Ethics in the Age of Information


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 
 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 importance of ethical computer 
behavior (McEwen 4).


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