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11 <HEAD>
12 <TITLE>Professional ethics and Information Technology</TITLE>
13 <META name="Author" content="Andrew Pollock">
14 <META name="Student_Number" content="4137129">
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20 <H1>Professional ethics and Information Technology</H1>
21
22 <H2>Introduction</H2>
23 <P>
24 This essay discusses the principles of ethics, both in their specific
25 application to the Information Technology profession, and to their
26 more general application to professional disciplines. In particular
27 the Codes of Ethics of the <EM>Australian Computer Society</EM> (ACS),
28 <EM>Association for Computing Machinery</EM> (ACM), and the
29 <EM>Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers</EM> (IEEE) are
30 examined. The <EM>Australian National University</EM> (ANU) code
31 <EM>Academic Honesty in Learning and Teaching</EM> is also examined to
32 highlight similarities between issues raised and those raised by the
33 above-mentioned professional societies. Finally, two real-world
34 scenarios will be presented and discussed within the context of
35 professional ethics.
36 </P>
37
38 <H2>Generic principles</H2>
39 <P>
40 There are a number of generic principles common to the various Codes
41 of Ethics of the professional societies examined. These principles are
42 not necessarily specific to the field of Information Technology, but
43 may relevant to many professional disciplines.
44 </P>
45
46 <P>
47 <DL>
48 <DT><STRONG>Essential moral behaviour</STRONG></DT>
49 <DD>
50 <P>
51 The various Codes of Ethics all contain directives regarding
52 what one could consider basic moral behaviour. Values such as
53 honesty, integrity, are all specifically referred to. Actions
54 must also be in the public or community interest, which means
55 that members of the various societies should take the wider
56 social implications of their actions into consideration.
57 </P>
58
59 <P>
60 This is the core of what makes the Code of Ethics a Code of
61 Ethics. Basic ethical behaviour is defined in ACS Code of
62 Ethics in section 4.1. This section specifically mentions the
63 profession of Information Technology, however there is
64 nothing IT specific in the rest of this item, so it could be
65 interchangeable with the medical profession, for example.
66 </P>
67
68 <P>
69 Similarly, the ACM breaks its Code of Ethics down into three
70 broad categories. The first, General Moral Imperatives, could
71 equally apply to most other professions. The sections
72 relating to intellectual property are vaguely more
73 IT-centric, however are still relevant to other professions
74 that might involve either personal or contracted creativity.
75 </P>
76 </DD>
77
78 <DT><STRONG>Competence</STRONG></DT>
79 <DD>
80 <P>
81 All the Codes of Conduct and Ethics highly value competence.
82 This is important, as incompetent workmanship can have a poor
83 reflection on the profession in general, regardless of what
84 that profession is.
85 </P>
86
87 <P>
88 This is closely related to ongoing professional development,
89 which is discussed next. Competence is an intangible, and as
90 such difficult to gauge in an individual. It is really up to
91 the individual to have some sense of self-assessment when it
92 comes to particular work.
93 </P>
94 </DD>
95
96 <DT><STRONG>Professional Development</STRONG></DT>
97 <DD>
98 <P>
99 For the same reasons as competence, ongoing professional
100 development is of paramount importance. All the societies
101 Codes reviewed specifically mention ongoing personal
102 development, as well as assisting fellow members to further
103 their development.
104 </P>
105
106 <P>
107 This is a significant point of all the Codes of Ethics. There
108 is little value in being a member of such a professional
109 society if it does not encourage its members to further
110 themselves, as professional development is something that
111 should never cease. It is also important to note that the
112 Codes state that members should encourage and support each
113 other in their personal development.
114 </P>
115 </DD>
116
117 <DT><STRONG>Fairness, equality and objectivity</STRONG></DT>
118 <DD>
119 <P>
120 All of the societies Codes examined specifically refer to
121 conducting oneself in an indiscriminate manner. The ACS
122 <EM>Code of Professional Conduct and Professional
123 Practice</EM> states: "Be objective, impartial and free of
124 conflicts of interest in the performance of your professional
125 duties" (ACS: 2003). The ACM specifically states that
126 "equality, tolerance and respect for others are important and
127 that violations of this policy will not be tolerated" (ACM:
128 1992), in their Code of Ethics. The IEEE's Code of Ethics
129 also states that members agree to "treat fairly
130 all persons regardless of such factors as race, religion,
131 gender, disability, age or national origin" (IEEE: 1990).
132 </DD>
133
134 <DT><STRONG>Promotion of the profession</STRONG></DT>
135 <DD>
136 <P>
137 Again, one could substitute the name of the profession for
138 any other, however, the ACS Code of Ethics and Code of
139 Professional Conduct specifically mention promoting and
140 protecting the image, and professionalism of Information
141 Technology and the society in general.
142 </P>
143
144 <P>
145 Naturally, any professional society is going to be an
146 advocacy body for that profession. One would expect to find
147 such promotion clauses in any professional society's Code of
148 Ethics.
149 </P>
150 </DD>
151 </DL>
152
153 <H2>Principles specific to Information Technology</H2>
154 <P>
155 There are a number of other principles stated in the various Codes of
156 Conduct that are more specific to the field of Information Technology,
157 because of the technical nature of the profession, or because they
158 relate to technological ethical issues.
159 </P>
160
161 <P>
162 <DL>
163 <DT><STRONG>Intellectual Property</STRONG></DT>
164 <DD>
165 <P>
166 Whilst not strictly related to Information Technology, this
167 is certainly an issue that crops up more often within this
168 field. The ACM Code of Ethics states that property rights
169 including copyrights and patents should be honoured, and
170 proper credit should be given for intellectual property. The
171 IEEE Code of Ethics states that members should credit
172 properly the contributions of others.
173 </P>
174
175 <P>
176 Interestingly, neither the ACS Code of Ethics or Code of
177 Professional Conduct and Professional Practice makes a
178 reference to "Intellectual Property", but the latter does
179 state that information is the property of the client, and
180 must not be distributed freely. One could argue that this is
181 covered under the section 4.7 of the ACS Code of Ethics
182 (Honesty), whereby section 4.7.6 states "I must give credit
183 for work done by others where credit is
184 due" (ACS: 2003) however, it could be argued successfully
185 that this is not specific enough to the area of intellectual
186 property and copyright, not prescriptive enough about when
187 "credit is due".
188 </DD>
189
190 <DT><STRONG>Authorised access to computing resources</STRONG></DT>
191 <DD>
192 <P>
193 The ACM Code of Conduct specifically mentions "trespassing
194 and unauthorised use of a computer or communication system"
195 (ACM: 1992). It goes on to say that individuals have the
196 right to restrict access insofar as it does not discriminate
197 unethically (as discussed earlier).
198 </P>
199 </DD>
200
201 <DT><STRONG>Evaluating computer systems</STRONG></DT>
202 <DD>
203 <P>
204 The ACM Code of Ethics has section 2.5 of their More Specific
205 Professional Responsibilities, which states members must
206 "give comprehensive and thorough evaluations of
207 computer systems and their impacts, including analysis of
208 possible risks" (ACM: 1992) and goes on to state that
209 computer professionals must be perceptive, thorough and
210 objective when making evaluations, recommendations and
211 presentations of system descriptions and alternatives. This
212 is relevant to the profession of IT, because IT professionals
213 tend to have their technical opinions viewed highly, as they
214 are considered subject-matter experts.
215 </DD>
216 </DL>
217
218 <H2>Similarities to ANU code</H2>
219
220 <P>
221 Whilst having nothing specifically to do with Information Technology,
222 the ANU code on <EM>Academic Honesty in Learning and Teaching</EM> has
223 a common point with those raised in the Codes of Conduct for the
224 various professional societies examined.
225 </P>
226
227 <P>
228 The most significant common point is of course the moral value of
229 being honest. This ANU code of practice defines academic honesty, and
230 also goes on to discuss originality and plagiarism. This is identical
231 in spirit to the intellectual property clause of the Codes of Ethics
232 for the ACM, and the statement of "giving credit where credit is
233 due" by the ACS, and properly crediting the contributions of others
234 in the IEEE's Code of Ethics.
235 </P>
236
237 <P>
238 The ANU code also defines the roles and responsibilities of various
239 levels of academics within the University, similar to how the various
240 societies Codes state that members should assist other members to
241 further themselves to be better members. Similarly, University
242 academics should provide guidance to students in matters of academic
243 honesty.
244 </P>
245
246 <H2>Case studies</H2>
247
248 <P>
249 In conclusion, two case studies will be discussed. The first one is a
250 hypothetical ANU student who attained an IT degree with a lot of
251 assistance from his/her friends, doing a lot of collaboration on
252 assignment work, and getting good marks for them, but average marks
253 for examinations. This student then attains employment somewhere in
254 Canberra.
255 </P>
256
257 <P>
258 The second example is an employee working on an application project. He
259 gets a brilliant idea, outside of the scope of the existing project,
260 that he believes will make an improvement to this application, and
261 other related applications. The contract he has signed states that the
262 work carried out on the project belongs to this organisation he is
263 working for.
264 </P>
265
266 <H3>Case study 1: The average student who had a lot of help from his friends</H3>
267
268 <P>
269 This situation is difficult to monitor, and can potentially cause a
270 lot of problems. The negative consequence of this scenario is that
271 this student has attained an IT degree that isn't necessarily
272 indicative of his/her own abilities. This is most likely going to
273 become evident when the employee is unable to conduct themselves
274 competently in their field of employment. The possible victims of
275 this negative scenario are both the student/employee and the
276 organisation employing him/her.
277 </P>
278
279 <P>
280 Eventually it is going to come to the point where the employee has to
281 gain sufficient competence to carry out his/her employment, or the
282 employer has to cease employing the student, due to their
283 incompetence. This ultimately boils down to misrepresentation, in that
284 the student didn't accurately represent their competence to the
285 employer in the first place.
286 </P>
287
288 <P>
289 The negative repercussions could be more significant depending on the
290 nature of the employment of the student. If the student was engaged in
291 a role that may have a direct impact on the public, this incompetence
292 could, in the worst case, directly impact on other peoples lives.
293 </P>
294
295 <P>
296 The other victim is the ANU, as whilst the student is seen to have
297 exited successfully from one of its degree programs, the student's
298 actual competency is probably lower than the employer would expect for
299 a degree-holder. This then lowers the value of a degree in the
300 employer's view, and gives the potential for employers to hold ANU
301 graduates in lower regard than perhaps they should me.
302 </P>
303
304 <H3>Case study 2: The employee with the work-related brilliant idea</H3>
305
306 <P>
307 In the case of the employee with the brilliant idea, if it is just an
308 idea, the organisation he works for cannot readily claim ownership of
309 it. If the employee develops anything on company time or resources,
310 based on that idea, then it rightly becomes property of the
311 organisation. If this is the case, and the employee wishes to take the
312 idea outside of the organisation, the only ethical thing to do would
313 be to seek permission from the employer to do so. Anything less would
314 constitute theft of the organisation's intellectual property.
315 </P>
316
317 <P>
318 There is nothing stopping the employee from using the idea for
319 improvement within the company he is working for, though. If the idea
320 he has had can be applied to other projects within his organisation,
321 then he is only being dilligent by raising the idea as an enhancement
322 to existing processes.
323 </P>
324
325 <H2>Bibliography</H2>
326
327 <P>
328 ACS Code of Ethics, Australian Computing Society, 2003,
329 http://www.acs.org.au/static/national/pospaper/acs131.htm
330 </P>
331
332 <P>
333 ACS Code of Professional Conduct And Professional Ethics, Australian
334 Computing Society, 2003,
335 http://www.acs.org.au/static/national/pospaper/codeprof.htm
336 </P>
337
338 <P>
339 ACM Code of Ethics, Association for Computing Machinery, 1992,
340 http://www.acm.org/serving/se/code.htm
341 </P>
342
343 <P>
344 IEEE Code of Ethics, Institute of Electrical and Electronic
345 Engineers, 1990,
346 http://www.ieee.org/portal/index.jsp?pageID=corp_level1&path=about/whatis&file=code.xml&xsl=generic.xsl
347 </P>
348
349 <P>
350 Academic Honesty in Learning and Teaching, The Australian National
351 University, 2003,
352 http://info.anu.edu.au/policies/Codes_Of_Practice/Education/Other/Academic_Honesty.asp
353 </P>
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