Computer ethics is a philosophy that includes a set of ethical values that a computer user should adhere to. The Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics establish guiding principles to be followed while using computer technology. Here they are.
The 10 Commandments of Computer Ethics are written in a way similar to the Decalogue from The Bible. They use the archaic ‘Thou shalt…’ and ‘Thou shalt not…’ and show a striking similarity with the biblical commandments.
Commandments of Computer Ethics 1 to 5
1. Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people.
2. Thou shalt not interfere with other people’s computer work.
3. Thou shalt not snoop around in other people’s files.
4. Thou shalt not use a computer to steal.
5. Thou shalt not use a computer to bear false witness.
Commandments of Computer Ethics 6 to 10
6. Thou shalt not use or copy software for which you have not paid.
7. Thou shalt not use other people’s computer resources without authorization.
8. Thou shalt not appropriate other people’s intellectual output.
9. Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you write.
10. Thou shalt use a computer in ways that show consideration and respect.
With the development and widespread use of technology, there arose a need to distinguish between the right and wrong ways of harnessing it. Increased accessibility to information had its advantages but unauthorized access was a threat to data security. Communication became faster. Important messages could span huge distances within seconds but so could rumors. Advancements in technology redefined accessibility. The line between the good and bad use of technology blurred and there was a need to establish a code of ethics for its users. Realizing this need, the Computer Ethics Institute came up with The Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics in 1992. Dr. Ramon C. Barquin, for the first time presented these commandments as a part of his research paper. Their intent was to address the gray area between the ethical and unethical use of computer technology.
This commandment says that it is unethical to use a computer to harm another user. It is not limited to physical injury. It includes harming or corrupting other users’ data or files. The commandment states that it is wrong to use a computer to steal someone’s personal information. Manipulating or destroying files of other users is ethically wrong. It is unethical to write programs, which on execution lead to stealing, copying or gaining unauthorized access to other users’ data. Being involved in practices like hacking, spamming, phishing or cyber bullying does not conform to computer ethics.
Computer software can be used in ways that disturb other users or disrupt their work. Viruses, for example, are programs meant to harm useful computer programs or interfere with the normal functioning of a computer. Malicious software can disrupt the functioning of computers in more ways than one. It may overload computer memory through excessive consumption of computer resources, thus slowing its functioning. It may cause a computer to function wrongly or even stop working. Using malicious software to attack a computer is unethical.
We know it is wrong to read someone’s personal letters. On the same lines, it is wrong to read someone else’s email messages or files. Obtaining data from another person’s private files is nothing less than breaking into someone’s room. Snooping around in another person’s files or reading someone else’s personal messages is the invasion of his privacy. There are exceptions to this. For example, spying is necessary and cannot be called unethical when it is done against illegitimate use of computers. For example, intelligence agencies working on cyber crime cases need to spy on the internet activity of suspects.
Stealing sensitive information or leaking confidential information is as good as robbery. It is wrong to acquire personal information of employees from an employee database or patient history from a hospital database or other such information that is meant to be confidential. Similarly, breaking into a bank account to collect information about the account or account holder is wrong. Illegal electronic transfer of funds is a type of fraud. With the use of technology, stealing of information is much easier. Computers can be used to store stolen information. One should not forget though, that doing so is unethical.
Spread of information has become viral today, because of the Internet. This also means that false news or rumors can spread speedily through social networking sites or emails. Being involved in the circulation of incorrect information is unethical. Mails and pop-ups are commonly used to spread the wrong information or give false alerts with the only intent of selling products. Mails from untrusted sources advertising certain products or spreading some hard-to-believe information, are not uncommon. Direct or indirect involvement in the circulation of false information is ethically wrong.
Like any other artistic or literary work, software is copyrighted. A piece of code is the original work of the individual who created it. It is copyrighted in his name. In case of a developer writing software for the organization he works for, the organization holds the copyright for it. Copyright holds true unless its creators don’t announce it is not. Obtaining illegal copies of copyrighted software is unethical.
Multi-user systems have user specific passwords. Breaking into some other user’s password, thus intruding his private space is unethical. It is not ethical to hack passwords for gaining unauthorized access to a password-protected computer system. Accessing data that you are not authorized to access or gaining access to another user’s computer without his permission is not ethical.
Programs developed by a software developer are his/her property. If he is working with an organization, they are the organization’s property. Copying them and propagating them in one’s own name is unethical. This applies to any creative work, program or design. Establishing ownership on a work which is not yours is ethically wrong.
Looking at the social consequences that a program can have, describes a broader perspective of looking at technology. A computer software on release, reaches millions. Software like video games and animations or educational software can have a social impact on their users. When working on animation films or designing video games, for example, it is the programmer’s responsibility to understand his target audience/users and the effect it may have on them. For example, a computer game for kids should not have content that can influence them negatively. Similarly, writing malicious software is ethically wrong. A software developer/development firm should consider the influence their code can have on the society at large.
The communication etiquette we follow in the real world applies to communication over computers as well. While communicating over the Internet, one should treat others with respect. One should not intrude others’ private space, use abusive language, make false statements or pass irresponsible remarks about others. One should be courteous while communicating over the web and should respect others’ time and resources. Also, one should be considerate with a novice computer user.
These Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics build a set of regulations for computer use. They guide users to base their computer operations on strong ethical values.