Ethical codes - vital for ICT Professionals and businesses

14-4-2015 12:07 | Views: 3023

By Juxhina Malaj, Marketing and Communication Coordinator at Silvae Technologies

Due to rapid evolve of technology, developing a code of ethics for IT professionals is becoming a real struggle nowadays.

Ethical theories are important in every professional field and every aspect of our life. Every professional must know his or her boundaries and how to behave in certain satiations by having a set of ethical values already established.  ICT companies must as well have a set of ethical values established, but since technology is one of the fields that evolves every second and minute that passes, defining ethical codes in this field is becoming harder and harder nowadays and IT professionals are facing many problems concerning computer ethics effects.

How did computer ethics started to gain popularity and which organizations and institutions were among the first ones to formulate the codes of computer ethics? Why are ethical theories important and how do they apply to IT professionals? Why must ICT companies establish a set of ethical values and how does the lack of a well established set of ethical values affect a company’s image and reputation overall?

Background

IT professionals did not consider computer ethics effects until the late 80s and the early 90s, the same period of time when internet access started becoming popular worldwide.  During that time, several associations tried to formulate the computer ethics codes. The Association for Computing Machinery and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers were among the first associations to seriously consider the long-term effects of computer ethics.

According to this article http://ecommerce.hostip.info/pages/246/Computer-Ethics.html , the Computer Ethics Institute formulated the "Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics," which was basically a list of what is and what is not acceptable for computer use. “The code devised by the Association for Computing Machinery, for instance, included specific instructions that it is ‘the responsibility of professionals to maintain the privacy and integrity of data describing individuals,’ and that clear definitions for the retention and storage of such information and the enforcement thereof must be implemented for the protection of individual privacy.”

 

How do ethical theories apply to IT professionals?

 “Dickson (2014, Rundu Campus) indicated that ethics are a set moral principles that govern a persons or groups behavior. When someone is behaving ethically they conform to generally accepted practices of a society or group.”

Some of the ethical problems in computing include "…the unauthorized use of hardware, the theft of software, disputed rights to products, the use of computers to commit fraud, the phenomenon of hacking and data theft, sabotage in the form of viruses, responsibility for the reliability of output, making false claims for computers, and the degradation of work, ” according to ‘Ethical Problems in Computing’ article by Lou Berzai.

Every society has a set of rules that tell how to behave and which behavior is accepted and which is not.  Moral codes of a society are not the same for everyone though because not all societies and communities have their boundaries set the same. What can be called unacceptable behavior in one society may be pretty acceptable in another society due to cultural differences and mind sets that different countries and communities have.

The same applies to IT professional’s code of ethics. The only difference is that, unlike ethical codes set in other areas, IT professionals are constantly faced with different computing ethics as technology keeps evolving. That is why the constant establishment of an ethical set for IT professionals is important. 

 

How are ICT businesses related to ethical theory?

The way ethics apply to IT professionals affects ICT companies and businesses too. If  IT professionals  in X company cannot identify and understand what is ethical and what is not, their actions do not only affect them as professionals, but affect the image and prestige of the company they work for too.

Is it the ICT companys’ job to educate their IT employees? I would say that it is in a way, since their employees' actions affect the company as well. That is why companies must establish strong computer use ethical codes based on ethical theory.

 “Often times, people feel that what is legal must also be moral, but this is not necessarily the case. Companies must distinguish between the two. A company should define what it considers to be moral and establish a moral code that is consistent company wide. Ethical theory is absolutely necessary because general rules are not always sufficient, moral decisions must be justified, and conventional morality is not always correct. (De George 51 – 52) However, there is no one completely satisfactory ethical theory,” according to Berzai.

As the quote says, what is legal is not necessarily right morally. But if a company wants to make sure its image and prestige won’t be ruined, it has to establish a set of  ethical codes combined with moral values and find a balance between the information needed on the part of the company and the unnecessary information used for unethical reasons.

Even though organizations need to get as much information as possible in order to make better business related decisions, and be more productive in the long term, there must be a balance between the kind of information that is relevant and fairly used by an organization and the information that is used for personal interests from IT professionals.   

 

The development of a code of ethics for IT professionals is necessary and ‘should allow for standards that are not covered by the organization’s policies’ in case a certain situation or scenario is not covered by a policy. 

“Developing and maintaining a code of ethics specific to the IT profession is essential to the creation of a culture that fosters trust and a commitment to responsibility, honesty, corporate integrity, and personal integrity while abstaining from conflicts of interest and perceived improprieties, ” according to Brooks, the author of  American Journal of Business Education.

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