Free Computer Ethics Essays


Legality, piracy, ethics, effects, moral dilemmas, motives, age, involvement, types -

encryption are all main issues in Computer Crimes in todays world. How do we determine

someone fate? Computer crime has become such a hot topic in the media since the middle

of the 1980's. By now most of us would have probably recognize the names of some of

the prominent "hackers" such as Kevin Mitnick or Robert Morris, which I will touch upon

their crimes. These hackers or more appropriately "crackers" have been both vilified and

herofied by the media and the computer field. Some of these criminals have been made

out to be modern day Robin Hoods, or cyberpunks or whatever. I however disagree with

them, and feel as a member of the computer community their actions are irresponsible.

Kevin Mitnick is a well knowncomputer criminal who was apprehended with the

aided of "Cybersleuth" Tsutumo Shimomura, whose computer was one of the many that

Mitnick invaded. He had always been in trouble with the law for computer related crimes.

He was first convicted and was declared to be addicted to computers. Part of the

stipulations of his parole was that he not have access to computers. It was his return to

computer use that brought the law against him, but he was not captured again until after

invading Shimomura's computer. Mitnick had apparently invaded computers across the

nation, stealing millions of dollars worth of corporate trade secrets, in addition to over

20,000 credit card numbers.

Robert Morris was the author of the infamous Internet "worm" that brought the

Internet to a standstill back in 1988. Morris a highly knowledgeable first year graduate

student at Cornell University authored this worm program which exploited many security

flaws in the UNIX operating system to spread throughout the Internet. Reactions to his

worm are greatly varied. Some claim that this act was unlawful, irresponsible, and

negligent. However, other have heralded his release of the program as a way to bring

national attention to the security flaws inherent in the UNIX operating system.


The United States government has proposed that a compromise that would allow

people to use encrypted devices, but still allows the government to break the codes if

necessary. Essentially, an encryption chip, the clipper chip, would be placed into devices

that need secure data transmission. The keys to decoding the encrypted message would

be kept in escrow by two separate government agencies. Each agency would contain half

of the key to prevent abuse. Law enforcement agencies would be able to obtain the keys

by obtaining a warrant.

The current body of laws existing today in America does not apply well to the

Internet. Is the Internet like a bookstore, where servers cannot be expected to review

every title? Is the Internet like a phone company who must ignore what it carries because

of privacy? Is it like a broadcasting medium, where the government monitors what it

broadcasts? The trouble is that the Internet can be all or none of these things depending

on how it's used. The Internet cannot be viewed as one type of transfer medium user

current broadcasting definition.

Jim Exon, a democratic senator from Nebraska, wants to pass a decency bill

regulating the Internet. If the bill passes, certain commercial servers that post pictures of

unclad beings, like those run by Penthouse or Playboy, would of course be shut down

immediately or risk prosecution. The same goes for any amateur web site that features

nudity, sex talk, or rough language. Posting any dirty words in a Usenet discussion group,

which occurs routinely, could make one liable for a $50,000 dollar fine and six months in

jail. Even worse, if a magazine that commonly runs some of those nasty words in its

pages, The New Yorker for instance, decided to post its comments on-line, its leaders

would be responsible for a $100,000 fine and two years in jail. Why does it suddenly

become illegal to post something that has been legal for years in print? Exon's bill

apparently would also "criminalize private mail," ... "I can call my brother on the phone

and say anything -- but if I say it on the Internet, its illegal".

Congress, in their pursuit of regulations, seems to have overlooked the fact that

the majority of adult material comes from overseas. Although many U.S. government

sources helped fund Arpanet, the predecessor to the Internet, they no longer control it.

Many of the new Internet technologies, including the World Wide Web, have come from

overseas. There is no clear boundary between information held in the U.S. and

information stored in other countries. Data held in foreign computers is just as accessible

as data in America, all it take is the click of a mouse to access. Even if our government

tried to regulate the Internet, we have no control over what is posted in other countries,

and we have no practical way to stop it.


Software piracy is a very large problem in the software industry. Millions of

dollars are lost in sales yearly by software corporation because of it. In addition to the

loss of sales, software piracy also aids in the spread of computer viruses. There have been

a number of occurrences of viruses that were designed to show how rampant piracy

actually is. Here is two examples of software piracy; Aldus Peace Virus and the Pakistani


The Aldus Peace Virus was a harmless virus that was inserted into a popular

computer game that displayed a message of peace to Macintosh users on March 2, 1988.

Richard Brandow acknowledged that he had written the message and that his intention

was to display how widespread software piracy had become.

The Pakistani Brain Virus was designed by two brothers, Amjad Farooq Alvi and

Basit Farooq, who ran a software company to protect their software from piracy. They

entered it into programs so that they would know who pirated their software when they

called for the vaccination. They also inserted this virus into American copyrighted

software that was being purchased in Pakistan because they believed that by purchasing

American software that wasn't protected by copyright laws in Pakistan that people were

pirating that piece of software and should be punished.


This is a touchy subject, there are many various meanings; Unethical means not

conforming to an appropriate personal standard of conduct, Not ethical means not

violating an appropriate personal standard of conduct, No ethics means no appropriate

personal standard of conduct was involved or the action was clearly illegal.

Advancements in computer and data communications technology have resulted in

the need to re-evaluate the applications of ethical principals and establish new agreements

on ethical practices. The application of ethics information science, technology, and

business is more difficult than in other disciplines for several reasons. Computer and data

communications alter relationships among people. Data communications take place

without personal contact, without the visual and aural senses to help convey meaning.

Moreover, the paperless society, in which information is transmitted at electric speeds,

functions side by side with the paper-based society, where information is shared at a snail's

pace. Conveying one's intentions in a letter, which can take days to reach the recipient, is

very different from instantaneous electric transmission because of how quickly the

recipient may act on them. Communication occurs so quickly that one may not have time

to consider the implications of the information before it has been sent and received.

Information in electric, magnetic, and optical form is far more fragile than

information on paper. Computers and data communications systems provide for high-

speed, low-cost processing, communication, copying and printing of intangible intellectual

property. This capability introduces new factors in decisions about property rights,

residual rights, plagiarism, piracy and violation of privacy. Negative events happen so

easily, sometimes without the initiators even considering the consequences, that ethical

issues are intensified. Freedom of expression is greatly levered and magnified to the

extent that far more good may be done with creation, use and dissemination of

information. Yet it follows that the consequences of unethical acts are equally magnified.


Believe it or not computer crimes, I believe do have some positive effects. That

the U.S. violent crime rate drops 10 percent from last year. The survey, issued by the

department's Bureau of Justice statistics, found an estimated 2.7 million violent crimes last

year, down from 3.0 million in 1995. according to the survey, property crimes, such as

household burglaries and motor vehicle thefts, recorded an 8 percent decline last year.

The victimization rates in 1996 are the lowest recorded by the survey since its inception in

1973, Jan Chaiken, the director of the statistics - gathered agency, said.

People tend to be finding different ways to commit crimes, through computers, in

their offices at work to the computers at their homes. I think it is the lesser of the two

evils, I would personally rather have someone break into my bank account than my home.

That way their is no physical endangerment to my family members and myself. I approach

the situation this way, damage through a computer would not hurt us physically 90

percent of the time, and physical damage can never be fixed 100 percent and money can

always be replaced, not a human life.


The general public all have common truths that apply to everyone's behavior. We

all know that the ends do not justify the means, and that two wrongs don't make it right

and the notion "everyone else is doing it". Most people have tried to justify an action not

the answer nor an excuse for harmful actions caused.


Much of the unauthorized entry into computer systems is done by young computer

enthusiast who are seeking to display and test their computer skills. Some claim to try to

penetrate systems so that they can learn how to better protect their own systems. These

types of invasions have led many skilled hackers to find their way into employment as

security consultants. There have been some cases in which people have written viruses or

broke into and damaged computer systems as a means of punishing individuals for

committing wrongs. Some invasions occur just because the intruder wants to look around

the system and see what is there, sometimes leaving a calling card message behind to let

the owner know that they penetrated into their system.

Philosophy is where the hacker ethic comes into the discussion. Many hackers and

computer users believe that all information should be free and available to the public. So

they break into protected systems to release hoarded information. The Idle system

argument claims that most computers sit idling by wasting cycles. Therefore it is

acceptable for hackers to break in and use these wasted cycles because it benefits the

overall society by providing more people with access to computing power. The student

hacker argument addresses the issues around the learning process of breaking into

systems. People claim that by breaking into systems, one can learn a great deal about

computers and therefore these types of educational break-ins are not unethical.

There is also a threat that people will break into computer systems to cause

sabotage or aid in terrorism. There has been little evidence of such activities released to

the public, but it is known that both the CIA and NSA are experimenting with computer

viruses as strategic weapons. I find this to be slightly ironic because the United States is

one of the only nations that could actually be crippled by such a virus.


As we mature, however, ethics take on a new meaning and importance, especially

as we begin a professional career. Computer education now begins in grade school, it is

no longer a restricted technical specialty, learned only as a part of on-the-job training or in

an engineering or mathematics graduate program. Computers have become as

commonplace as telephones. The related ethical issues have thus become more

democratically defined. More people have more to say about computer ethics simply

because so many more people are computer-literate. On the other hand, the diffuses of

the impacts and the wide distribution of the technology mean that recognizing impacts, let

alone solving an ethical dilemma, is much more difficult.


This type of computer crime and abuse is one which attaches a great deal of

attention from the media. It is in this area that many " hackers" have achieved Robin

Hood status. This area encompasses a broad range of criminal activity, the law

concerning which is still being shaped. Old law doesn't apply well here because of the

problems surrounding electric data as property. Many states have begun to try to expand

property definitions to include electric data, use of computers to commit, aid or abet the

commission of crime, crimes against intellectual property, knowing unauthorized use of

computers, unauthorized copying of electronic data, the prevention of authorized usage of

computers and electronic data, unlawful acquisition and prevention of use of computers.


With the heightened awareness of the lack of privacy that exists in cyberspace, the

many members of the computing community have embraced the usage of encryption.

However, encryption has many legal barriers that restrict it. The United States

government fears that the widespread usage of encryption by people because it fears that it

will not be able to crack encrypted transmissions and will not be able to enforce law as

effectively as it has in the past. It also fears that the exportation of advanced American

encryption devices and techniques poses a significant risk to national security. This is why

encryption devices and algorithms are classified as munitions.

Some current examples in the encryption field are PGP and RSA encryption.

Author Phil Zimmerman was investigated by the United States government for violating

export laws, by making Pretty Good Privacy(PGP) available on the World Wide Web

where it was down loaded to sites outside of the United States. RSA encryption is often

considered a standard in software that uses encryption techniques. RSA can be written in

4 lines or PERL code and could easily be exported. An industry problem arises with RSA

because American companies that use RSA encryption in their software, have to use less

secure encryption techniques in the software they export out of the United States and thus

hurts their sales because foreign consumers are aware of the decrease in security.


Although a computer is not unethical, certain applications of computer maybe.

Moreover, replacing a manual activity with an automated device does not change the

ethnically of the activity. Using a computer as a marketing tool, for example, is not

unethical. When the device being used is hidden, however, ethically becomes more

difficult to judge. A hidden device used in a accepted relationship is unethical, but

enhancing one's intellect with a device in a computer game or else where, as long as such

use does not violate the commonly understood rules or laws is ethical. Given our

increasing technology capacity to develop ever more powerful computers, the

controversy on these issues can be expected to increase for many years to come.

Yet, there is a great deal of potential damage to be done by computer criminals

especially as we move into a more computer dependent age. It is up to us to decide what

we find ethical in regards to Computers and electronic information and resources should

be unrestricted because we have no property claims upon it and it will increase overall

efficiency. But there are also those who argue against this type of electronic socialism.

The laws are currently being shaped around us, but regardless of this there will always be

computer crime. What we must really decide is how to punish it. How should intent

factor into computer break-ins? Should all break-ins be considered equally unethical or

would those where the intruder only intended to have a look around be seen as more of a

misdemeanor than a felony? In conclusion, the field of computer crime will indeed be an

interesting passage to follow.

Computer ethics is a part of practical philosophy concerned with how computing professionals should make decisions regarding professional and social conduct.[1] Margaret Anne Pierce, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computers at Georgia Southern University has categorized the ethical decisions related to computer technology and usage into three primary influences:

  1. The individual's own personal code.
  2. Any informal code of ethical conduct that exists in the work place.
  3. Exposure to formal codes of ethics.[2]


The term computer ethics was first coined by Walter Maner,[1] a professor at Bowling Green State University. The conceptual foundations of computer ethics are investigated by information ethics, a branch of philosophical ethics promoted, among others, by Luciano Floridi.[3]


The concept of computer ethics originated in the 1940s with MIT professor Norbert Wiener, the American mathematician and philosopher. While working on anti-aircraft artillery during World War II, Wiener and his fellow engineers developed a system of communication between the part of a cannon that tracked a warplane, the part that performed calculations to estimate a trajectory, and the part responsible for firing.[1] Wiener termed the science of such information feedback systems "cybernetics," and he discussed this new field with its related ethical concerns in his 1948 book, Cybernetics.[1][4] In 1950, Wiener's second book, The Human Use of Human Beings, delved deeper into the ethical issues surrounding information technology and laid out the basic foundations of computer ethics.[4]

A bit later during the same year the world's first computer crime was committed. A programmer was able to use a bit of computer code to stop his banking account from being flagged as overdrawn. However, there were no laws in place at that time to stop him, and as a result he was not charged.[5][unreliable source?] To make sure another person did not follow suit, an ethics code for computers was needed.

In 1973, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) adopted its first code of ethics.[1]SRI International's Donn Parker,[6] an author on computer crimes, led the committee that developed the code.[1]

In 1976, medical teacher and researcher, Walter Maner noticed that ethical decisions are much harder to make when computers are added. He noticed a need for a different branch of ethics for when it came to dealing with computers. The term "computer ethics" was thus invented.[1][4]

In the year 1976 Joseph Weizenbaum made his second significant addition to the field of computer ethics. He published a book titled Computer Power and Human Reason,[7] which talked about how artificial intelligence is good for the world; however it should never be allowed to make the most important decisions as it does not have human qualities such as wisdom. By far the most important point he makes in the book is the distinction between choosing and deciding. He argued that deciding is a computational activity while making choices is not and thus the ability to make choices is what makes us humans.

At a later time during the same year Abbe Mowshowitz, a professor of Computer Science at the City College of New York, published an article titled "On approaches to the study of social issues in computing." This article identified and analyzed technical and non-technical biases in research on social issues present in computing.

During 1978, the Right to Financial Privacy Act was adopted by the United States Congress, drastically limiting the government's ability to search bank records.[8]

During the same year Terrell Ward Bynum, the professor of Philosophy at Southern Connecticut State University as well as Director of the Research Center on Computing and Society there, developed the first ever curriculum for a university course on computer ethics.[citation needed] Bynum was also editor of the journal Metaphilosophy.[1] In 1983 the journal held an essay contest on the topic of computer ethics and published the winning essays in its best-selling 1985 special issue, “Computers and Ethics.”[1]

In 1984, the United States Congress passed the Small Business Computer Security and Education Act, which created a Small Business Administration advisory council to focus on computer security related to small businesses.[9]

In 1985, James Moor, Professor of Philosophy at DartMouth College in New Hampshire, published an essay called "What is Computer Ethics?"[4] In this essay Moor states the computer ethics includes the following: "(1) identification of computer-generated policy vacuums, (2) clarification of conceptual muddles, (3) formulation of policies for the use of computer technology, and (4) ethical justification of such policies."[1]

During the same year, Deborah Johnson, Professor of Applied Ethics and Chair of the Department of Science, Technology, and Society in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences of the University of Virginia, got the first major computer ethics textbook published.[4] Johnson's textbook identified major issues for research in computer ethics for more than 10 years after publication of the first edition.[4]

In 1988, Robert Hauptman, a librarian at St. Cloud University, came up with "information ethics," a term that was used to describe the storage, production, access and dissemination of information.[5][unreliable source?] Near the same time, the Computer Matching and Privacy Act was adopted and this act restricted United States government programs identifying debtors.[10]

In the year 1992, ACM adopted a new set of ethical rules called "ACM code of Ethics and Professional Conduct"[11] which consisted of 24 statements of personal responsibility.

Three years later, in 1995, Krystyna Górniak-Kocikowska, a Professor of Philosophy at Southern Connecticut State University, Coordinator of the Religious Studies Program, as well as a Senior Research Associate in the Research Center on Computing and Society, came up with the idea that computer ethics will eventually become a global ethical system and soon after, computer ethics would replace ethics altogether as it would become the standard ethics of the information age.[4]

In 1999, Deborah Johnson revealed her view, which was quite contrary to Górniak-Kocikowska's belief, and stated that computer ethics will not evolve but rather be our old ethics with a slight twist.[5][unreliable source?]

Internet privacy[edit]

Privacy is one of the major issues that has emerged since the internet has become part of many aspects of daily life. Internet users hand over personal information in order to sign up or register for services without realizing that they are potentially setting themselves up for invasions of privacy.[12][better source needed]

Another example of privacy issues, with concern to Google, is tracking searches. There is a feature within searching that allows Google to keep track of searches so that advertisements will match your search criteria, which in turn means using people as products.

There is an ongoing discussion about what privacy means and if it is still needed. With the increase in social networking sites, more and more people are allowing their private information to be shared publicly. On the surface, this may be seen as someone listing private information about them on a social networking site, but below the surface, it is the site that could be sharing the information (not the individual). This is the idea of an Opt-In versus Opt-Out situation. There are many privacy statements that state whether there is an Opt-In or an Opt-Out policy. Typically an Opt-In privacy policy means that the individual has to tell the company issuing the privacy policy if they want their information shared or not. Opt-Out means that their information will be shared unless the individual tells the company not to share it.

Identifying issues[edit]

Identifying ethical issues as they arise, as well as defining how to deal with them, has traditionally been problematic. In solving problems relating to ethical issues, Michael Davis proposed a unique problem-solving method. In Davis's model, the ethical problem is stated, facts are checked, and a list of options is generated by considering relevant factors relating to the problem. The actual action taken is influenced by specific ethical standards.[citation needed]

Ethical standards[edit]

Various national and international professional societies and organizations have produced code of ethics documents to give basic behavioral guidelines to computing professionals and users. They include:

Association for Computing Machinery
ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct[11]
Australian Computer Society
ACS Code of Ethics[13]
ACS Code of Professional Conduct[14]
British Computer Society
BCS Code of Conduct[15]
Code of Good Practice (retired May 2011)[16]
Computer Ethics Institute
Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics marri
IEEE Code of Ethics[17]
IEEE Code of Conduct[18]
League of Professional System Administrators
The System Administrators' Code of Ethics[19]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Bynum, Terrell Ward (June 2000). "The foundation of computer ethics". ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society. 30 (2): 6–13. doi:10.1145/572230.572231. (subscription required)
  • Floridi, Luciano (1999). "Information Ethics: On the Theoretical Foundations of Computer Ethics"(PDF). Ethics and Information Technology. 1 (1): 37–56. Archived from the original(PDF) on 9 November 2005. 
  • Floridi, Luciano; Sanders, J.W. (2002). "Computer Ethics: Mapping the Foundationalist Debate"(PDF). Ethics and Information Technology. 4 (1): 1–9. 
  • Haag, Stephen; Cummings, Maeve; McCubbrey, Donald J. (2003). Management Information Systems: For the Information Age (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-281947-2. 
  • Johnson, Deborah G. (2001). Computer Ethics (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-13-083699-1. 
  • Martin, C. Dianne; Weltz, Elaine Yale (June 1999). "From awareness to action: integrating ethics and social responsibility into the computer science curriculum". ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society. 29 (2): 6–14. doi:10.1145/382018.382028. (subscription required)
  • MacKinnon, Barbara (2011). Ethics: Theory and Contemporary Issues (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. ISBN 978-0-538-45283-0. 
  • Quinn, Michael J. (2011). Ethics for the Information Age (4th ed.). Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley. ISBN 978-0-13-213387-6. 
  • Moor, James H. (1985). "What is Computer Ethics?". In Bynum, Terrell Ward. Computers & Ethics. Blackwell. pp. 266–75. ISSN 0026-1068. 
  • Mowshowitz, Abbe (March 1981). "On approaches to the study of social issues in computing". Communications of the ACM. 24 (3): 146–155. doi:10.1145/358568.358592. (subscription required)
  • Stamatellos, Giannis (2007). Computer Ethics: A Global Perspective. Jones and Bartlett. ISBN 978-0-7637-4084-9. 
  • Tavani, Herman T. (2004). Ethics & Technology: Ethical Issues in an Age of Information and Communication Technology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 978-0-471-24966-5. 

External links[edit]

  1. ^ abcdefghijBynum, Terrell Ward. "A Very Short History of Computer Ethics". Southern Connecticut Wein University. Archived from the original on 2008-04-18. Retrieved 2011-01-05. 
  2. ^Pierce, Margaret Anne; Henry, John W. (April 1996). "Computer ethics: The role of personal, informal, and formal codes". Journal of Business Ethics. 15 (4): 425–437. doi:10.1007/BF00380363. (subscription required)
  3. ^Floridi, Luciano (2010), "Information Ethics", in Floridi, Luciano, The Cambridge Handbook of Information and Computer Ethics, Cambridge University Press, pp. 77–100, ISBN 9780521717724 
  4. ^ abcdefgBynum, Terrell (21 December 2014). "Computer Ethics: Basic Concepts and Historical Overview". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University. 
  5. ^ abc"A Brief History of Computer Ethics". Learning Computing History. 5 December 2004. 
  6. ^"Alumni Hall of Fame: Donn Parker". SRI International. Retrieved 2013-06-13. 
  7. ^"Obituary: Joseph Weizenbaum". The Tech. 128 (12) (Online ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT News office. 14 March 2008. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  8. ^"The Right to Financial Privacy Act". Electronic Privacy Information Center. Retrieved 29 April 2015. 
  9. ^Small Business Computer Security and Education Act of 1984 at
  10. ^Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act of 1988 at
  11. ^ ab"ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct". ACM. 16 October 1992. Retrieved 2014-08-09. 
  12. ^CSC300 Lecture Notes @ University of Toronto, 2011. For more information on this topic, please visit the Electronic Privacy Information Center website.
  13. ^ACS Code of Ethics(PDF), Australian Computer Society, 12 June 2012, archived from the original(PDF) on 14 May 2013 
  14. ^Graham, Ruth, ed. (July 2012), ACS Code of Professional Conduct(PDF), Australian Computer Society, archived from the original(PDF) on 6 April 2014 
  15. ^Code of Conduct for BCS Members(PDF), BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, 8 June 2011 
  16. ^"BCS Trustee Board agrees revised Code of Conduct". BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT. 3 May 2011. 
  17. ^"7.8 IEEE Code of Ethics", IEEE Policies, Section 7 - Professional Activities, IEEE 
  18. ^IEEE Code of Conduct(PDF), IEEE, June 2014 
  19. ^"The System Administrators' Code of Ethics". League of Professional System Administrators. USENIX Association. 2006. 
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