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Ethics, Law, and Society, Research Paper Example

Pages: 11

Words: 2893

Research Paper

Abstract

This paper examines the concept the computer interface to the World Wide Web (internet) and the need for a code of ethical behaviour and conduct.  This is examined from a number of different perspectives including that of sociological need, criminology and legal requirements. The paper provides a suggested definition of web ethics and reviews those professional standards currently in place and considers just how effective these are. A central theme is that of cybercrime and how the internet is being used for criminal and illegal activity. This leads towards an examination of the legal ramifications and a review of recent case law in this area.  The paper evidences the research findings with current statistics and consideration of future trends in this area.

Literature Review

There is a considerable amount of research and published works in the subject are of computer ethics. This paper examines a number of scholarly journals, academic papers and reference books contributing to this study. In particular the works of:

  • Information Security and ethics, Maria Quigley
  • Computer ethics and professional responsibility, TW Bynum and S Rogerson
  • Information ethics in the electronic age, T. Medina, JJ Britz
  • Professional ethics and human values, AA Kalil, RM Jayakumaran
  • Ethics and contemporary instruction, H.J. Gensler

Important recognition is made of the fact that Computers and Cybercrime are relatively new subject matter on the legal scene. As such there is not a great deal of legal precedent and case law that covers different aspects of cybercrime. Essentially the book is still being written here by new legal cases every day.  Criminals to say the least are inventive and find new ways of exploiting the technology to their advantage.

Introduction

There is a need for computer security that covers both individual use of the internet and that of corporate use.  This covers a number of distinct areas like that of stealing copyright and credit for intellectual property, the right of privacy on e-mail, display of obscene imagery like that of pornography, deliberate misleading of the public, misuse of research material, stealing identity and credit information, improper commercial use of the network are but a few examples of potential abuse.  The argument is that we need a proper code of ethics and professional conduct for the use of the internet and a legal framework that enforces same. The challenge being that this is put in place without the infringement of civil liberties and right to personal freedom.

I think the majority of internet users would agree that there is a need to both prevent and restrict criminal behaviour or misuse of the internet for illegal purposes.  There is also a fringe area like the protection of children from abusive materials like pornography, misinformation and extreme graphical images of violence. This code of individual ethics is much harder to enforce and requires the co-operation of parents, manufacturers of computer software, schools and the internet search engine providers.   Certain countries like China have moved towards outright bans on information that they believe to be unsuitable for the masses i.e. political statements, certain imagery, materials they consider either invasive or divisive to Chinese culture.  This would be considered anti-democratic in the west but it has left a gap in terms of the command and control of the internet and rules governing same.

There is a need to re-examine computers and the internet in a holistic sense and determine appropriate measures to deal with cybercrime.  This being from a legal standpoint, development of appropriate standards and putting in measures of enforcement or compliance. This being by a combination of a legal framework and a series of preventative measures controlled by government supervision of the Internet Service Providers, the Search Engines like Google, Yahoo etc.  Ethical behaviour cannot be divorced from criminal activity and as such needs to be blended into soft and hard rule sets.  “Computer practitioners have an enormous responsibility to society at large and especially to people affected by computer systems” (Terrell Ward Bynum, 2004)

Web ethics

The first canon of the medical profession is that of ‘do no harm’.  This might equally be well applied to the use of the internet and the computer software engineers, administrators and manufacturers that make the communications vehicle run.  Governance of the medical profession is tightly controlled by professional bodies throughout different international jurisdictions that prescribe to specific code of ethics and conduct for its members i.e. the licensing authorities to practice as a physician.  Breach of these rules may result in disciplinary committee hearings and subsequent fines or in more serious cases the revocation of your right to practice as a doctor (struck off the register).

The IT profession is somewhat more fragmented and does not have the degree of power or authority over the profession. This is because there are such a large number of practitioners that exist outside of the profession. There are bodies like the British Computer Society (BCS) that have Chartered IT Professionals and their members subscribe to a professional code of conduct governed by a Royal Charter. Equally in Canada the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) confers the designation Certified IT professional and governs members in a similar fashion. Both bodies are institutional members of IP3P the world council of professional IT bodies covering some 92 country membership.  Hence the profession is moving slowly towards becoming a self-regulating body; however they have no direct control over the millions of people who exist outside the governance of these professional bodies. “the international management of the internet should be transparent, multilateral and democratic with the involvement of governments, private sector and civil society” (Jennifer Gunning, 2005).

Standards and the computer ethics institute

The Computer Ethics Institute is making an attempt to place some jurisdiction and control over the use of computers and the internet.  “Computer ethics begin where the fingers meet the keyboard,” said Patrick Sullivan, executive director of CEI. “But ethics are more than a philosophical concern. They are directly relevant to managers and system operators, for whom computer technology presents ethical problems ranging from e-mail privacy and worker monitoring to employee use of corporate resources” (The Computer Ethics Institute , 2004).

Examination of criminal bahaviour

In order to more fully understand the concept of a breach of professional ethics and contravention of acceptable behaviour it is necessary to examine some of the causes.  This places the problem into a better context.

Stealing Copyright and credit for intellectual property

Information that has been placed on the internet is easy to both extract and copy. Copyright laws are enforced but there are countries where it may prove more difficult to prosecute your claim.  Intellectual copyright applies to such items as web design and web pages. The copying of web pages for your own purpose. Asian countries have been particularly noted for theft of this kind. So imagine how difficult it would be to obtain legal compensation for a crime committed in say China, North Korea or Vietnam.

Intercepting private e-mail

There are a number of different points of vulnerability for intercepting e-mail messages. You may be directly attacked through the internet and information removed from your PC. This referred to as hacking.  Your information may be accessed en route within the internet i.e. interrupted, re-routed or copied.  Despite the Internet Service Provider having a secure network, sophisticated hackers may find ‘back door’ entry points and gain access to information stored on the ISP server (see illustration above).  There are a number of criminal reasons why people may go to extraordinary lengths to do this.  The most obvious one is identity theft. If they get enough information about your profile it can be used to create false identities.  The most dangerous piece of information being the Social Insurance Number (SIN) matched up with name, address and financial information.  Credit card details – name, number, security code and even better if you give them a sample of your signature.  Less serious matters are getting your name, address, contact details to put you onto bulk marketing and mailing lists. These can be removed over time but they are extremely irritating. They also provide another opportunity to allow people to send you viruses, particularly Trojans.

Display of pornographic material

Disturbing amounts of obscene graphic photos have moved from magazines to that of internet website.  This also includes video clips and short movies. The incredible ease of access to this material is particularly disturbing for parents and the supervision of children who might inadvertently gain access to this information.  It will prove difficult to stop this invasion to the internet but one company called Scapegoat is examining ways to monitor infringements “automation technology that will monitor pornographic material for infringements without having to have a human look through the harmful content. This technology is similar to filtering but due to the differences in what is being looked for, it will be very precise and reliable. When infractions are found, the necessary data is sent to the proper authorities.” (Buzzle, 2010).

The ethical responsibility here is to children and allowing them to have a childhood without exposing them to adult materials at an early age. There also exists the question of predators and the publication of paedophile material on the web.  In addition the use of chat lines that permits access to children who may be lured from the internet virtual world to real meetings where they come in direct harm’s way.  This has legal ramifications and requires intervention by the police.

Deliberate public misinformation

Propaganda can be a powerful and persuasive means to convince people of a specific point of view. Even more so when the information is deliberately skewed with a precise objective in mind. It can also be used to promote racial hatred and incite violent behaviour. It can be used to put forward denials like that of the holocaust, used for recruitment campaigns for subversive or terrorist groups etc.  Amongst the most damaging is putting medical information that is either erroneous or deliberately misleading. The ethical implications being that less knowledgeable third world countries might access such information and act upon it thereby putting people’s lives at risk.  There is a need for people to understand what are considered to be reliable sources of information and some quality procedure put in place that endorses same.

Video Games and Graphic violence on the net

Federal crime statistics illustrate that Juvenile violent crime has significantly decreased in the USA. Some 90% of boys and 40% of girls are involved in playing video games. The majority of these are not involved in criminal behaviour. The Surgeon General stated that most anti-social and criminal tendencies were a result of mental instability, poor environments and lack of good parental upbringing.  The moral panic that has exploded concerning the use of violent video games is more of a paranoia that detracts from the real social and psychological issues society faces.

It has been estimated that 66% of the market is under the age of 18.  As such the focus should be on the link between that of aggressive video games and violent juvenile crime. Current statistics dispute this and indicate that juvenile crime is at a 30 year low. Market research has indicated that 83% of game purchases are influenced by the parents. As such exposure to this material is in the control of the parents. Parents need to restrict children to the degree of exposure to these sorts of games and balance this between that of exercise, school work and healthy living activities.

The video game market is predominately in the male sector. The trend is however for more girls taking an interest in these games. Psychologists state that women associate with the more powerful independent “warrior like” figures as a means of developing confidence and building up their own self-esteem.

As video games are used in simulation exercises to train the military in the art of killing it has been assumed they have the same impact on Children. This is the argument put forwards by the Military psychologist David Grossman and that children are gaining the same exposure that will condition them to behave in an anti-social and aggressive way in society.  The verdict is still out here but Grossmans model only works under certain predefined conditions.

The concept that video games contribute to the social isolation of children and make them more introvert. The argument against this is that most gamers play with friends and this statistically is high as 60%.  A lot of games are designed for multiple players promoting teamwork and social interaction. One social psychologist stated that two gamers may be fighting to the death on screen but off screen they grow closer as friends.

The concept of exposure to graphic violence on screen forms the basis of desensitizing the true meaning and concept of this.  In other words the divorce from reality; in the virtual world you do not experience pain or suffering or severe wounds or the possibility of real death.  Media researchers state that the violence in games also reduces the amount of empathy for real world violence incidents. Equally those with prolonged exposure to violent games are running the risk of becoming mentally disturbed.

There have been numerous cases or bodies of evidence supporting the linkages between violent games and crime.  The two students who committed the Columbine High School massacre were said to be avid players of the violent game “Doom”.  In addition the games have become much more violent and realistic. The research and evidence may not be conclusive but there are sufficient cases and linkages to cause real alarm and concern for the future well-being of children.

In addition, research has indicated that exposure to graphic violence is more harmful in the virtual reality world of video games than exposure to other media like TV and DVD’s. “In another study by Karen E. Dill, Ph.D. & Craig A. Anderson, Ph.D., violent video games were considered to be more harmful in increasing aggression than violent movies or television shows due to their interactive and engrossing nature”. Another dangerous trend is that of games that expose children to subjects like torture.   This is the type of game that can cause psychological damage in young people and equally introduce them to graphic concepts that are not really fit for young minds.  There should become an ethical dimension in terms of the games manufacturers but there seems to be no control in terms of the content that they push out into the market place.

The Legal issues:  The controversy of violent graphic games has now reached the Supreme Court in America. “The highest court in the US has heard arguments over whether children can be stopped from buying violent video games involving murder and sexual assault.” (BBC News).  Paul Smith the defence lawyer was quoted as saying: We have a history in this country of new mediums coming along and people vastly overreacting to them, thinking the sky is falling, our children are all going to be turned into criminals. The Supreme Court justice was split as to whether such restrictions would be deemed constitutional.

One of the main issues seems to be the lack of legal precedence here. The issue in question being whether there should be an outright ban in California, as applicable to manufacturers of the games that depict graphic violence. The 2005 California law already prohibits the sale of certain games where “ a reasonable person would find that the violent content appeals to deviant or morbid interests of minors and as such causes the game as a whole to lack serious artistry, literary, political or scientific values for minors” (BBC News). The penalty for breach of this law being $1000 fine to the retailer concerned. “The Supreme Court, which will make a decision next year on the case, may have to decide if California is required to demonstrate “a direct causal link between violent video games and physical and psychological harm to minors” before stopping games being sold to them.” (BBC News)

Statistics

Not surprisingly E-Mail heads the list of the most common cybercrime activities. Given the volume and amount of traffic that the internet pushes through it becomes a prime target.  “lottery scams, internet auction frauds, Nigerian advance fee fraud, phishing, identity theft, the list goes on and seems to grow almost daily as innovation is bent toward the quick and dishonest digital buck rather than creative contribution to others around him.” (Wolf, 2008).

The chart to the right is interesting as it shows computer viruses being the highest threat over the internet with employee abuse being the second highest. The latter refers to employee’s unauthorised use of the internet at work and the loss of productive hours that directly impacts the profitability of the company.

Statistics produced by the US Department of Justice in 2007 illustrates the escalation in cost between 2001-2007 for the increase of computer / internet fraud. The jump from 2004 is indicative of the technology growth and expansion of the internet from that period. This trend is set to continue for the foreseeable future.

Works Cited

BBC News. (2010, 11 2). Supreme Court considers violent games rules case. Retrieved 11 11, 2010, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11671196

Buzzle. (2010). Stop Pornographic Material. Retrieved 11 25, 2010, from Buzzle: http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/8-22-2006-106274.asp

Jennifer Gunning, S. H. (2005). Ethics, law, and society, Volume 4. Burlington VT: Asgate Publishing.

Terrell Ward Bynum, S. R. (2004). Computer ethics and professional responsibility. Oxford UK: Blackwell Publishing.

The Computer Ethics Institute . (2004). Introducing Ethics into the. Retrieved 11 25, 2010, from The Computer Ethics Institute : http://www.theta.com/goodman/ethics.htm

Wolf, U. (2008, 10 15). Cyber Ambush – How Rampant? Retrieved 11 24, 2010, from Digital Citizen pulse: http://www.digitalcommunitiesblogs.com/dcp/2008/10/cyber-ambush-how-rampant.php

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