Ethical issues in electronic information system

Posted: October 28, 2010 by cienta81 in Issues

Norhaiza Abdull Hamid 2008760755


We use the term information technology or IT to refer to an entire industry. In actuality, information technology is the use of computers and software to manage information. In some companies, this is referred to as Management Information Services (or MIS) or simply as Information Services (or IS). The information technology department of a large company would be responsible for storing information, protecting information, processing the information, transmitting the information as necessary, and later retrieving information as necessary.

Along the way, they are also creating ethical dilemmas. The speed and efficiency of electronic information systems, which include local and global networks, databases, and programs for processing information, force people to confront entirely new rights and responsibilities in their use of information and to reconsider standards of conduct shaped before the advent of computers.

Information is a source of power and increasingly, the key to prosperity among those with access to it. 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.

As in other new technological arenas, legal decisions lag behind technical developments. Ethics fill the gap as people negotiate how use of electronic information should proceed. Ethics include moral choices made by individuals in relation to the rest of the community, standards of acceptable behavior and rules governing members of a profession. The broad issues relating to electronic information systems include control of and access to information, privacy and misuse of data and international considerations. All of these extend to electronic networks, electronic databases, and more specifically, to geographic information systems. Specific problems within each of the three areas, however, require slightly different kinds of ethical decisions.

Large networks represent new sources of power. In order to create reliability and efficiency in communication, networks were structured so that the movement of information would not depend on and could not be controlled by another person or computer. As a result, the larger networks have become anarchic. Ordinary people with relatively few resources can communicate ideas and information, however uncommon, unpopular, or politically sensitive those ideas or information may be, to millions of other people around the world. No government, no hierarchical system exerting either repressive or benign influence, not even the simple constraints of time and money, will have quite the same control they once had over the flow of information as long as the networks operate as they now do. For some people, the networks therefore contain exciting possibilities; for others they have become a threatening, even subversive, new presence.

Networks have also become social places, where people discover friendships, discuss issues, find others who share unusual interests, argue, form groups, commiserate, proselytize, play games, and fall in love. These activities have brought comparisons with more traditional communities, villages, or places. Such terms acknowledge the differences inherent in the kinds of interactions that take place over computer networks. A lack of face-to-face contact, for instance, has a leveling effect. Race, class, gender, and physical appearance are hidden, allowing interaction that is relatively free from all the subtle biases that usually accompany more direct human relations. On the other hand, this virtual anonymity allows interaction without any sort of commitment; the sense of shared responsibility that people must have in a real community does not necessarily exist on the Internet.

The fluidity of information on the networks has caused some confusion about how copyrights and intellectual property rights apply to electronic files. In the relatively small world of the original network users, an emphasis on free exchange of information and a common understanding of intellectual property allayed most potential conflicts over use of information. Now, as the networks grow larger and attract a broader range of people, some clarification of how electronic files may be used is becoming necessary. The ease with which electronic files can be distributed and the nature of some electronic information create problems within existing copyright law: either the law does not address the peculiarities of electronic information or the law is too easily subverted by the ease with which files can be copied and transferred. Similar problems have arisen with photocopy machines, VCRs, and tape recorders. To make matters more complex, other countries may have different copyright laws, so information made available globally through a network may not have the same protections in other places.

In the international arena, issues of community standards will remain sensitive. The problem may, in some countries, be a prime consideration in how the Internet is allowed to grow. Some nations have far different attitudes toward political debate and the expression of political dissent. Among world religions, tremendous differences exist in attitudes toward blasphemy, heresy, and family values. Finally, no international consensus exists on issues of human sexuality, obscenity, reproduction, and personal values. The free expression so valued by long-term network users thus conflicts directly with another valued feature of the Internet–its international reach and potential for rich cross-cultural exchanges.

Even though there are some ethical issues, the electronic information system still the best way to communicate, storing information, protecting information, processing the information, transmitting the information and also retrieving information as necessary.

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