Why is ethical behavior especially important for IT professionals?

Daniel J. Power
and Ciara Heavin

Information technology (IT) professionals are the enablers and "gatekeepers" of our digital society. As the gatekeepers, they control access and may refuse, limit, or delay access to valued information services. The information technology they operate helps people do many things. Overall, IT has a major impact on the quality of our lives. Businesses, governments, and organizations are highly dependent upon information technologies for many aspects of their operation. Ethical behavior of information technology professionals is especially important in terms of how they design, build, use, and implement information technologies. IT is indispensable and pervasive.

By the very nature of their jobs and roles, IT professionals have access to sensitive valuable data about customers, patients, and citizens. They are custodians of powerful tools and data. There is a growing emphasis on an “ethics by design” approach to software development. This approach supports an embedded ethical mindset early in the technology design process, this is particularly important in the design and development of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Ethics refers to a code of conduct that professionals should follow when performing their jobs. Ethics should guide a person's behavior and conduct. Ethical managers should hire, promote, and reward ethical information technology professionals.

The increasingly sophisticated surveillance and data gathering capabilities magnify the harm that could be caused by unethical behavior by some or even a few IT professionals. Individuals may not even be aware that they are acting unethically. In some situations, it is plausible that ethics, values, and morals may be a secondary concern and that employees feel compelled or required to discharge their roles. To stay relevant as information technology changes, ethical codes and issues of ethical practice must be reviewed periodically.

In general, the five main principles of ethics are 1) truthfulness and confidentiality; 2) autonomy and informed consent, 3) beneficence, doing good for others; 4) nonmaleficence, doing no harm; and 5) justice, fair, equal and balanced for everyone. Many different independent groups have proposed an IT Code of Ethics. Recently, the European Union published guidelines on ethics in the use of Artificial Intelligence. Guidelines should be easy to understand and memorable. Based on the many different ideas about ethical guidelines, especially the IT Codes of Ethics of the ACM, ICCP, IEEE, and SANS, we suggest IT professionals should:

1. Avoid harm and strive to ensure the public good.
2. Behave in a manner that assures the IT profession is considered one of integrity and professionalism.
3. Maintain a high standard of skill and knowledge.
4. Reflect, and be honest about personal capabilities and skills.
5. Respect the privacy of individuals and when appropriate maintain a confidential relationship with employers and other relevant stakeholders.

Computing and Information Technology professionals are expected to make decisions about emerging technologies, creating new datasets, and managing, sharing, and using data. No IT professional can fully understand the potential individual, organizational and societal implications of these semi-structured and sometimes wicked decisions. To improve decision quality it is essential that IT professionals leverage reliable ethical frameworks to support their decision-making. and conduct themselves in an ethical manner. Ethical decision-making (EDM) is important. EDM refers to the process of evaluating and choosing among alternatives in a manner consistent with ethical principles.


ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct at URL

ICCP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct (2018) at URL

IEEE-CS Code of Ethics at URL

SANS IT Code of Ethics at URL

Last update: 2020-05-24 01:41
Author: Daniel Power

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