight when a policy vacuum in the sense that no clear guidelines exist on how users of information technology systems should make use of them (Mingers & Walsham, 2010). It is arguable that in today’s fast-paced world, IT provides us with new opportunities to explore the unknown world much easier than before (Brooks, 2010).
Many people agree that either lack of a comprehensive IT policy framework or existence of inadequate policies are major setbacks for organizations, especially those that are beginning to embrace technology. A proper IT policy is the one which would accommodate personal, social and professional aspects regarding ethical use of IT systems (Awasthi, 2008).
Interpretation of how a code of ethics would be established within an academic setting
Information technology users, particularly large and upcoming organizations, are bound to face challenges establishing codes of ethics in an online-driven environment. This brings in a new twist — the need to devise new and progressive policies that define effective, fair, and impartial use of academic information (Brooks, 2010). As the academic environment continues to grow into complex and larger outfits, academic environments will need to keep up with this growth as well.
Codes of ethics cannot be cast on stone, new forms of ethical concerns are always emerging, and organizations need to decide on how often they should unbundle their old policies, add new guides to reflect the changing demands. This task can never be easy, it requires that educational institutions mobilize resources, including time, money and considers the potential risks that would ensue if the code is implemented (Robin, Briggs & Nicholson, 2011).
Creating new codes of ethics can be a costly affair, it demands more time and human resources to create a clear, elaborate and workable code that would protect information users, organizations and other third parties within an IT usage cycle from cyber thefts (Mingers & Walsham, 2010).
Information technologies pay and will continue to play a significant role in expanding opportunities and enabling people to do things in extraordinary ways that were once unimaginable. Both private and public organizations continue to be victims of ethical dilemmas such as privacy, piracy, cybercrimes and intellectual property that emerge out of the use of information technology. While many organizations are always determined to devise measures to tame these challenges, most of these entities have failed to develop a comprehensive code of ethics that would address the issues. These ethical issues continue to raise intriguing questions touching on whether technology has changed the way the society operates.
Based on the discussions, the society has been the biggest victim of the IT thefts given that the notion of “We” has been replaced by the “I” notion, a move from pluralism to individualism that, according to social scientist, could tear apart the society if not addressed properly. Before establishing a code of ethics, it is essential for the concerned authorities to research the issues and determine the impact it will have on users, the organization and the society before publication.
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