The Information Age: An Age of Ethics

 

The information age is the age we live in today, and with
the information age comes an age of ethics. When we deal
with the new technologies introduced every day, we need to
decide what we must consider ethical and unethical. We must
consider all factors so that the use of the information
readily available to many persons is not abused.
"Information technology will be the most fundamental area
of ethical concern for business in the next decade"
(Houston 2). The most widely used tool of the information
age is the computer, whether it be a PC or a network of
computer systems. As we enter the information age the
newness and power of information technologies tests the
ethics of the average person, not just the criminal and
causes thousands of computer crimes to be committed daily.
 The most common computer crime committed daily, some aware
and many not, is the illegal sharing of computer software.
Software is any of the programs used in operating a digital
computer, as input and output programs, as defined by Funk
and Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary. When you purchase
computer software, you purchase it with the understanding
that it will be for use on a single computer, once
installed on that system, it is not to be loaded on any
other computer. However many people are not aware of this
understanding, and many load a program on a couple of
computers or on a whole network of computer systems not
aware that they are committing a crime. Even though you
probably will not be prosecuted for loading a program on a
friends computer, this is where your ethics come in. Do you
consider anything when you share a program with others? If
not then consider the programmers of the software who are
denied compensation for their developments every time you
distribute a piece of software. "Why is it that people who
wouldn't think of stealing pack of gum will copy a $500
piece of software" (Houston 3)? A popular form off illegal
software distribution is throughout the online world.
Whether it be the Internet, America Online, CompuServe,
Prodigy, or a BBS (Bulletin Board System), software
"pirates" thrive freely online. These so called "pirates"
operate by uploading pieces of software, commonly referred
to as "warez", into an online service's database then
sending through e-mail the rights to download them. "The
Information Superhighway has opened the door to a new kind
of highway robbery - the home shoplifting network" (Mattia
43). When you access a online service, you are identified
through an account which most commonly consists of a user
ID and password. The password is so you only can access the
online service with your user ID. Many people online use
their own accounts to access their service, but many steal
and use the accounts of others or make fake accounts. When
online, these account "pirates" many times trick other
users into giving their passwords to them by impersonating
an employee of the online service. Others can hack into the
online services mainframe computer and steal thousands of
accounts. Probably the most common method of getting online
without paying is the use of fake or fraudulent accounts.
These are made by giving false information when attempting
to gain access to an online service. Name, address, phone
number, and billing information, such as checking account
or credit card number, are all falsified in obtaining an
online account. With these stolen and fake accounts,
software "pirates" have virtually unlimited time to
download their "warez" without any charge to them. Many
people don't consider the people behind the creation of
software when they illegally distribute it. The developers
of software are not properly compensated for their work
because of the extent of software piracy. No one can argue
with a software company's desire, and right, to make sure
everyone using their products has paid for it (Furger 73).
The numbers add up, it is estimated that in 1994 alone that
software companies lost $15 billion from illegal software
copying (Maremont 65). It is not only illegal, but clearly
unethical to distribute software knowing that the people
behind the software are experiencing the downfalls of it.
Every time software companies cannot compensate their
programmers for their work, more people are out of a job.
 Consider this, you enter a store and purchase an item,
during this transaction you give your name and phone
number. The person you have given this information to then
enters it into a computerized database. After this person
has collected a sufficient amount of names, they then sell
it to a telemarketing firm for a profit. This action is
legal, but is it ethical. Do you want your name sold
without your consent? Most people don't because they don't
want to be bothered by sales persons on the telephone.
Also, your address could be sold and you put on a mailing
list. Then its an issue of do you want your mailbox filled
with junk mail. This action is unethical for the simple
reason of consent. If the person had just gained consent to
enter the names into his/her database then he would not
have committed and unethical act. One conclusion from
studies sponsored by the National Institute of Justice is
that persons involved in computer crimes get form skills
and interests at an early age. Usually they are introduced
to computers at home or in school and usually start their
"career path" with illegally copying software (McEwen 2).
As young people interact with hackers, they incorporate the
beliefs of the hackers into their own. Many of these
unconventional beliefs of young hackers about information
and computers leads them to a career in computer crime.
Many times it is the lack of education by parents and
schools that helps to make these beliefs all the more true
to a young person. Computer criminals have their own set
of beliefs about information and computers. Their beliefs
are based on obvious unethical reasoning. For example,
hackers believe that computerized data are free and should
be accessible to anyone. They also believe that passwords
and other security features are simply obstacles to be
overcome in obtaining data that should already be available
and while data should never be destroyed, there is nothing
wrong with viewing and transferring data for one's own use
(McEwen 2). One member of the Legion of Doom, a nationwide
group of hackers who
 
exchange information about computer systems and techniques
to break into them, has said, "Hackers will do just about
anything to break into a computer except crashing a system,
that's the only taboo" (McEwen 2). The key to stop
computer criminals from forming is education. It is often
times the case that people commit computer crimes without
even know they are doing so and the reason for this is the
lack of education. Few schools teach computer ethics, and
parents of arrested hackers are usually unaware that their
children have been illegally accessing computer systems
(McEwen 2).Colleges and universities do not usually include
computer use and abuse in their courses, arguing that it is
the responsibility of the schools. On the other hand, many
secondary school educators are not sure about what should
be taught and are reluctant or unable to add ethical
computer education to many subjects in the curriculum.
Textbooks on computer literacy rarely mention computer
abuses and individual responsibilities. Educators and
software developers have worked together to prevent
software piracy in educational institutions. In 1987, the
Software Copyright Committee of the International Council
for Computers in Education (ICCE) developed a policy to
guide educators. The policy call on school districts to
teach staff the provisions of the copyright law and both
staff and students the ethical and practical implications
of software piracy. This policy has been adopted by many
school districts across the country (McEwen 3). In
recognition of the problems arising with the illegal and
unethical use of computers, criminal justice forces have
begun to crack down on computer criminals. In 1989, three
computer crime studies were sponsored by the National
Institute of Justice. One of these studies examined
different organizational approaches for computer crime
investigation and prosecution, another documented the
experiences of several dedicated computer crime units, and
the third developed a computer crime investigation handbook
(McEwen 2). Computers are a permanent fact of life in work
places and classrooms across the country. More businesses
are likely to incorporate policies on information access
and confidentiality in their employee orientation and
training programs. Many schools and universities,
responding from pressure around them, are beginning to
incorporate computer ethics into their courses. For the
criminal justice community, computer crime, which poses
special challenges in detection and prosecution will
require more and more attention. In order to prevent
computer crimes in the future, criminal and juvenile
justice agencies must look for ways to help parents,
teachers, and employers educate the computer-using
community to the importanc