movement is growing among computer professionals and entrepreneurs to curb the lawless side of the Internet and bring awareness and acceptance of computer ethics. Some of the most prominent names in the industry are taking an active role in straightening out the renegades and handling the problem at its source.
Today, ethical collapse is no longer confined to the trauma ward. It is epidemic among are you ready for this? information technology users. And you may be among them, according to the National Computer Ethics & Responsibilities Campaign (NCERC).
The campaign and its principal sponsor, the Computer Ethics Institute (CEI), a nonprofit research, education and policy study organization in Washington, D.C., are pressing to move computer ethics out of the realm of philosophical debate and into implementation in the world of computers and their users. They stress that in the real world, well-defined standards of behavior have been established for centuries, while some have exploited the fact that the world of computers is ethically uncharted. Now, according to CEI and NCERC, it is time to bring that scenario to a close.
Computer ethics begin where the fingers meet the keyboard, said Patrick Sullivan, executive director of CEI. But ethics are more than a philosophical concern. They are directly relevant to managers and system operators, for whom computer technology presents ethical problems ranging from e-mail privacy and worker monitoring to employee use of corporate resources.
NCERC member Charlie Atterbury said, There are many issues in computing for which there are no laws.... So where do you turn? You have to turn to encouraging responsible computing and ethical behavior.
NCERC participants feel that a key part of the answer to problems in the field of computer ethics lies in education. Nick Routledge, co-chairman of NCERC, told Freedom, Computers are a relatively new part of our lives, and while you are taught the ethics of different fields in school, computer ethics isnt taught. A lot of the unethical behavior we see is a product of ignorance more than anything else.
NCERC is pushing for computer ethics becoming part of the standard school curriculum.
We hope that all concerned will really understand that they have a vested interest in self-regulation businesses, government agencies, and so on.
Along with encouraging discussion and ideas on computer ethics, NCERC has posited the Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics which includes points such as Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people and Thou shalt not appropriate other peoples intellectual output.
We need to change what might be perceived as logically wrong to a gut level wrong, said Dr. Peter Tippett, director of CEI and co-chairman of NCERC. Tippett cited common fallacies in the computer field which cloud ethical issues, such as the hackers ethic: As long as youre doing it for pure pursuit of knowledge, its OK.
In real life, we call this trespassing he said.
NCERC has been joined by numerous noted computer organizations and business corporations, such as Compuserve, the National Computer Security Association, Business Software Alliance and Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. Their National Computer Ethics Conference was at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C., April 27- 28, 1995.
For more information on NCERC, log on to the computer ethics forum on Compuserve, GO CIS:ETHICS, or write to CEI at 11 Dupont Circle N.W. Suite 900, Washington, D.C. 20036-1271, phone: (301) 469-0615, e-mail: CEI-L@american.edu.