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Legal & Ethical Issues for It Practitioners

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    For ages thinkers have written hundreds of books in an effort to understand, explain, categorize, and label moral, immoral, an amoral human behavior and the rationales behind our actions. Yet, there still is not a universally accepted way of analyzing ethical situations (Hatcher & Aragon, 2000) and ethical issues are not a favored topic for discussion in public arenas or private conversations (McDowell, 2000). However, as a society we do feel that people should be supportive, trustworthy, and fair in their work and dealings with each other.

    We expect from others and from ourselves behavior, which promotes the welfare of individuals, organizations, and communities. Yet as recent events demonstrate our society faces a crisis in professional responsibility (McDowell, 2000). Professional associations are worried about the image of their professionals, and as a result they have developed and enforced codes of ethics to protect the public and the company’s interest.

    Ethics refers to principles of human conduct, or morals, and to the systematic study of such human values, often called moral philosophy, the study of theories of conduct and goodness, and of the meanings of moral terms (Hatcher & Aragon, 2000). An act is considered to be ethical if it is in accordance with approved moral behavior or norms. Ethics implies civic responsibility on the part of citizens and responsibility by society’s institutions, including governments. Ethics is concerned with questions such as when is an action right or wrong and what standard separates ‘good’ from ‘bad’.

    We propose to accept one of the basic tenets of modern moral philosophy that the authority invoked for ‘good’ conduct is the rule of reason and that moral behavior results from rational thought that does not harm the individual and leads ultimately to the greatest good for all individuals in a society. This definition and assumption equates well with the main issue of another debate driven partially by ethics. For example, relating to public domain information, or more specifically public sector information that may not be in the public domain, as stated in recent UNESCO-backed guidelines regarding public sector information. One of the ultimate goals of any society is the empowerment of all its citizens through access and use of information and knowledge. Every person and every nation must have equal opportunity to benefit from cultural diversity and scientific progress as a basic human right in the current information revolution and the emerging knowledge society” (Gordon & Sork, 2001). The code of ethics that IT practitioners generally follow consists of general moral imperatives, specific IT practitioner responsibilities, organizational leadership imperatives and compliance/implementation with the code.

    For general moral imperatives an IT Practitioner is expected to contribute to society and human well-being. This principle concerning the quality of life of all people affirms an obligation to protect fundamental human rights and to respect the diversity of all cultures. An essential aim of IT practitioners is to minimize negative consequences of computing systems, including threats to health and safety. When designing or implementing systems, IT practitioners must attempt to ensure that the products of their efforts will be used in socially responsible ways, will meet social needs, and will avoid harmful effects to health and welfare.

    In addition to a safe social environment, human well-being includes a safe natural environment. Therefore, IT practitioners who design and develop systems must be alert to, and make others aware of, any potential damage to the local or global environment. As an IT practitioner, harm to others must also be avoided. Harm can mean injury or negative consequences, such as undesirable loss of information, loss of property, property damage, or unwanted environmental impacts. This principle prohibits use of computing technology in ways that result in harm to any of the following: users, the general public, employees, and employers.

    Harmful actions include intentional destruction or modification of files and programs leading to serious loss of resources or unnecessary expenditure of human resources such as the time and effort required to purge systems of computer viruses. Well intended actions, including those that accomplish assigned duties, may lead to harm unexpectedly. In such an event the responsible person or persons are obligated to undo or mitigate the negative consequences as much as possible. One way to avoid unintentional harm is to carefully consider potential impacts on all those affected by decisions made during design and implementation.

    To minimize the possibility of indirectly harming others, IT practitioners must minimize malfunctions by following generally accepted standards for system design and testing. Furthermore, it is often necessary to assess the social consequences of systems to project the likelihood of any serious harm to others. If system features are misrepresented to users, coworkers, or supervisors, the individual IT practitioner is responsible for any resulting injury. In the work environment the IT practitioner has the additional obligation to report any signs of system dangers that might result in serious personal or social damage.

    If one’s superiors do not act to curtail or mitigate such dangers, it may be necessary to “blow the whistle” to help correct the problem or reduce the risk. IT practitioner’s have a duty to be honest about their qualifications, and about any circumstances that might lead to conflicts of interest. Honesty is an essential component of trust. Without trust an organization cannot function effectively. The honest IT practitioner will not make deliberately false or deceptive claims about a system or system design, but will instead provide full disclosure of all pertinent system limitations and problems.

    The principle of honesty extends to issues of confidentiality of information whenever one has made an explicit promise to honor confidentiality or, implicitly, when private information not directly related to the performance of one’s duties becomes available. McDowell says in his book, Ethics and Excuses, that the ethical concern is to respect all obligations of confidentiality to employers, clients, and users unless discharged from such obligations by requirements of the law or other principles of this Code (2000). Wolf wrote in his book, Moral Freedom, that the individual must be fair and take action not to discriminate (2001).

    The values of equality, tolerance, respect for others, and the principles of equal justice govern this imperative. Discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, age, disability, national origin, or other such factors is an explicit violation of IT ethics and will not be tolerated. Inequities between different groups of people may result from the use or misuse of Information and technology. In a fair society, all individuals would have equal opportunity to participate in, or benefit from, the use of computer resources regardless of race, sex, religion, age, disability, national origin or other such similar factors.

    However, these ideals do not justify unauthorized use of computer resources nor do they provide an adequate basis for violation of any other ethical imperatives of this code. IT professionals should respect the privacy of others. Computing and communication technology enables the collection and exchange of personal information on a scale unprecedented in the history of civilization. Thus there is increased potential for violating the privacy of individuals and groups. It is the responsibility of professionals to maintain the privacy and integrity of data describing individuals.

    This includes taking precautions to ensure the accuracy of data, as well as protecting it from unauthorized access or accidental disclosure to inappropriate individuals. Furthermore, procedures must be established to allow individuals to review their records and correct inaccuracies. This imperative implies that only the necessary amount of personal information be collected in a system, that retention and disposal periods for that information be clearly defined and enforced, and that personal information gathered for a specific purpose not be used for other purposes without consent of the individual.

    These principles apply to electronic communications, including electronic mail, and prohibit procedures that capture or monitor electronic user data, including messages, without the permission of users or bona fide authorization related to system operation and maintenance. User data observed during the normal duties of system operation and maintenance must be treated with strictest confidentiality, except in cases where it is evidence for the violation of law, organizational regulations, or this Code. In these cases, the nature or contents of that information must be disclosed only to proper authorities.

    There are certain professional responsibilities that an IT professional must follow as well. They must try to achieve the highest quality, effectiveness and dignity in both process and products of professional work. Excellence is perhaps the most important obligation of a profession. The IT practitioner must strive to achieve quality and to be aware of the serious negative consequences that may result from poor quality in a system. IT professionals acquire and maintain professional competence. Excellence depends on individuals who take responsibility for acquiring and maintaining professional competence.

    IT practitioner’s must participate in setting standards for appropriate levels of competence, and strive to achieve those standards (Jennings & Krane, 2008). Upgrading technical knowledge and competence can be achieved in several ways: doing independent study; attending seminars, conferences, or courses; and being involved in professional organizations. IT practitioners should always know and respect existing laws pertaining to professional work. They must obey existing local, state, province, national, and international laws unless there is a compelling ethical basis not to do so (.

    Policies and procedures of the organizations in which one participates must also be obeyed. Compliance should be balanced with the recognition that sometimes existing laws and rules may be immoral or inappropriate and, therefore, must be challenged. Violation of a law or regulation may be ethical when that law or rule has inadequate moral basis or when it conflicts with another law judged to be more important. If one decides to violate a law or rule because it is viewed as unethical, or for any other reason, one must fully accept responsibility for one’s actions and for the consequences.

    The contract and assigned responsibilities should be honored. Honoring one’s commitments is a matter of integrity and honesty. For an IT practitioner this includes ensuring that system elements perform as intended. Also, when one contracts for work with another party, one has an obligation to keep that party properly informed about progress toward completing that work. Practitioner has a responsibility to request a change in any assignment that he or she feels cannot be completed as defined. Only after serious consideration and with full disclosure of risks and concerns to the employer or client, should one accept the assignment.

    The major underlying principle here is the obligation to accept personal accountability for professional work. On some occasions other ethical principles may take greater priority. A judgment that a specific assignment should not be performed may not be accepted. Having clearly identified one’s concerns and reasons for that judgment, but failing to procure a change in that assignment, one may yet be obligated, by contract or by law, to proceed as directed (Raul, 2008). The IT practitioner’s ethical judgment should be the final guide in deciding whether or not to proceed.

    Regardless of the decision, one must accept the responsibility for the consequences. However, performing assignments against one’s own judgment does not relieve the professional of responsibility for any negative consequences. For us to uphold and promote the principles of this code, the future of IT practitioners depends on both technical and ethical excellence. Not only important for professionals to adhere to the principle expressed in this Code, but each member should encourage and support adherence by other members.

    As a manager, I have to ensure that all supervisors have reviewed the Code of Ethics with their team and maintain one signed copy in their personnel files and provide one copy to employees. After that the Information Technology Employee Code of Ethics should then be reviewed on an annual basis with employees or practitioners. In order to fulfill its mission of providing technological support to many IT professionals, practitioners must grant privileged access to the equipment to appropriate Information Technology employees (Wood, 1999).

    This access imposes upon the practitioners the responsibility and obligation to use systems in an ethical, professional, and legal manner that is strictly within her or his authorized job functions. IT professional is committed to advancing the ethical and responsible use of all information technology resources. Wood also states that the goals of the IT Practitioner Code of Ethics are to create a culture that fosters trust and a commitment to responsibility, excellence, and institutional and personal integrity, while avoiding conflicts of interest and appearances of impropriety (1999).

    IT professionals will not tolerate illegal, dishonest, improper, or irresponsible use of privileged access. The Act 49 of 1993 makes it mandatory for all persons and organizations seeking to engaged in the sale and/or use of computing facilities, and/or provision of professional services in computing in the country to be registered by the council and licensed to carry out such activities. It is definitely illegal to engage in computing professional practice without satisfying the above condition-registration and possession of a current valid license (Raul, 2008).

    If application is successful, an applicant is requested to pay a once-for-all registration fee and the license fee for the current year, to have the applicant’s name inserted in the register and for the applicant to commence professional activities, respectfully. Ethics is important not only in business but in all aspects of life because it is the vital part and the foundation on which the society is build. A business that lacks ethical principles is bound to fail sooner or later.

    Ethics refers to a code of conduct that guides an individual in dealing with others. Business Ethics is a form of the art of applied ethics that examines ethical principles and moral or ethical problems that can arise in business environment. It deals with issues regarding the moral and ethical rights, duties and corporate governance between a company and its shareholders, employees, customers, media, government, suppliers and dealers. Henry Ford once said, “Business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business.

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