Apply decision-making frameworks to IT-related ethical issues
are several ethical theories described in Module 1: Ethical
Theories. Module 2: Methods of Ethical Decision Making, describes frameworks
for ethical analysis. For this paper, use the Reynolds Seven-Step approach to
address the following:
Describe a current IT-related ethical issue; and define a problem
o Analyze your problem using a
decision-making framework chosen from Module 2.
o Discuss the applicable ethical
theory from Module 1 that supports your decision.
o Prepare a minimum 3- 5 page,
o Use APA style and format.
Provide appropriate American Psychological Association (APA) reference
citations for all sources. In addition to critical thinking and
analysis skills, your paper should reflect appropriate grammar and spelling,
good organization, and proper business-writing style.
Each of Reynolds seven steps must be a major heading in
are some suggested issues–
Privacy on the Web. What is happening now in terms of privacy on the Web? Think
about recent abuses and improvements. Describe and evaluate Web site policies,
Personal Data Privacy Regulations in Other Countries. Report on personal data
privacy regulations, Web site privacy policies, and governmental/law
enforcement about access to personal data in one or more countries; e.g., the
European Union. This is especially relevant as our global economic
community expands and we are more dependent on non-US clients for e-Business
over the Internet. (Note: new proposed regulations are under review in Europe.)
Spam. Describe new technical solutions and the current state of
regulation. Consider the relevance of freedom of speech. Discuss the roles of
technical and legislative solutions.
Computer-Based Crimes. Discuss the most prevalent types of computer crimes, such as
Phishing. Analyze why and how these can occur. Describe protective measures
that might assist in preventing or mitigating these types of crimes.
Government surveillance of the Internet. The 9/11 attacks on the US in
2001 brought many new laws and permits more government surveillance of the
Internet. Is this a good idea? Many issues are cropping up daily in our current
The Digital Divide. Does it exist; what does it look like; and, what are the
ethical considerations and impact?
Privacy in the Workplace: Monitoring Employee Web and E-Mail Use. What are current
opinions concerning monitoring employee computer use. What policies are
employers using? Should this be authorized or not? Policies are changing even
Medical Privacy. Who owns your medical history? What is the state of current
legislation to protect your health information? Is it sufficient? There
are new incentives with federal stimulus financing for health care
organizations to develop and implement digital health records.
Software piracy. How many of you have ever made an unauthorized copy of software,
downloaded software or music (free or for a fee), or used copyrighted
information without giving proper credit or asking permission? Was this illegal
or just wrong? How is this being addressed?
Predictions for Ethical IT Dilemma in 2020. What is your biggest worry or
your prediction for ethical concerns of the future related to information
Consumer Profiling. With every purchase you make, every Web site you visit, your
preferences are being profiled. What is your opinion regarding the legal
authority of these organizations to collect and aggregate this data?
Biometrics & Ethics. Your fingerprint, retinal-vessel image, and DNA map can
exist entirely as a digital image in a computer, on a network, or in the info-sphere.
What new and old ethical problems must we address?
Ethical Corporations. Can corporations be ethical? Why or why not?
Social Networking. What are some of the ethical issues surrounding using new social
networks? How are these now considered for business use? What are
business social communities? Are new/different protections and security
needed for these networks?
Gambling in Cyberspace. Is it legal? Are there national regulations and/or
licensing? What are the oversight and enforcement requirements? Are there
international implications? What are the social and public health issues?
Pornography in Cyberspace For example, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling protecting as
free speech computer-generated child pornography
Medicine and Psychiatry in Cyberspace. Some considerations include: privacy issues; security;
third-party record-keeping; electronic medical records; access to information,
even by the patient (patient rights); access to information by outsiders
without patient knowledge; authority to transfer and/or share information. Are
there any policies proposed by professional organizations?
Counterterrorism and Information Systems Your protection versus
Open-source Software versus Closed-source Software Ethical ramifications and
impact on intellectual property law
Creative Commons Licenses How do they work and what are the legal and ethical impacts
Universal ID Card. What is the general position of the U.S. government
about issuing each individual a unique ID Card? Which individual U.S.
government agencies have already provided a unique ID Card? What steps have
been taken to include individual ID information electronically in passports?
How is privacy and security provided?
Federal and State Law Enforcement’s Role to enforce computer-based
1: Introduction to Ethical Theories
to Ethical Theories
The concepts ofethics, character, right and wrong, and good and evil have captivated
humankind since we began to live in groups, communicate, and pass judgment on
each other. The morality of our actions is based on motivation, group rules and
norms, and the end result. The difficult questions of ethics and information
technology (IT) may not have been considered by previous generations, but what
is good, evil, right, and wrong in human behavior certainly has been. With
these historical foundations and systematic analyses of present-day and future
IT challenges, we are equipped for both the varied ethical battles we will face
and the ethical successes we desire.
Although most of you will be called upon to practice applied
ethics in typical business situations, you’ll find that the foundation for such
application is a basic understanding of fundamental ethical theories. These
ethical theories include the work of ancient philosophers such as Plato and
Aristotle. This module introduces the widely accepted core ethical
philosophies, which will serve to provide you with a basic understanding of
ethical thought. With this knowledge, you can begin to relate these theoretical
frameworks to practical ethical applications in today’s IT environment.
Let’s start with a fundamental question: “Why be ethical
andmoral?” At the mostexistential level, it may not
matter. But we don’t live our lives in a vacuum—we live our lives with our
friends, relatives, acquaintances, co-workers, strangers, and fellow wanderers.
To be ethical and moral allows us to be counted upon by others and to be better
than we would otherwise be. This, in turn, engenders trust and allows us to
have productive relationships with other people and in society. Our ethical
system, supported by critical thinking skills, is what enables us to make
distinctions between what is good, bad, right, or wrong.
An individual’s ethical system is based upon his or her personal
values and beliefs as they relate to what is important and is, therefore,
highly individualized. Values are things that are important to us. “Values
can be categorized into three areas: Moral (fairness, truth, justice, love,
happiness), Pragmatic (efficiency, thrift, health, variety, patience) and
Aesthetic (attractive, soft, cold, square)” (Navran, n.d.). Moral values
influence our ethical system. These values may or may not be supported by
individual beliefs. For example, a person is faced with a decision—he borrowed
a friend’s car and accidentally backed into a tree stump, denting the
fender—should he confess or make up a story about how it happened when the car
was parked? If he had a personal value of honesty, he would decide not to lie
to his friend. Or, he could have a strong belief that lying is wrong because it
shows disrespect for another person and, therefore, he would tell the truth. In
either case, the ethical decision making was influenced by his system of values
or beliefs. These may come from family, culture, experience, education, and so
This discussion brings us to the term ethics. Frank
Navran, principal consultant with the Ethics Resource Center (ERC), defines
ethics as “the study of what we understand to be good and right behavior
and how people make those judgments” (n.d.). Behavior that is consistent
with one’s moral values would be considered ethical behavior. Actions that are
inconsistent with one’s view of right, just, and good are considered unethical
behavior. However, it is important to note that determining what is ethical is
not just an individual decision—it also is determined societally.
We will witness this larger social dimension in this course, which
is designed to provide you with an understanding of the specific ethical issues
that have arisen as information technology has evolved over the last few
decades. The very changes that enhanced technology causes in society also create
ethical issues and dilemmas not previously encountered. The lack of precedent
in many areas, combined with the ease of potentially operating outside of
ethical paradigms, pose significant challenges to end users, IT analysts,
programmers, technicians, and managers of information systems. We must be
prepared logically and scientifically to understand ethics and to practice
using ethical guidelines in order to achieve good and right solutions and to
plan courses of action in times of change and uncertainty.
You can see from the benefits discussed above that knowledge,
respect for, and a deeper understanding of norms and laws and their
source—ethics and morals—is extremely useful. Ethical thought and theories are
tools to facilitate our ethical decision-making process. They can provide the
foundation on which to build a great company, or to become a better and more
productive employee, a better neighbor, and a better person. Still, some
professionals may wonder “Why study ethics?” Robert Hartley, author
of Business Ethics: Violations of the Public Trust (Hartley,
1993, pp. 322–324) closes his book with four insights, which speak directly to
this question for business and IT professionals. They are:
modern era is one of caveat vendidor, “Let the seller beware.”
For IT managers, this is an important reason to understand and practice
business (and in life), adversity is not forever. But Hartley points out
that when business problems are handled unethically, the adversity becomes
a permanent flaw and results in company, organization, and individual
relationships (with customers, employees, and suppliers) are critical keys
to success. Ethical behavior is part and parcel of building and
maintaining the trust relationship, and hence business success.
person can make a difference. This difference may be for good or evil, but
one person equipped with the understanding of ethical decision-making,
either by acting on it or simply articulating it to others, changes
history. This sometimes takes courage or steadfastness—qualities that
spring from basic ethical confidence.
In the world of information technology today and in the future,
the application of these ethical theories to day-to-day and strategic decision
making is particularly relevant. The ability to garner personal, corporate, and
governmental information and to disseminate this data in thousands of
applications with various configurations and components brings significant
responsibilities to ensure the privacy, accuracy, and integrity of such
information. The drive to collect and distribute data at increasing volume and
speed, whether for competitive advantage in the marketplace or homeland
security cannot overshadow the IT manager’s responsibility to provide
appropriate controls, processes, and procedures to protect individual and
Let’s begin building our understanding of several predominant
ethical theories. Ethical theories typically begin with the premise that what
is being evaluated is good or bad, right or wrong. Theorists seek to examine
either the basic nature of the act or the results the act brings about. As
Deborah Johnson (2001, p. 29) states in Computer Ethics,
philosophical ethics is normative (explaining how things should be, not how
they are at any given moment) and ethical theories are prescriptive
(prescribing the “desired” behavior). Frameworks for ethical analysis
aim to shape or guide the most beneficial outcome or behavior. There are two
main categories of normative ethical theories:teleology anddeontology. Telos refers
to end and deon refers to that which is
obligatory. These theories address the fundamental question of whether the
“means justify the end” or the “end justifies the means.”
Deontological ethical systems focus on the principle of the matter (the means),
not the end result. In contrast, teleological ethical systems address the
resulting consequences of an action (the ends).
Teleological theories focus on maximizing the goodness of the
cumulative end result of a decision or action. In determining action, one
considers the good of the end result before the immediate rightness of the
action itself. These theories focus on consequences of an action or decision
and are often referred to as consequentialism. Teleological
theories include utilitarianism, ethical egoism, and common good ethics.
The most prevalent example of a teleological theory isutilitarianism, often associated with the writings of John Stuart Mill and
Jeremy Bentham. Utilitarianism looks for the greatest good for the greatest
number of people, including oneself. Individual rights and entitlements are
subservient to the general welfare. There are two main subtypes:
act-utilitarianism (for which the rules are more like
rules-of-thumb/guidelines) and rule-utilitarianism (for which the rules are
more tightly defined and critical). Utilitarianism requires consideration of
actions that generate the best overall consequences for all parties involved.
of the greatest good or happiness for the greatest number
the action that will maximize benefits for the greatest number of
stakeholders of the organization
This quote explains a bit more: “The fathers of
utilitarianism thought of it principally as a system of social and political
decision, as offering a criterion and basis of judgment for legislators and
administrators” (Williams, 1993, p. 135). Utilitarianism is geared to
administrative and organizational decision-making, given that in complex
systems or relationships, a single individual may not have the resources to
determine the overall benefit to the total number of people affected by the decisions.
Ethical Egoism and
Egoism is maximizing your own benefits and minimizing harm to
yourself. This is sometimes thought of as behavioralDarwinism, and
clearly it guides decision-making with an eye toward basic survival. Although
different aspects of this theory debate whether all human behavior is
self-serving or should be self-serving, it is impossible to know with certainty
what internally motivates an individual.
Altruism determines decisions and actions based on the interests of
others, the perceived maximized good for others, often at one’s own expense or
in a way directly opposed to the egoist alternative.
Further debate can be found over whether ethical egoism also
incorporates an element of altruism. For example, a network engineer working
for a vendor recommends to a client a network security installation that
generates a substantial commission for the engineer. However, this installation
also provides maximum network security for the benefit of the client. Is this
self-serving or altruistic? The inability to distinguish pure motives in most
practical applications, along with the inherent conflict resulting from
competing self-interests, leads to an unsurprising result: these theories are
not typically used in generally accepted frameworks for ethical
The Common Good
The common-good approach comes from the teachings and writings of
Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Rawls. It is based on an assumption that within
our society, certain general conditions are equally advantageous to all and
should therefore be maximized. These conditions include health care, safety,
peace, justice, and the environment. This is different from utilitarianism in
that utilitarianism strives for the maximum good for the most (but not
necessarily all) people. The common-good approach sets aside only those
conditions that apply to all.
All teleological theories focus on the end result: what’s best for
me, what’s best for you, or what’s best for some or all of us. One important
factor in using teleological frameworks as a guide to action is that you need
to be able to understand accurately and project the end result for the variety
of affected groups. For egoism and altruism, this is perhaps not difficult. For
larger, more remote, and less-well-understood groups, teleological theories can
lead to acts that in turn become the bricks paving the road of good intentions.
However, in information technology, where many people are affected either
positively or negatively by the acts of a few, teleological theories can be
(Rights and Duties)
Deontological theories focus on defining the right action
independently of and prior to considerations of the goodness or badness of the
outcomes. The prefix deon refers to duty or obligation—one
acts because one is bound by honor or training to act in the right manner,
regardless of the outcome. Deontological theories include those that focus on
protection of universal rights and execution of universal duties, as well as
those that protect less universal rights and more specific duties. These rights
and duties are usually learned and are often codified in some traditional way.
For example, theologism is a deontological theory based on the Ten
Commandments. Boy Scouts have a code that is intended as a guide to the rights
of others and personal duties. Deontology uses one’s duty as the guide to
action, regardless of the end results.
Deontological theories are most often associated with Immanuel
Kant and his categorical imperative. Kant’s famous categorical imperative takes
1. You ought never act in any way unless that way or act can be made
into a universal maxim (i.e., your act may be universalized for all people),
2. Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or that
of another, always as an end and never only as a means.
Kant’s duty-based approach might directly conflict with
teleological approaches, for in a utilitarian solution, individuals could very
easily serve as the means for other ends. Duty-based ethical analysis leads a
manager to consider the following questions:
1. What if everyone did what I’m about to do? What kind of world
would this be? Can I universalize the course of action I am considering?
2. Does this course of action violate any basic ethical duties?
3. Are there alternatives that better conform to these duties? If
each alternative seems to violate one duty or another, which is the stronger
Aduty-based approach to ethics focuses on the universally recognized
duties that we are morally compelled to do. There are several
“duties” that are recognized by most cultures as being binding and
self-evident. These duties include being honest, being fair, making
reparations, working toward self-improvement, and not hurting others. A
duty-based approach would put these obligations ahead of the end result,
regardless of what it may be. Pluralism includes the care-based ethical
approach based simply on the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would
have them do unto you.”
Arights-based approach to ethics has its roots in the social contract
philosophies of Rousseau, Hobbes, and John Locke. These ideas are also at the
foundation of the United States form of government and history, and rights
(whether natural or granted by governments) are intensely held American
ideological values. Because the global information technology leadership is fundamentally
an American creation, contractarian philosophical approaches in IT are widely
used, even if we don’t think about it overtly. When invoking a rights-based or
contractarian framework, managers must carefully consider the rights of
action or policy best upholds the human rights of the individuals
any alternatives under consideration violate their fundamental human
rights (i.e., liberty, privacy, and so on)?
any alternatives under consideration violate their institutional or legal
rights (e.g., rights derived from a contract or other institutional
Fairness and Justice
The fairness-and-justice approach is based on the teachings of
Aristotle. It is quite simple: equals should be treated equally. Favoritism, a
situation where some benefit for no justifiable reason, is unethical.
Discrimination, a situation where a burden is imposed on some who are not
relevantly different from the others, is also unethical. This approach is
deontological because it simply identifies a right and a duty, and does not
specifically consider the end result.
Whereas teleological theories focus on results or consequences and
deontological theories relate to rights and duties, thevirtue ethics approach
attributes ethics to personal attitudes or character traits and encourages all
to develop to their highest potential. This theory includes the virtues
themselves: “motives and moral character, moral education, moral wisdom or
discernment, friendship and family relationships, a deep concept of happiness,
the role of emotions in one’s moral life and the fundamentally important
questions of what sort of person I should be and how I should live my
life” (Hursthouse, 2003). When faced with an ethical dilemma, a virtue
ethicist would focus on the character traits of honesty, generosity, or
compassion, for example, rather than consequences or rules. Virtue ethics is
included in the area of what is referred to as normative ethics.
The table below helps to organize the various ethical theories for
you. Note that these theories have evolved over time, and there are some
overlapping ideas and theorists.
Major Ethical Theories
.gif” alt=”Teleology (consequentialism)”>
John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham
Seeks the greatest good for the greatest number of people; wants
Epicurus, Thomas Hobbes
Seeks to maximize one’s individual benefit and minimize harm to
Seeks to maximize decisions and actions based on interests of
Plato, Aristotle, Cicero and Rawls
Based on the assumption that within society, we are all pursuing
.gif” alt=”Deontology (rights and duties)”>
Duty-Based or Pluralism
Based on Kant’s categorical imperative: all acts can be made
Rousseau, Hobbes, and John Locke
Seeks action or policy that best upholds the human rights of
Fairness and Justice Approach
Equals should be treated equally; favoritism and discrimination
Predominantly influenced by Plato and Artistotle
Seeks to encourage all to develop to their highest potential
What is computer ethics? This term can be used in a
variety of ways. It may refer to applying traditional ethical theories to IT situations,
or it may entail the broader application that we see with the prevalence of
ethical codes, standards of conduct, and new areas of computer law and policy.
There also is an increasing interest in how sociology and psychology relate to
computing. Scholars generally agree that the study of computer ethics began
with Norbert Wiener, an MIT professor who worked during World War II to develop
an anti-aircraft cannon. His work in the 1940s prompted Wiener and his
associates to create a new field of study that Wiener labeledcybernetics. Their
work fostered the development of several ethical conclusions regarding the
potential implications of this type of advanced technology. Wiener published
his book, The Human Use of Human Beings, in 1950. Although the
term computer ethics was not used by Wiener and it was decades
later that the term came into general use, his work certainly laid the
foundation for future study and analysis. His book became a cornerstone for the
study of computer ethics. In it, Wiener talks about the purpose of human life
and the four principles of justice, but he also offers discussion, application,
and examples of what would come to be recognized as computer ethics. (Bynum,
It wasn’t until the 1970s that computer ethics began to garner
interest. Walter Maner, a university professor then at Old Dominion University,
offered a course in computer ethics to examine the ethical problems created,
exacerbated, or changed due to computer technology (Bynum, 2001). Through the
70s and 80s, interest increased in this area, and in 1985, Deborah Johnson
(previously referenced in this module) authored the first textbook on the
subject, Computer Ethics. Both Maner and Johnson advocated the
application of concepts from the ethical theories of utilitarianism and
Kantianism. However, in 1985, James Moor published a broader definition of
computer ethics in his article “What is Computer Ethics?” He states:
“computer ethics is the analysis of the nature and social impact of computer
technology and the corresponding formulation and justification of policies for
the ethical use of such technology” (Moor, 1985, p. 266). His definition
was in line with several frameworks for ethical problem-solving rather than the
specific application of any philosopher’s theory. With the potentially
limitless ability of computing comes a dynamic, evolutionary flow of related
ethical dilemmas. Moor indicated that as computer technology became more
entwined with people and their everyday activities, the ethical challenges
would become more difficult to conceptualize and do not lend themselves to the
development of a static set of rules (Moor, 1985).
Throughout the 1990s and continuing into the new millennium, we’ve
seen tremendous developments in the field of technology. Not surprisingly, with
these developments, we’ve seen the wide-spread adoption of computers to almost
every application imaginable, including the affordability and prevalence of
computers in homes and businesses. Professional associations have adopted codes
of conduct for their members, organizations have developed ethical codes and
standards of conduct for employees, and the IT field has focused increased
efforts in addressing the ethical situations and challenges that have unfolded.
In the following modules, we will explore how to apply these
traditional theories and analysis and problem-solving frameworks to effectively
understand and address ethical challenges in the information age.
Bynum, T. (2001).Computer ethics: Basic concepts and historical
overview. In E.N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Winter
2001 ed.). Retrieved July 7, 2005, from
Hartley, R. F. (1993). Business ethics: Violations of the
public trust. New York: John Wiley.
Hursthouse, R. (2003). Virtue ethics. In E.N. Zalta (Ed.), The
Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Fall 2003 ed.). Retrieved July 2,
2005, from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2003/entries/ethics-virtue/
Johnson, D. G. (2001). Computer ethics (3rd ed.).
Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Kidder, R. M. (1995). How good people make tough choices:
Resolving the dilemmas of ethical living. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Narvan, F. Ask the expert: What is the difference between ethics,
morals and values? The Ethics Resource Center. Retrieved June 19,
2005, from http://www.ethics.org/ask_e4.html
Williams, B. (1993). A critique of utilitarianism. In J.J.C. Smart
& B. Williams (Eds.), Utilitarianism: For and against.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2: Methods of Ethical Analysis
Application of Ethical
In module 1, we acquired a foundation in classical ethical
theories. In this module, we will learn how to apply this knowledge to ethical
challenges in today’s business world and, more specifically, to the area of
As we learned in module 1, the main traditional ethical theories
tend to be either rule-based (deontological) or consequentialist
(teleological). Both types of theories provide a framework for deciding whether
actions are right, depending upon the consequences that result from the action
(consequentialist) or whether the action follows the relevant rules for ethical
behavior (deontological). Traditional ethical theories were intended to apply
universally to ethical dilemmas and obviously didn’t factor in issues such as
marketplace competition, stockholders, and today’s ever-changing world of
information technology. Today’s IT manager needs to be able to address ethical
issues and to find resolutions in concrete business terms rather than engage in
a philosophical ethical debate. However, we can use those theories to guide our
ethical decision-making process.
In addition to the ethical theories already presented, business
ethics attempts to take traditional ethics and apply them practically to a
business context. The normative theories of business ethics (NTBE), introduced
to the information systems community in large part by Smith and Hasnas, provide
three basic approaches to ethical problems: stockholder, stakeholder, and
social contract theories (Smith, 2002). In this section, we will introduce
those theories as well as make connections to classical theory.
Normative Theories of Business
As its name indicates, the stockholder theory of NTBE focuses on
making ethical decisions that benefit stockholders. According to this theory,
because stockholders have invested in the company for their own profit, actions
taken by the company should be focused on benefiting the bottom line. A manager
or employee has a responsibility to use corporate resources in ways that do not
take away from the stockholders’ benefits. Stockholder theory instructs
managers to act within legal constraints. It does not instruct or encourage
managers to ignore ethical constraints.
Stakeholder theory expands a manager’s responsibility beyond the
stockholders to include anyone with an interest in the firm. This could include
employees, customers, stockholders, and potentially even competitors. Given
that there is a potential conflict among the interests of the various
stakeholders, the manager’s challenge is to balance those interests and to
provide the best possible solution that does not substantially infringe on any
individual stakeholder group.
According to social contract theory, businesses have ethical
obligations to benefit society by fulfilling customer and employee interests
within the generally accepted rules or codes. If there were a hypothetical
contract between society and a group of individuals who wished to establish a
business, what would the latter need from society—and what would society expect
in return? The terms of this hypothetical contract would outline both those
sets of expectations. Therefore, in giving the group of individuals rights to
act as an organization, use resources, and hire employees, a society would have
expectations related to fair treatment of employees, appropriate uses of
natural resources, and so on. (Smith, 2002).
Figure 2.1 illustrates the various links between business ethics
and traditional ethical theories to show the continuing relevance of the
latter. To find out more about the connections between NTBE and traditional
ethics, click on the titles under Normative Theories of Business Ethics and
read the information contained in the pop-up.
Linkages between Traditional Ethical and Business Ethics Frameworks
.png”>.gif” alt=” “>
(Adapted from Smith, H. J.
(2002). Ethics and Information Systems: Resolving the Quandaries. The
DATABASE for Advances in Information Systems(Summer 2002), p. 5.)
As you can see from the dotted lines in figure 2.1, the modern and
traditional elements do have connections and relationships despite their
various origins and applications. As you become more familiar with each of
these areas, the similarities and differences will become clearer.
Methods for Ethical Analysis
Now that you’ve had some practice in working through an ethical
decision-making scenario, let’s look at various structured approaches for
addressing such situations. There are several ways to systematically approach
an ethical dilemma. Each has merits, and each will result in an ethical
decision if straightforwardly and honestly applied. As you will see, the
various approaches are similar yet have somewhat different slants.
George Reynolds uses a seven-step ethical decision-making approach
that is summarized in table 2.1.
Reynolds’ Seven-Step Ethical Decision-Making Approach
3. Consider the consequences
4. Evaluate the various
5. Develop and evaluate options
6. Review your decision
7. Evaluate the results
(Adapted from Reynolds, G.
W. (2003). Ethics in Information Technology, pp.115-118.)
In his book How Good People Make Tough Choices,
Rushworth Kidder presents a similar process; however, he defines four dilemmas
by which various moral issues could be categorized (Kidder, 1995, p.18).
Kidder’s Nine-Steps are:
1. Recognize that there is a moral issue.
2. Determine the actor (whose moral issue is it?).
3. Gather the relevant facts.
4. Test for right-versus-wrong issues.
5. Test for right-versus-right paradigms (what sort of dilemma is
6. Apply the resolution principles (ends-based, rule-based, or
7. Investigate the “trilemma” options (look for common
ground or compromise).
8. Make the decision.
9. Revisit and reflect on the decision. (Kidder, 1995, p. 183-187)
Kidder places “recognize that there is a moral issue” as
the first step in the analysis for two reasons. First, it helps to ensure that
issues receive the attention required. Secondly, it encourages a person to
adequately address moral questions and distinguish moral issues from other
situations involving social conventions or contradictory values that could be
“economic, technological, or aesthetic” rather than moral issues
(Kidder, 1995, p. 183). After evaluating for legal compliance, Kidder advocates
some common sense checks such as “How would you feel if what you are about
to do showed up tomorrow morning on the front pages of the nation’s
newspapers?” Then, he evaluates the issue to identify which of the four
dilemmas listed above apply to gain better clarity around the dilemma,
identifying the conflict at hand. (Kidder, 1995, p. 184).
Richard Spinello provides a similar seven-step process for ethical
analysis designed specifically for IT professionals, and it is geared toward development
of public policy and law. His sixth step entails adding an original normative
conclusion: what should happen? His seventh step includes the questions:
“What are the public-policy implications of this case and your normative
recommendations? Should the recommended behavior be prescribed through policies
and laws?” This approach can be useful for IT organizations seeking to
better structure and define policies and procedures (Spinello, 1997, p. 45).
Here are all Seven-Steps:
1. Identify and formulate the basic ethical issues in each case.
Also, consider legal issues and whether ethical and legal issues are in
2. What are your first impressions, your moral intuition about the
3. Consult appropriate formal guidelines, the ethical and/or professional
4. Analyze the issues from the viewpoint of one or more of the three
5. Do the theories lead to a single solution, or do they offer
competing alternatives? If competing, which principle or avenue of reasoning
should take precedence?
6. What is your normative conclusion—what should happen?
7. What are the public-policy implications of this case and your
normative recommendations? Should the recommended behavior be prescribed
through policies and laws?
Many common business activities, such as process improvement,
problem solving, and project management, have defined approaches to support
their process. To effectively make ethical decisions, it also is extremely
useful to have a structure to approach the problem. As a beginning step, have
an understanding of the available methodologies for approaching the issue in an
objective manner. Eventually, skill and experience in applying the process will
enable you to explain your process and subsequent recommendations to other
One of the challenges for those working in IT is the lack of
precedence in some situations. The more you can apply a well-grounded
methodology when faced with a new or ambiguous ethical dilemma, the greater the
likelihood that you can come to an ethical solution that will effectively
balance individual, organizational, and/or social concerns with good business.
Ultimately, you need to use an analytical approach that works for
you and for your organization. It may be one of the approaches we’ve discussed,
or it may be a hybrid. Individual values will also drive the approach. In
addition to these theories, corporations and professional associations have
attempted to provide guidance through corporate codes of conduct or
professional codes of ethics. Corporate codes of conduct typically are intended
to apply to all employees and, therefore, do not specifically address IT
issues. However, some IT organizations establish additional policies related to
software use and so on. Professional associations, such as the.acm.org/serving/se/code.htm”>Association
for Computing Machinery (ACM), have
established code of ethics for its members to help guide their activities.
Many of the ethical issues that arise within the field of
information technology fall into similar areas. Richard Mason, a professor in
Management Information Systems, has identified four ethical areas in the
Information Age that have been widely accepted as key issues (Mason, 1986):
Barquin, R. C. (1992). Ten commandments of computer ethics.
Retrieved August 19, 2005, from
Kidder, R. M. (1995).How good people make tough choices:
Resolving the dilemmas of ethical living. New York: Simon and
Mason, R. O. (1986). Four ethical issues of the information age.Management
Information Systems Quarterly, 10, (1), 3.
Reynolds, G. W. (2003).Ethics in information technology.Boston: Thomson Learning, Inc.
Smith, H. J. (2002). Ethics and information systems: Resolving the
quandaries.Database for Advances in Information
Systems, 33, (3).
Spinello, R. A. (1997).Case
studies in information and computer ethics.Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: