CS507 - Information Systems - Lecture Handout 45

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Importance of ethics in IS

Information is a source of power. Consequently, developments in information systems also involve social and political relationships-- and so make ethical considerations in how information is used all the more important. Electronic systems now reach into all levels of government, into the workplace, and into private lives to such an extent that even people without access to these systems are affected in significant ways by them. New ethical and legal decisions are necessary to balance the needs and rights of everyone.

Meaning of Ethics

Ethics are moral choices made by individuals in relation to the rest of the community, standards of acceptable behavior, and rules governing members of a profession. ETHICS are principles and rules concerning duty to society, profession and business. Ethics is about how we ought to live. The purpose of ethics in information systems is not philosophical or academic, it can mean the survival of a business or industry. The issues relating to electronic information systems include control of and access to information, privacy and misuse of data, International considerations. Issues of ethics and privacy have always been there even when computerized environments were in their natal phase. However, with the advancement in technology, the issues have grown sophisticated and so are the remedies.

Ethical Challenges

Information system security association of USA has listed down following ethical challenges

  1. Misrepresentation of certifications, skills
  2. Abuse of privileges
  3. Inappropriate monitoring
  4. Withholding information
  5. Divulging information inappropriately
  6. Overstating issues
  7. Conflicts of interest
  8. Management / employee / client issues


Netiquette, or on-line civility, is a matter of common sense and of remembering the context of behavior. The etiquette guidelines for posting messages to online services, and particularly Internet newsgroups. Netiquette covers not only rules to maintain civility in discussions (i.e., avoiding flames), but also special guidelines unique to the electronic nature of forum messages.

Netiquette Guidelines

  • In general, do not waste other people's time, be disruptive, or threaten.
  • Do not take up network storage space with large, unnecessary files; these should be downloaded.
  • Do not look at other people's files or use other systems without permission.
  • When joining a bulletin board or discussion group, check the FAQ (frequently asked questions) file before asking questions.
  • Remember that on-line communications lack the nuances of tone, facial expression, and body language. Write clearly. Try to spell correctly and to use good grammar.
  • Do not SHOUT needlessly. Capital letters are the on-line equivalent of shouting.
  • Use asterisks to give emphasis, but do so *sparingly*.
  • Sign messages, and include an e-mail address when writing to strangers, just in case a message's header is lost.
  • People who become too obnoxious can be banned from a system or simply ignored.

Many companies and professional organizations develop their own codes of ethics. A code of ethics is a collection of principals intended as a guide for the members of a company or an organization. The diversity of IT applications has increased and the increased use of the technology have created a variety of ethical issues.

Privacy and Ethics

Whenever one has to talk of privacy, ethics is the second half of it. It won’t be wrong to say that privacy may not have been an issue had it not been linked with the ethical view a society has. There are certain aspects which when put together formulate a set of ethical issues. These are

  1. Privacy issues
  2. Accuracy issues
  3. Property issues
  4. Accessibility issues

Privacy issues

Following aspects should be covered when privacy is dealt with.

  • What kind of surveillance should be used by an employer on an employee?
  • What things can keep to themselves and not be forced to reveal to others?
  • What information about individuals should be kept in database and how secure is the information there – Issues of Data Protection
  • What can be revealed to others about oneself if one is required to do so?

Accuracy Issues

Following are some of the accuracy issues.

  • How can we ensure that information will be processed and presented properly?
  • Who is responsible for checking the correctness of information collected?
  • Is there any track of errors, omissions made in the database and who has made them at what time.
  • Who is to be held accountable for the changes made in data base, whether authorized or unauthorized, intentional or unintentional.

Property Issues

Following are some of the property issues.

  • There has to be defined owner of the information
  • Issues of software piracy
  • Use of corporate computers for private use
  • Who should access which component of information database.

Accessibility Issues

These mostly comprise of two aspects.

  • Extent of access to be given to various employees in the organization.
  • The definition of privileges of each person.


Before we start of with the concept of privacy in computerized environments let’s take a look what privacy is in its literal terms. Privacy means the quality or condition of being secluded from the presence or view of others, the state of being free from unsanctioned intrusion: a person's right to privacy, the state of being concealed; secrecy. Privacy is quite a subjective/relative concept.
The limits and boundaries for it are defined by everybody in his own context.

Protecting Privacy

There are certain important considerations. The rights of privacy must be balanced against the needs of the society. Every society has to decide somewhere on the gray area between hiding all and knowing all extremes. Public’s rights to know is superior to the individual’s rights of privacy. Usually public and individual’s rights stand in conflict with each other. Since government agencies have their concerns in priority e.g. criminal investigation, undesirable
social activities. Various aspects can be seen as a threat to privacy.

Threats to Privacy

As technology has grown sophisticated, various aspects can be seen as a threat to privacy.

  • Electronic surveillance
  • Data Profiling
  • Online Privacy
  • Workplace monitoring
  • Location tracking
  • Background checks
  • Financial privacy
  • Medical record and genetic profiling
  • Digital right
  • Intellectual property rights
  • Taxation Issues

Electronic Surveillance

Secret video surveillance is quite a common technology used at offices and public places and events. CCTV’s commonly known as Closed Circuit Televisions can be seen at almost every place. Privacy and civil liberties advocates condemn the use of this technology for recognition of criminals. Since, in part such technologies tend to hit privacy of many who are productive part of the society. Civil libertarians advocate against this kind of monitoring. Employees have limited protection against employers. Many countries are getting serious on finding the right balance between personal privacy and electronic surveillance in terms of threats to national security.

Data Profiling

As we make our way through everyday life, data is collected from each of us, frequently without our consent and often without our realization. We pay our bills with credit cards and leave a data trail consisting of purchase amount, purchase type, date, and time. Data is collected when we pay by check. Our use of supermarket discount cards creates a comprehensive database of everything we buy. When our car, equipped with a radio transponder, passes through an electronic toll booth, our account is debited and a record is created of the location, date, time, and account identification. We leave a significant data trail when we surf the Internet and visit websites. When we subscribe to a magazine, sign up for a book or music club, join a professional association, fill out a warranty card, give money to charities, donate to a political candidate, tithe to our church or synagogue, invest in mutual funds, when we make a telephone call, when we interact with a government agency.

Online Privacy and E-Commerce

News stories of Internet privacy threats are commonplace these days. The Internet was designed as an inherently insecure communications vehicle. Hackers easily penetrate the most secure facilities of the military and financial institutions. Internet companies have designed numerous ways to track web users as they travel and shop throughout cyberspace. "Cookie" is no longer a word associated solely with sweets. It now refers to cyber-snooping. Identity thieves are able to shop online anonymously using the credit-identities of others. Web-based information brokers sell sensitive personal data, including Social Security numbers, relatively cheaply.

Workplace Monitoring

Privacy advocates often use these words to describe the workplace. Many forms of monitoring technologies are available in the marketplace and are becoming cheaper each year video surveillance, telephone monitoring, e-mail and voice mail monitoring, computer keystroke tracking, Internet Web site monitoring, location tracking using badges worn by employees and satellite tracking of the company fleet.
Privacy issues in Work place monitoring What makes matters worse is that these systems can be deployed secretly and invisibly.
Employers are not required by law to disclose to their employees that such monitoring is being conducted. A requirement of Employer Disclosure is not a normal practice in various countries.
The only places where employees can expect to be free from surveillance are in bathrooms and locker rooms, but even this protection is not absolute.

Workplace Monitoring Justifications

Employers make several arguments to justify their use of monitoring systems.

  1. The employer owns the systems used by the employees to do their work - primarily the phone and computer systems.
  2. Employers are responsible for the work product of their employees. Therefore they have a right, even a duty to monitor.
  3. Employers must be able to detect and prevent the sharing or selling of trade secrets and other matters of corporate intellectual property.
  4. Employers have been successful in making these arguments when aggrieved workers have filed lawsuits for privacy violations. The few court cases have largely been decided in the employers' favor.

Wireless Communication and Locations Tracking

The products and services offered by the wireless industry are also hitting the privacy aspects.
The signals emitted by a cell phone may be used to track location of a user from the nearest communications towers. Cell phones these days have the ability to pinpoint the user's location to the nearest 100 feet for emergency assistance. Marketers also use this cell positioning technology to market their products. For instance if we are passing by a food chain, we might receive a message telling us that just off the next exit is a restaurant that serves our favorite cuisine or a new discount package.

Back Ground Checks

More and more organizations try to check back ground history of the employees in certain respects. For instance banks for issue of loans, leasing companies, insurance companies and employers. Usual aspects are credit profiling e.g. credit worthiness reports by Credit Information Bureau of SBP, Ethnic background, criminal background, addiction and medical records.

Issues of Privacy

The cost of background checks has decreased dramatically in recent years. As a result, more employers are conducting them. Mostly the retrieved information in background checks is either incorrect or misleading. The reason is that there is no such thing as a perfect database.

Financial Privacy

Banks, insurance companies, and brokerage firms are now able to affiliate with one another under one corporate roof. Credit card companies, banks, insurance companies, and brokerage firms may share their respective databases with one another but they cannot sell customer data to third parties without prior notice to customers commonly known as affiliate sharing. Certain outcomes of affiliate sharing are "junk" mail, e-mail, telemarketing solicitations and SPAM (simultaneously produced advertised message). Elderly individuals with cash-rich portfolios
could be vulnerable to fraud artists' promises of lucrative returns on risky investments. In certain countries legislation on Financial Information Privacy has been successfully enacted that requires an “opt in” by customers before a financial institution can sell personal information to third parties.

Medical Record confidentiality

Most individuals consider their medical information to be among the most sensitive of any information about them.

In the field of health care, another privacy issue on the healthcare front is genetic profiling. In many countries, the use of genetic data to discriminate in both employment and health insurance is of growing concern to consumers, healthcare professionals, and policymakers alike.

Digital Right Management

The migration of print, music, and images to the Internet has spawned new technologies called "digital rights management" systems (DRM) that infringe upon intellectual freedom. Intellectual property scholars point out that copyright and privacy have traditionally been compatible because copyright provisions control public distribution of content. The right to explore ideas in books, music, and movies without having to identify ourselves. The right to anonymity is a vital foundation stone of our democratic society.

Download of content from internet for misusage must be controlled. Private use of copyrighted material has been governed by various legislations. The most recent development in this regard is TRIPS.


Trips is an AGREEMENT ON TRADE-RELATED ASPECTS OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS. The agreement has been instituted by World Trade Organization for all its members. The agreement sets minimal rules for national intellectual property law in order to prevent member nations from using intellectual property as a hidden trade barrier against other nations. Part II of the agreement specifically defines the scope and use of various intellectual property rights

  1. Copyright and Related Rights
  2. Trademarks
  3. Geographical Indications
  4. Industrial Designs
  5. Patents
  6. Layout-Designs (Topographies) of Integrated Circuits
  7. Protection of Undisclosed Information
  8. Control of Anti-Competitive Practices in Contractual Licences

Article 10.1 of TRIPS provides that computer programs, whether in source or object code, shall be protected as literary works under the Berne Convention (1971).

Since Pakistan is signatory to WTO it had to take necessary steps to ensure transfer of intellectual property rights from / to Pakistan. Accordingly the Electronic Data Protection Act 2005 was enacted by the parliament covering various aspects relating to various forms of data, privacy and consent issues of data subjects whose data is processed, security of electronic data, disclosure and dissemination issues and addressing complaints and offences.

Taxation Issues

Take a situation where a transaction is done online. The server processing the transaction for execution may be in USA. The supplier of the product may be in Canada. The shipment may be made from UK. The owner of the website may be in Australia. The person paying online may be physically in Pakistan. The Question is where should the transaction be taxed: at the source of origin or the place of execution. The E-commerce while giving convenience has also complicated the situation. Electronic transfers are made to foreign countries which may be known to the banks but are hidden from tax authorities. Covert banking channels are used. Undisclosed assets are accumulated.

Privacy Codes and Policies

These were some of the issues developing on privacy. An organization may think of developing and implementing a privacy policy. One way to protect privacy is to develop privacy policies or codes which can help organizations avoid legal problems. Senior management should take acceptance of employees, customers and suppliers and address issues accordingly.

Aspects to be covered by Privacy Policy

It should cover issues like an overview on what the policy aims to cover, scope of application of the policy, all employees of the organization, customers both online and offline, random visitors registering for the information extraction in case of web privacy, Giving customers and employees an idea what sort and extent of processing and handling may be performed on the data being collected from them every time they visit, Informing web visitors that as they visit the website, the web server will save cookies on their terminal and the benefit which the visitors will get i.e. the web-server will recognize the visitor when the website is visited next time and the fact that IP addresses are being saved by the web server and if combined with the ISP address, can help to locate computer originating message. This is not an exclusive detail of issues. Other issues may also be added according to the need of the organization.