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Professional Computing Ethics
Ethics in the computing era has been a long standing debate across the legal, social, economic, and political divides of the global community. Of importance in this ethical debate are questions of security, privacy, property rights, accuracy, accessibility and censorship as well as filtering of online information. The need to protect the social and economic values brought by internet access in the society has been a major driving force behind the initiative by the Australian government to enact a legislation dictating filtering of internet traffic by internet service providers. Proponents of the initiative claim of its importance in protecting internet users from gaining access to materials, which are considered ethically harmful, indecent or illicit.
On the contrary, opponents of enacting internet traffic filtering laws in the nation have cited its negative implications in compromising the right to freedom of information. This has also been blamed for contradicting constitutional right of the citizens to freedom of choice. The author of this essay seeks to describe the ethical considerations involved in a decision to filter internet traffic, individuals who will benefit from the decision to filter and those who will be hurt by the decision. This discussion is critically based on the provisions of the ACS Code of Conduct. A discussion on how these considerations impact on the author as a possible implementer of such a filter is also given.
Internet filtering practice by internet service providers has numerous ethical implications. This has been found to promote the enforcement of various important provisions of the Australian Computer Society Code of Conduct. The practice of filtering internet contents accessible by individuals in the community has received much support as a crucial tool for protecting privacy and confidentiality of internet users. The ACS Code of Conduct (4.5) identifies priorities which have to be observed by internet service providers (Australian Computer Society 2010). It dictates that one should engage in preserving the integrity, security and confidentiality of the information of others.
The internet is a collection of networks whose contents are evidently varied. On the other hand, this technology has attracted a huge pool of users, all marked with diverse intentions for using computer. According to numerous research findings, the problem of internet crime activities has been on the increase over the past few decades. Among these crimes are hacking and the use of malicious computer programs (Organization for Economic C-operation and Development 2007). Hacking has received critics for negating the privacy of network information due to its capability to gain unauthorized access to personal information remotely. To execute these activities, hackers are increasingly employing malicious computer programs such as Trojan horses and viruses.
On the contrary, it is no doubt the internet services providers enjoying adequate resources to prevent, identify, and mitigate most internet crime activities such as hacking and malicious computer. It is worthy noting that a large percentage of computer networking users are marked with limited or no knowledge of the tactical approaches employed by perpetuators of internet crimes (Khosrowpour 2000, p.81). For example, available research evidence has identified the use of enticing malicious websites and e-mail messages by internet crime offenders to trick users in giving personal information (Organization for Economic C-operation and Development 2007). Still, this findings have asserted that these websites contain codes of malicious computer programs; serving only to compromise the system of the users.
However, internet service providers have the resources necessary for monitoring activities over the internet to qualify their authenticity. This has the implication that these services providers can significantly promote the process of mitigating access of malicious websites by potential victims. Failure to prevent internet users from internet crimes is a contradiction of the ethical principles of the responsibility of care owed to internet service providers by its customer (Khosrowpour 2000, p.97). Therefore, filtering of internet traffic is instrumental in addressing the ethical concern of compromised privacy by internet services.
Another ethical benefit of filtering internet traffic contents is that it protects our social, economic, security, and cultural values in the society. The problem of obscene and offensive material availability over the internet has been a major source of social contention in judging the ethical importance of internet as a communication mechanism. The ACS Code of Conduct section 4.8 gives an important outline on the need by members of the computer society to engage in promoting activities that are reflective of the societal expectations (Australian Computer Society 2005). In particular, the section prohibits its members from conducting activities that can potentially harm the social, cultural, and economic good of others.
Traditionally, computers and internet services were mainly available for military and academic purposes. However, the modern society has witnessed an exponential expansion on the capability and availability of this unique technology to almost all corners of the society. In the current society internet has gained much use among members of the community as a venue for social networking, conducting online shopping and financial transactions, and promoting other a handful of crime activities. Reports from a recent research have indicated a growing trend in the internet based money laundering and drug trafficking activities (Glaessner, Kellermann & McNevin 2009).
On the other hand, the problem of obscenity particularly child pornography remains a major social and human rights concern on the usefulness of the internet in the society. At its very least, acts of engaging in online child pornography are not only illegal in nature but a form of child abuse in the community (Halliday 2010). The community should not forget the problem of offensive materials which are being malicious posted on websites to hurt the reputation of institutions, individuals and/or ever the government. Just to be appreciated is the fact that most of this materials lack accuracy.
Further, internet filtering serves to address the problem accessibility of information by the different categories of individual users in the society. According to reports from numerous internet surveys, low levels of protection of accessibility are blamed for exposing minors into illicit materials (Khosrowpour 2000, p. 123). The current trends on internet as a learning, socializing, and communication platform negates any possible barring of the young generation from using such services. However, age and the type of materials accessible remain highly interconnected in considering the importance of internet services in meeting the social aspect of the ACS Code of Conduct (Australian Computer Society 2010). Therefore, the government should engage in filtering internet content accessibility to protect our social and cultural values.
Still, filtering of internet traffic by internet service providers seeks to promote professionalism and integrity of the internet service provision industry (ABC 2009). The purpose of any law in the community is to promote integrity of institutions as a tool for ensuring ethical business behavioral conduct in meeting customer needs. According to section 4.3 of the ACS Code of Conduct, internet service providers and other members of this computer community should strive in promoting professional responsibility and integrity in dealings with the community and clients, employers, employees and students (Australian Computer Society 2005). By imposing filtering, such professional in the computer field will be bound to engage in activities that are acceptable to the law as a tool for ensuring their economic survival in the field. This move could be instrumental in eliminating malicious activities in the internet.
Nevertheless, enacting legislation that dictate for internet content filtering has received numerous critics on the grounds of ethics and morality. True to the letter, the government has no moral authority to dictate what an individual should engage in at their own privacy. Opponents of the internet traffic filtering have brought the question of the right to freedom of choice in the debate (Halliday 2010). It is worthy noting that the government has achieved little in its quest for censoring and filtering off-line information transfer in the society. This has been closely attributed to the confidentiality involved in the transactions. On the other hand, online material will be more difficulty to control from a centralized point.
Further, ethics as a study of what is wrong or right to engage in fails to definitively identify a distinction for qualifying the right from wrong. This controversy can be found from the provisions of the ACS Code of Conduct in section 4.4. According to this section, standards of conduct by computer society members should not be limited to the given list of national regulation (Australian Computer Society 2010). As a contradiction, this section claims that ‘The fact that a member engages in, or does not engage in, these standards does not of itself guarantee that a member is acting ethically, or unethically, as applicable’ (Australian Computer Society 2005). This gives the impression that the question of filtering internet traffic might be seen as compromising the process of effectively resolving ambiguous ethical issues facing computing practices.
To filter internet content is a negation to the freedom of information. The principles of ethics call for enhancing information flow in the community (ABC 2009). This is based on the fact that an informed society is evidently well equipped for dealing with issues affecting its sustainable development. According to the laws of the Australian nation, pubic officers are not cautioned by the law against public scrutiny for their conduct. This is due to the assertion that they are in such positions to promote the interests of the public. It is worthy appreciating that the government and its agencies are establishments of the people. On the other side, filtering of information accessible via the internet is found to negate the process of enhancing public scrutiny on public officials.
According to the underlying definition of obscenity and offensive material, critics of individuals in the public domain can be a source of contention. This is because; it serves to bring the contentious issues of qualifying malicious intent. Just to be noting is that most blog websites are instrumental in highlighting potential of real unethical issues which could otherwise remain a government secret. Although accuracy of blog information can be questionable, available authentic information sources give limited information as they seek to protect reputation of institutions. This contradicts the provisions of section 4.6 of the ACS Code of Conduct which dictate for the respect and protection of customer interests (Australian Computer Society 2005).
In addition, the practice brings into question the ethical concern of equality in the community. The proposed legislation on mandating internet service providers to engage in internet traffic filtering is a negation of the ethical principles of equal opportunity to the users of internet services (ABC 2009). As can be evident from its provisions, the law will seek to enhance processes like authentication of users to gain access to certain networks. However, this questions the ability of the government or providers to qualify whether or not such information is from the authorized users or an internet crime perpetuator. This is based on the fact that hackers enjoy unleveled capability of unauthorized access to networks, an act that has been found difficulty to mitigate given their highly sophisticated technological approaches.
It has been rightly argued that imposing laws on filtering internet content serves to misinterpret the moral understanding and acceptance of cultural diversity in the community. Based on common knowledge, the Australian population is made up of various communities. Moreover, each of these communities boost of their own unique cultural values. On the contrast, the question of imposing internet filter legislations is typically driven by assumed national cultural values. The government cannot impose laws that inhibit the sustainable social, cultural, and economic interest of its diverse population. Therefore, imposing internet traffic filtering legislation based on national standards ethically compromises respect and appreciation of the diversity of the Australian population.
In conclusion, it is established that computing ethics and the question of internet content filtering is a controversial ethical issues in numerous ways. It is an important tool for promoting accuracy of information flow in the community through blocking of malicious networks and websites that can harm the user. On the contrary, the practices in questioned for its ethical implications in compromising free flow of information in the community. Still in contention is whether or not the government has the legal ability to dictates what individuals should be doing at their privacy (ABC 2009). Therefore, although filtering of internet traffic is important in protecting social, economic and cultural values in the community; such legislation should take into account questions of equality and freedom of information flow in the society.
ABC 2009, Green light for internet filter plans, viewed 24 August 2010, http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/12/15/2772467.htm
Australian Computer Society 2005, ACS Code of Ethics, viewed 24 August 2010, <http://www.acs.org.au/attachments/Code_of_Ethics.pdf>
Australian Computer Society 2010, Code of ethics, viewed 24August 2010, <http://www.acs.org.au/index.cfm?action=show&conID=coe>
Australian Computer Society 2010, Code of Professional Conduct and Professional Practice, viewed August 24 2010, <http://www.acs.org.au/index.cfm?action=show&conID=copc>
Glaessner, T, Kellermann, T & McNevin, V 2009. Electronic safety and soundness: securing Finance in a new age, The Word Bank, viewed 8 August 2010, <http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/workshops/proofpositive/e-safety-and-soundness.pdf>
Halliday, J 2010, Australia puts internet filtering system on hold for 12 months, viewed 24 August 2010, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/jul/09/australia-internet-filtering-system>
Khosrowpour, M 2000, Challenges of information technology management in the 21st century, Idea Group Inc, Hershey, PA.
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