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Privacy

What information about one's self or one's associations must a person


reveal to others, under what conditions and with what safeguards? What things
can people keep to themselves and not be forced to reveal to others? Mason says
two forces threaten our privacy: the growth of information technology and, more
insidious, the increased value of information in decision making. Diverse files relating
to a person and his or her activities are integrated into a single, large database,
revealing intimate details. These may be formed, used and sold without the affected
parties' permission or knowledge. Mason refers to this as the "threat of exposure by
minute description" (Mason, 1996). In Mason's model, each additional weaving
together of each detail of a person's attributes reveals more and more. In the process,
he says, the fabric that is created poses a threat to privacy.

Accuracy
Who is responsible for the authenticity, fidelity and accuracy of
information? Who is to be held accountable for errors in information and how is
the injured party to be made whole? Some data available in information systems
masquerading as the gospel truth is completely in error. More than 60,000 state and
local agencies, for example, provide information to the National Crime Information
Center, which is accessed by law officers nearly 400,000 times a day. Yet studies show
that over 4 percent of the stolen vehicle entries, 6 percent of the warrant entries and
perhaps as many as one half of the local law enforcement criminal history records
contain fallacies (Mason, 1996). Today we in the information industry are producing
so many details about so many people and their activities that our exposure to
problems of inaccuracy is enormous.

Property
Who owns information? What are the just and fair prices for its exchange?
Who owns the channels, especially the airways, through which information is
transmitted? How should access to this scarce resource be allocated? There are
substantial economic and ethical concerns surrounding intellectual property rights.
Any individual piece of information can be extremely costly to produce in the first
instance. Yet, once it's produced, that information can be easily reproduced and
repeated, ad infinitum. It can also be altered, then attributed inaccurately to the
original author in a misleading fashion. Copyrights, patents, encryption, oaths of
confidentiality, and such old-fashioned values as trustworthiness and loyalty are
imperfect institutions that often fail to protect property rights. There are some equally

pressing property rights issues surrounding the conduits through which information
passes. Bandwidth, the measure of capacity to carry information, is a scarce and
ultimately fixed commodity. Are ethics or financial concerns foremost when positions
on this spectrum are being awarded?

Accessibility
What information does a person or an organization have a right or a
privilege to obtain, under what conditions and with what safeguards? At the same
time computer usage flourishes among some, there exists a large group of
information-poor people who have no direct access to computational technology and
who have little training in its use. The educational and economic ante can be quite
high when playing the modern information game. Many people cannot or choose not
to pay it and hence are excluded from participating fully. In effect, they may become
information dropouts. (Mason, 1996)

Impact: Structuring an Ethics Design


Impact Computer Science: Group's work applicable in all
information fields

It wasn't until the 1970s that philosophers and ethicists began to take a
close look at the ethical issues raised by computing technology. Primary scholarly
work has now accumulated on topics such as the purposes of codes of ethics, the
duties of professionals, intellectual property, privacy and organizational ethics
(Impact Computer Science, 1996).
The report "Consequences of Computing: A Framework for Teaching" was
assembled by a steering committee comprised of 25 professors of management,
sociology, computer science, philosophy, psychology, mathematics and religion from
25 of the finest institutions of higher education in the United States. In its
comprehensive, conceptual overview of the field, the report points out that
professionals constructing an ethics model for their organization must consider how
their decisions will affect the variety of individuals who will use their product.
Another important point brought forth is that within any organization there are likely
to be differing points of view on the use, regulation, promise and design of the product
(Impact, 1996).

Organizational dynamics have to be taken into account when designing an ethics


framework. "Organizational imperatives that require work groups to value production
above all else are often the culprits in poor quality," the authors warn (Impact, 1996).
In this age of fragmented competition, short-handed newsrooms and 24-hour news,
ethics, even when carefully assembled and recognized in a professional code, may
often take a back seat.

It is assumed in most newsrooms that individual responsibilities held as


common moral imperatives - avoiding harm to others, being honest, taking
action not to discriminate - need not be enumerated in an ethics code. It is
difficult to imagine any ethical system that could survive without a basic
expectation of this sort. Because journalism is a profession, its adherents have a
responsibility to shape the profession in ways that are socially desirable. One
vital characteristic of a profession is that it professes to have the best interest of
the public at heart (Impact, 1996). Professional responsibilities should be woven
into the ethics of the workplace.
In structuring an ethics design, it's important to use criteria such as logical
coherence, agreement with accepted standards and applicability to a variety of cases.
Rules should have quality reasons for their existence in the framework (Impact, 1996).

In setting ethics methodologies, the manager makes a commitment. Ethical


reflection begins with the assumption that all design and implementation involves
value choices. The authors of "Consequences of Computing" say there are a
variety of questionable, naive approaches to ethical reasoning. In their model for
compiling an ethics framework (Impact, 1996), the authors say managers should
try to avoid:
* Naive Legalism: The equation of ethicality with legality is a tempting way to
shorten ethical reflection. While legal issues are important, assuming that "if it is
legal, it is ethical," is asking more of the law than it can provide. It denies the
legitimacy of principled disagreement with the law.
* Naive Egoism: This is the simple belief that selfishness is the best guiding
principle. This makes it convenient to deny one's duties and one's fellow creatures
while concentrating only on one's profit. This form offers up a fundamental
dishonesty, since it assumes that everyone else will continue to follow ethical norms.
* Naive Agency: The surrender of all moral authority by claiming to be a simple
agent of some other entity (e.g. your superior). In the end, even the legal system
requires individual responsibility. Sometimes soldiers have to disobey orders.

* Naive Relativism: The belief that all moral choices are relative to the situation and
the culture. Because there are a variety of cultures and situational constructs, this view
can make almost any decision look reasonable.
Technology is shaping our society, but society has shaped technology as well.
Social, cultural, technological and organizational considerations will affect the
construction of an ethics code, and it must be reassessed periodically to keep it
current. Value judgments can include decisions to use particular methods, to
implement particular features, to meet particular standards and to adhere to particular
criteria. Deciding what to leave undone or unsaid is also a key ethical consideration
(Impact, 1996).
Ethical argument should move from intuition about the right and the good, to
explicit reasoning, and then be tested by comparison to concrete examples and
analogies in the field under consideration (Impact, 1996).