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Implementing a Computer Ethics Program: Necessity and Challenges

Technologies are senseless, but the use of technologies has far-reaching ethical implications. Unfortunately, many IT professionals believe that their systems are neither good nor bad. They feel that ethical complexities are not part of their responsibilities and obligations. In these situations, it comes as no surprise that ethical dilemmas in IT are becoming more common. Ethical complexities affect the quality of IT decisions, whether IT professionals want it or not. The development and implementation of a computer ethics program can improve ethical climate and culture within the organization, clarify employee roles with regard to computer ethics, and establish effective ethical assessment systems at all levels of the organization’s performance.

That IT professionals do not realize the scope of ethical problems in IT is one of the biggest problems faced by contemporary organizations. The rapid pace of technological advancement challenges conventional approaches to ethics and mandates the development of new computer ethics programs. Two fundamental forces pressure businesses to adopt computer ethics programs: global competition is becoming more intense, whereas innovative use of technology requires the creation of sound ethical procedures (LeClair & Ferrell, 2000). As new technologies change the way people do their jobs in organizations, the risks of illegal and unethical actions with technologies constantly increase (LeClair & Ferrell, 2000). All these trends necessitate the implementation of a broad computer ethics program within the organization.

To successfully develop and implement a computer ethics program, the support of an IT director and senior management is required, to ensure greater ethical commitment on the side of employees (Grupe, Garcia-Jay & Kuechler, 2002). The computer ethics program will create the ethical infrastructure needed to tie ethical processes to the organization’s values, mission and vision. The program will reflect the organization’s striving to establish itself as an ethical decision maker and, simultaneously, infuse ethics into all organizational processes in IT. The following are the values and principles to be included in the computer ethics program.

The ethical principles to be included in the program are: the rights and obligations of IT professionals, the principles of risk aversion, beneficence and nonmaleficence, the criteria of legalism and professionalism in IT use, as well as equity, customer choice, confidentiality, trustworthiness, and honesty (Grupe et al., 2002). The program will also include special sections devoted to ethical auditing and control in the workplace. The program will be accompanied by a series of training sessions, to validate the process of learning and its applicability in IT decisions. The topics included and discussed during the training sessions will include the use of computers in the workplace, ethical implications of computer use in organizations, intellectual property, confidentiality and anonymity, computer crime, professional responsibility, hacking and ethics, as well as actions to prevent or address unethical issues.

The benefits and necessity of the proposed computer program are obvious. First, many employees believe that they are ethical. In their search of unprecedented profits, these employees also believe that making unethical decisions is standard and even desirable (Grupe et al., 2002). “An ethics program announces management’s commitment to ethical behavior in all aspects of the IT effort” (Grupe et al., 2002, p.2). Consequentially, employees are more likely to adopt new ethical practices when they see that senior managers strive to promote ethical behaviors in business decisions. Second, the presence of a computer ethics program suggests that the organization realizes the importance of ethics and develops instruments to prevent and address unethical issues. A computer ethics program will motivate employees to disclose and address their own unethical dilemmas (Grupe et al., 2002). Third, through the development of a computer ethics program the organization can prevent the risks and damage associated with ethical failures that follow the implementation of new technologies. With a computer ethics program, customers will see the organization as a provider of ethical services and products, which will certainly add weight to the organization’s reputation and market standing. Other benefits will include: (1) establishing roles and functions to manage ethical issues; (2) scheduling and running systems of ethical assessment; (3) aligning organizational behaviors with ethical values and principles; (4) structuring instruments and mechanisms to resolve ethical issues; and (5) creating the basis for ongoing evaluation of the program (Grupe et al., 2002). The proposed program will target younger IT specialists, due to the fact that younger professionals have lower perceptions of what is ethically right or wrong and need better education to achieve a higher standard of ethical beliefs (Chow & Choi, 2003).

Certainly, a computer ethics program alone cannot guarantee the development of a sound ethical climate within the organization. It is imperative that the program, its goals and values are made visible for all employees (Grupe et al., 2002). It is not enough to educate employees about the value of ethical decision making: the organization must conduct regular ethical analyses, review and evaluate whether the existing ethical processes are necessary and effective. Nevertheless, the costs of the proposed computer ethics program will be later compensated through improved ethical performance in the IT department and reduced risks of ethical, legal and material damages caused by ethical misconduct.

Many IT professionals believe either that they are ethical or that ethics is not part of their obligations. These perceptions are erroneous. By establishing a computer ethics program, the organization can achieve higher standards of ethical performance in IT. The proposed computer ethics program and training sessions will help IT professionals to clarify their roles with regard to ethics and, simultaneously, strengthen the company’s ethical image. The program will enable better alignment of ethical principles with the organization’s mission, vision and values. Certainly, a computer ethics program alone cannot guarantee the development of a sound ethical climate within the organization, but it will lay the groundwork for the creation and implementation of new ethical frameworks. 

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