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Chapter: Security in Computing : Legal and Ethical Issues in Computer Security

Codes of Computer Ethics

Because of ethical issues such as these, various computer groups have sought to develop codes of ethics for their members. Most computer organizations, such as the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the Data Processing Management Association (DPMA), are voluntary organizations.

Codes of Ethics


Because of ethical issues such as these, various computer groups have sought to develop codes of ethics for their members. Most computer organizations, such as the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the Data Processing Management Association (DPMA), are voluntary organizations. Being a member of one of these organizations does not certify a level of competence, responsibility, or experience in computing. For these reasons, codes of ethics in these organizations are primarily advisory. Nevertheless, these codes are fine starting points for analyzing ethical issues.




The IEEE has produced a code of ethics for its members. The IEEE is an organization of engineers, not limited to computing. Thus, their code of ethics is a little broader than might be expected for computer security, but the basic principles are applicable in computing situations. The IEEE Code of Ethics is shown in Figure 11-1.


Figure 11-1. IEEE Code of Ethics. (Reprinted courtesy of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers © 1996.)

We, the members of the IEEE, in recognition of the importance of our technologies in affecting the quality of life throughout the world, and in accepting a personal obligation to our profession, its members, and the communities we serve, do hereby commit ourselves to conduct of the highest ethical and professional manner and agree


           to accept responsibility in making engineering decisions consistent with the safety, health, and welfare of the public, and to disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment;


to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest whenever possible, and to disclose them to affected parties when they do exist;


           to be honest and realistic in stating claims or estimates based on available data;


           to reject bribery in all of its forms;


           to improve understanding of technology, its appropriate application, and potential consequences;


           to maintain and improve our technical competence and to undertake technological tasks for others only if qualified by training or experience, or after full disclosure of pertinent limitations;


           to seek, accept, and offer honest criticism of technical work, to acknowledge and correct errors, and to credit properly the contributions of others;


           to treat fairly all persons regardless of such factors as race, religion, gender, disability, age, or national origin;


           to avoid injuring others, their property, reputation, or employment by false or malicious action;


   to assist colleagues and coworkers in their professional development and to support them in following this code of ethics.




The ACM code of ethics recognizes three kinds of responsibilities of its members: general moral imperatives, professional responsibilities, and leadership responsibilities, both inside the association and in general. The code of ethics has three sections (plus a fourth commitment section), as shown in Figure 11-2.


Figure 11-2. ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. (Reprinted courtesy of the Association for Computing Machinery © 1993.)

As an ACM member I will ...


         Contribute to society and human well-being


         Avoid harm to others


         Be honest and trustworthy


         Be fair and take action not to discriminate


         Honor property rights including copyrights and patents


         Give proper credit for intellectual property


         Respect the privacy of others


         Honor confidentiality


As an ACM computing professional I will ...


         Strive to achieve the highest quality, effectiveness, and dignity in both the process and products of professional work


         Acquire and maintain professional competence


Know and respect existing laws pertaining to professional work


         Accept and provide appropriate professional review


         Give comprehensive and thorough evaluations of computer systems and their impacts, including analysis of possible risks


         Honor contracts, agreements, and assigned responsibilities


         Improve public understanding of computing and its consequences


         Access computing and communication resources only when authorized to do so As an ACM member and an organization leader, I will ...


         Articulate social responsibilities of members of an organizational unit and encourage full acceptance of those responsibilities


         Manage personnel and resources


         Acknowledge and support proper and authorized uses of an organization's computing and communication resources


         Ensure that users and those who will be affected by a system have their needs clearly articulated during the assessment and design of requirements; later the system must be validated to meet requirements


         Articulate and support policies that protect the dignity of users and others affected by a computing system


         Create opportunities for members of the organization to learn the principles and limitations of computer systems


As an ACM member, I will ...


         Uphold and promote the principles of this code


         Treat violations of this code as inconsistent with membership in the ACM


Computer Ethics Institute


The Computer Ethics Institute is a nonprofit group that aims to encourage people to consider the ethical aspects of their computing activities. The organization has been in existence since the mid-1980s, founded as a joint activity of IBM, the Brookings Institution, and the Washington Theological Consortium. The group has published its ethical guidance as ten commandments of computer ethics, listed in Figure 11-3.


Figure 11-3. The Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics. (Reprinted with permission, Computer Ethics Institute, Washington, D.C.)

           Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people.


           Thou shalt not interfere with other people's computer work.


           Thou shalt not snoop around in other people's computer files.


           Thou shalt not use a computer to steal.


           Thou shalt not use a computer to bear false witness.


Thou shalt not copy or use proprietary software for which you have not paid.

           Thou shalt not use other people's computer resources without authorization or proper compensation.


           Thou shalt not appropriate other people's intellectual output.


           Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you are writing or the system you are designing.


   Thou shalt always use a computer in ways that insure consideration and respect for your fellow humans.

Many organizations take ethics seriously and produce a document guiding the behavior of its members or employees. Some corporations require new employees to read its code of ethics and sign a promise to abide by it. Others, especially at universities and research centers, have special boards that must approve proposed research and ensure that projects and team members act ethically. As an individual professional, it may be useful for you to review these codes of ethics and compose a code of your own, reflecting your ideas about appropriate behavior in likely situations. A code of ethics can help you assess situations quickly and act in a consistent, comfortable, and ethical manner.


Conclusion of Computer Ethics


In this study of ethics, we have tried not to decide right and wrong, or even to brand certain acts as ethical or unethical. The purpose of this section is to stimulate thinking about ethical issues concerned with confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data and computations.


The cases presented show complex, conflicting ethical situations. The important first step in acting ethically in a situation is to obtain the facts, ask about any uncertainties, and acquire any additional information needed. In other words, first we must understand the situation.


The second step is to identify the ethical principles involved. Honesty, fair play, proper compensation, and respect for privacy are all ethical principles. Sometimes these conflict, and then we must determine which principles are more important than others. This analysis may not lead to one principle that obviously overshadows all others. Still, a ranking to identify the major principles involved is needed.


The third step is choosing an action that meets these ethical principles. Making a decision and taking action are difficult, especially if the action has evident negative consequences. However, taking action based on a personal ranking of principles is necessary. The fact that other equally sensible people may choose a different action does not excuse us from taking some action.

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