Recently, innovative technologies for collecting, managing, communicating, and storing data have revolutionized use and spread of almost any information in the world. However, we sadly note that ethical dilemmas have also been created by this technological wave. People have been forced to face very new rights and responsibilities, owing to the speed and effectiveness of electronic information systems. This implies that worldwide and local networks access to computer programs, databases makes procession of mass information to be very simple in a relatively short time. An important question to consider is whether all this comes within a morally healthy environment. This essay will discuss some ethical issues brought by the information technology.
The Ethical Dilemmas of Electronic Information Systems
What is the definition of technology? The word technology is derived from a Greek word technolog¡a, which literally refers to the study of a skill, an art, or a craft. The Oxford advanced learners dictionary defines technology as "the use of scientific information for realistic purposes, principally in production". It goes ahead to say state that technology refers to the practical application of knowledge and skills in any specified area. Another definition given by the dictionary is "a capability that is developed through the practical application of knowledge and skills". On the other hand, MacKenzie and Wajcman (1999), have defined the term as "(the acquisition and comprehension of) the practical, and more so, the utilization of industrial scientific discoveries. All the above definitions, a common theme are the application of technical knowledge. No wonder, the scholar Ursula Franklin (1989), came up with a contemporary definition of technology as "practice, the way we do things around here". Basing on these definitions, let us describe what information technology is and the ethical issues concerned.
Information technology (IT) means acquiring, processing, storing, and disseminating of information by use of computers and other telecommunications. Various ethical dimensions arise from the use of IT to collect and process data as well as to store and give out information. The first ethical concern about IT relates to the concept that information is the intellectual capital of a human being. We should note that information systems do rob the intellectual capital of people. An example is that while using a computer, one can lose information without consenting and without compensation whatsoever. One can also be restricted to access some information or be made to access erroneous information. These issues have been propagated by the extensive use the internet (MacKenzie & Wajcman, 1999).
In terms of privacy, basic ethical questions include what are the things that one can keep to himself/herself without being coerced to reveal to anyone. Which information about yourself or your associations must you reveal to others and under which conditions, and with which safe guards? This is important given that organizations like the Federal Bureau of Investigation can access your information in the without many problems.
When we think of accuracy, questions of who is responsible for verifying reliability and accuracy of information arise. We should also ask ourselves who is accountable for all errors in the information and how do we intend to compensate the injured party. We should seek to know the owner of the channels we use to transmit information, and if he/she charges fairly for the services.
I conclude by summarizing the ethical issues of Information technology as privacy, accuracy, ownership, and accessibility. I propose that IT should help ensure an individual's right to achieve his/her human potential. Information systems should seek to ensure accuracy and cease from invading a person's privacy. Information systems should also ensure the protection of one's intellectual capital and desist from allowing unauthorized exposures, as well as losses and damages. These propositions are very crucial for the realization of an ethical information technology era.