Notes for Deborah G. Johnson Computer Ethics

Key concepts: .

Related theorists: James Moor.

Prentice-Hall Series in Occupational Ethics



Impact of computers not yet judged fundamental like Industrial Revolution, thus appearance of first edition of Computer Ethics in a series on occupational ethics.

(1) At this stage, computers have not caused a fundamental change in our social institutions and social arrangements. Their impact has not come close to the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution.

Hacking summarily judged as having no moral distinction to physically breaking into an office and stealing files; many moral issues dissolved by finding adequate comparisons between activities done with computers and familiar actions.

(2) Breaking into a confidential computer file is hardly different morally from breaking into a locked office and then into a locked file cabinet.
(2) Many of the ethical issues raised by computers are like this in the sense that they are comparable to other activities, and when the comparability is revealed, the moral issue dissolves.

Computer use has created not unique ethical questions but new forms of raising them.

(2) Our increasing use of computers has raised ethical questions which, while not fundamentally unique, have never been posed in quite the form they are now. For example, does information about an individual stored in a computer, and perhaps never seen by a human (other than the one who put it in), constitute invasion of privacy? Under what circumstances should copying of a program be considered stealing? The first question concerns privacy and the second property rights.

Book focuses on significance of moral issues for computer professionals that are dealt with at the level of social policy or individual responsibility.

(2-3) This book will focus on a set of ethical issues that surround computers emphasizing what the issues mean for computer professionals. Often the issues call for some soft of societal response—laws, regulatory policy, and so on. At other times, the issue cannot be dealt with fully at the societal level but, rather, requires responsible behavior on the part of individuals, namely, those who understand and work with computers.

Interested in questions that draw ordinary moral rules into unfamiliar areas, which Moor will call conceptual muddles.

(3) Questions like these which draw our ordinary moral rules into somewhat new, and sometimes gray, areas will be central to the focus of this book.

Chapter progression from introduction to ethical concepts, why be interested in professional ethics including the ACM Code of Professional Conduct, responsibility and liability, effects resulting from increasing use of computers on privacy, on power relations, and finally regulating ownership of software.

(3) The first chapter will provide the necessary background with a general discussion of ethics and the importance of ethical theory.
(3-4) The second chapter raises and answers the question: Why should we be talking about professional ethics at all? . . . This chapter includes a brief examination of the Association for Computer Machinery (ACM) Code of Professional Conduct.
(4) The third chapter focuses on issues of responsibility and liability surrounding computers.
(4) The next two chapters are concerend with the
effects that may result from the increasing use of computers. Chapter 4 deals with privacy and Chapter 5 with power. Computers have been viewed as a threat to personal privacy because they make possible the existence of enormous databases containing all kinds of information about people.
(4) Chapter 5 examines a number of criticisms that have been made of computers and how they may affect power relations in our society.
(4) The final chapter, Chapter 6, deals with the very complex question of how (if at all) the ownership of programs should be regulated.

Does not discuss popular topics like treat to uniqueness of human intelligence for lack of specificity.

(4) First, the reader may be surprised to find that many popular topics of discussion about computers are hardly even mentioned here. This is either because the ethical issue posed is not unique to computers or because the issue posed is not ethical at all.

Credits the work as first attempt to bring philosophical thought to ethical issues surrounding computers.

(5) Finally, this is the first attempt (that I know of) by a philosopher to bring contemporary philosophical thought to bear on the ethical issues surrounding computers. I hope it will inspire others to reflect further. Since it is a first attempt, it no doubt contains some errors.

Johnson, Deborah. Computer Ethics. Engelwood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1985. Print.