Codes of conduct and codes of ethics are a way of ensuring that positive impact in the community prevails. The purpose of having a code is to reinforce the ethical aspect of information technology professionalism and promote it by raising discussion amongst ICT practitioners. The code is not final; it will continue to evolve through feedback. Because it is not possible to anticipate all ethical problems, codes should not be taken as an absolute truth, but rather as a guide towards better choices.
Acting ethically is not about following an ethical code to the letter, but rather it evolves as a result of the choices between right and wrong, good and bad that we make. Choices affect our ethics.
Ethical theories are important in every professional field and every aspect of our life. Every professional must know his or her boundaries and how to behave in certain satiations by having a set of ethical values already established. ICT companies must as well have a set of ethical values established, but since technology is one of the fields that evolves every second and minute that passes, defining ethical codes in this field is becoming harder and harder nowadays and IT professionals are facing many problems concerning computer ethics effects.
Heinz Zemanek, one of the last living pioneers of global computer science, pointed out in his lecture in Maribor that “High technology requires high ethics!” (Zemanek, 2006). This realization emerged into computer science at the very beginning, which is a particularity in technical fields; although it would be a lie to say that it is present among all computer experts in the world. Norbert Wiener linked technology and ethics with his concept of “cybernethics” in his famous dissertation entitled The Human Use of Human Being from the middle of the previous century (Wiener, 1954). His example of thorough reflection and his warning against the ethical consequences of ICT use were followed by almost every significant scientist in this field, based on which James Moor was able to define the “law” which states that ethical problems caused by the use of ICT increase proportionally to the growth of the social influence of ICT (Moor, 2005, 117).
The need for reflection on social influence of ICT certainly has not decreased in today’s omnipresent recession, as the allegations that the crisis was, among other things, brought about by the abuse of new technology posing as “new economy” are proving not to be mere fabrications after all. On the other hand, those who believe that ICT is the last hope for getting out of this crisis are more numerous every day (van Reenen, 2010)
Codes of ethics and/or codes of conduct are a way to decrease the negative influences of ICT use on the social development. They are based on a vision of excellence and a positive mission, which is the goal of both individuals and professional associations and have been present in some professions since ancient times (e.g. the Hippocratic Oath). Stuart Gilman (2005) argues for distinction between codes of ethics and codes of conduct, although both methods of regulation interlace and interchange in real life. If the code of ethics is directed more towards the moral values and principles, then the code of conduct is more a model of standard behavior in predictable situations of a professional activity. Instead of trying to combine both approaches, the code of conduct could represent an extension to the code of ethics. It is necessary to update the standards of conduct constantly, especially in the case of ICT, which develops rapidly, whereas the leading values do not change quite as quickly.
Every society has a set of rules that tell how to behave and which behavior is accepted and which is not. Moral codes of a society are not the same for everyone though because not all societies and communities have their boundaries set the same. What can be called unacceptable behavior in one society may be pretty acceptable in another society due to cultural differences and mind sets that different countries and communities have.
The same applies to ICT professional’s code of ethics. The only difference is that, unlike ethical codes set in other areas, ICT professionals are constantly faced with different computing ethics as technology keeps evolving. That is why the constant establishment of an ethical set for ICT professionals is important.
• Authority and responsibility
ICT professionals must not misuse their power. They must face up to their responsibility, which can be measured as actions and deeds. Knowledge is power, and using knowledge requires wisdom, as does all use of power.
• Knowledge and experience
Professionals must understand their limits: they should know the strengths and weaknesses of their skills. In a rapidly developing field, professionals must develop their skills. They must know, for example, any laws regarding personal privacy. Professionals do not hide their knowledge, but instead pursue to enhance their own and others’ skills and share their knowledge with the professional community. However, professionals also understand that information which is confidential (and must remain so) and respect the trust of their clients.
Should a professional receive criticism of their work, be it well-founded or even unfounded in their opinion, they should receive it gracefully and learn from it.
Professionals do not work just for themselves, but also for others. They will take into consideration the opinions of the subjects of their actions. They should not let greed or lack of consideration affect their decisions. They understand that their work has meaning only through others.
Professionals understand the importance of communication. They communicate with their clients, document what they do and inform all relevant parties of their actions.
Professionals must aim to communicate as clearly as possible and when necessary explain the terms they use. The aim of communication is to create common understanding with other parties to achieve cooperation.
In transactions with a client, professionals should also inform the client of anything the client may not know to ask. Professionals should inform others of the bad news as well as the good ones.
• Consequences of professionals’ work
The results of information technology work receive their meaning through application. ICT professionals must understand the consequences of their work, as part of a long chain, at the end of which is the user. Professionals must take into regard the needs and wants of the consumer, the client and their employer.
In their actions professionals should always aim to understand the meaning of their work to the whole community for which the work is done and not limit themselves only to the opinions of the people with whom they have the transaction.
• Other people
ICT professionals respect the work of other people, and in so doing take other peoples’ rights to their creations into account.
The work of ICT professionals affect – through various connecting groups – society at large. Professionals must understand the consequences of their work and must also take into consideration human rights, environmental questions, laws and copyrights when pursuing their work.
To act ethically is to make choices; each person can choose to be, or not to be, ethical. To apply ethics is often not to choose between the “right” and the “wrong” choice, but rather to develop an ethical character by constantly having regard for one’s environment and the people in it. These instructions strive to give ICT professionals a framework for action that will promote their own and other peoples’ ethical growth.
Humanity has no guarantee that ICT will work for its prosperity and not for its demoralization with its fantastic possibilities without a very serious effort. As it was already demonstrated at the beginning, the pioneers of computer science were aware of “walking a thin line” and warned against it, and hoped that the information age would be the victory of a morally mature society.