COMPUTER ETHICS by Laith Mohammed Murad
Ethics deals with placing a “value” on acts according to
whether they are “good” or “bad”. Every society has its rules
about whether certain acts are ethical or not. These rules have been established
as a result of consensus in society and are often written into laws.
When computers first began to be used in society at large, the absence of
ethical standards about their use and related issues caused some problems.
However, as their use became widespread in every facet of our lives, discussions
in computer ethics resulted in some kind of a consensus. Today, many of
these rules have been formulated as laws, either national or international.
Computer crimes and computer fraud are now common terms. There are
laws against them, and everyone is responsible for knowing what constitutes
computer crime and computer fraud.
The Ten Commandments of computer ethics have been defined by the
Computer Ethics Institute. Here is our interpretation of them:
1) Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people: If it is
unethical to harm people by making a bomb, for example, it is equally bad to
write a program that handles the timing of the bomb. Or, to put it more simply,
if it is bad to steal and destroy other people’s books and notebooks, it is
equally bad to access and destroy their files.
2) Thou shalt not interfere with other people's computer work:
Computer viruses are small programs that disrupt other people’s
computer work by destroying their files, taking huge amounts of computer time or
memory, or by simply displaying annoying messages. Generating and consciously
spreading computer viruses is unethical.
3) Thou shalt not snoop around in other people's files: Reading other
people’s e-mail messages is as bad as opening and reading their letters: This is
invading their privacy. Obtaining other people’s non-public files should be
judged the same way as breaking into their rooms and stealing their documents.
Text documents on the Internet may be protected by encryption.
4) Thou shalt not use a computer to steal: Using a computer to break
into the accounts of a company or a bank and transferring money should be judged
the same way as robbery. It is illegal and there are strict laws against it.
5) Thou shalt not use a computer to bear false witness: The Internet
can spread untruth as fast as it can spread truth. Putting out false
"information" to the world is bad. For instance, spreading false rumors about a
person or false propaganda about historical events is wrong.
6) Thou shalt not use or copy software for which you have not paid:
Software is an intellectual product. In that way, it is like a book: Obtaining
illegal copies of copyrighted software is as bad as photocopying a copyrighted
book. There are laws against both. Information about the copyright owner can be
embedded by a process called watermarking into pictures in the
7) Thou shalt not use other people's computer resources without
authorization: Multiuser systems use user id’s and passwords
to enforce their memory and time allocations, and to safeguard
information. You should not try to bypass this authorization system.
Hacking a system to break and bypass the authorization is unethical.
8) Thou shalt not appropriate other people's intellectual output: For
example, the programs you write for the projects assigned in this course are
your own intellectual output. Copying somebody else’s program without proper
authorization is software piracy and is unethical. Intellectual
property is a form of ownership, and may be protected by copyright laws.
9) Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you
write: You have to think about computer issues in a more general social
framework: Can the program you write be used in a way that is harmful to
society? For example, if you are working for an animation house, and are
producing animated films for children, you are responsible for their contents.
Do the animations include scenes that can be harmful to children? In the United
States, the Communications Decency Act was an attempt by lawmakers to ban
certain types of content from Internet websites to protect young children from
harmful material. That law was struck down because it violated the free speech
principles in that country's constitution. The discussion, of course, is going
10) Thou shalt use a computer in ways that show consideration and
respect: Just like public buses or banks, people using computer
communications systems may find themselves in situations where there is some
form of queuing and you have to wait for your turn and generally be nice to
other people in the environment. The fact that you cannot see the people you are
interacting with does not mean that you can be rude to them.
for further comments on the ten commandments.