Research Proposal: Ethics of Privacy Is a Very Controversial

Pages: 7 (2370 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Education - Computers  ·  Buy This Paper

Ethics of privacy is a very controversial ethical issue that affects just about everyone in the world today. Who can access your information stored on computer systems? What kind of information should be stored there? How can you access your own data, and how does that affect your privacy? These issues and more are ethical issues that affect privacy, and they are not easily answered or debated. Computer ethics is a growing field in the information technology arena, and it is growing more important as more data is stored on the Internet and in large-scale databases every day. Maintaining your privacy is an important issue because of activities like identity theft and computer hacking, but with such an online, mobile, and social networking society, is privacy really available any more today?

The purpose of this paper is to introduce, discuss, and analyze the topic of ethics. Specifically it will discuss the ethics of privacy when using and accessing computer systems. Computer ethics is a slippery slope in the world of ethics, because more people tend to be private people, and yet the Internet has opened up entire new worlds where privacy is anything but the norm. However, users use their computers to store and access any number of records and data that are extremely private in nature, and the ethics of who can view these items and how people access them is a knotty ethical issue. It is paramount, however, to understand the ethical issues of computer information and to recognize when these ethics have been violated. The real question is, is online privacy really a thing of the past, with the tech-crazy, socially networked society of today?

When many people think of personal information stored on a computer, they may think of financial records used to file income taxes, or personal contact information, like their address and phone number. Of course, people want to keep that information as private as possible, for health and safety reasons. However, this personal information exists all over the Internet, in the patient records in doctors' offices and hospitals, in their financial instructions, and far beyond. Today, privacy is an increasing concern because there are so many ways to access files on the Internet, and there are always people attempting to hack those files for their own personal gain. Everyone has become aware of cyber crime and identity theft, which is a huge violation of privacy, and they are concerned about what type of information is being released about them from other sources without their knowledge.

It makes sense that information such as banking information, patient records, and other sensitive data are stored on computer systems. The computers provide instant access, especially in the case of an emergency, and they are intended to keep the data safe. However, questions arise to how safe they really are. If a bank employee has access to account numbers, what is to stop them from stealing money from the accounts? If a nurse has access to a pop star's medical records, what is to stop her from releasing them anonymously to the media and cashing in on the reward? A writer notes, "Also, third parties can mine electronic records for data to market health products or screen out people as insurance or employment risks" (Sharpe, 2005, p. 49). Ethics is the answer. Obviously, these are not ethical answers to these problems, they are an invasion of privacy and highly unethical. However, information is stored on computer systems every day, and the access to this information is a moral, ethical, and practical issue.

Who has access to these personal records is one of the biggest issues facing the computer ethics world. Clearly, not just anyone should have access to personal, private information. In the case of financial and health records, only certain individuals have access to the data, such as doctors and nurses working with a specific patient, or financiers working with a particular client's account. In the case of database administers and developers, they have access to dummy databases they use for programming and development, and there are strict ethical guidelines about accessing personal information from databases. In most organizations, it is grounds for termination, and database administers monitor keystrokes to ensure privacy is maintained.

One of the biggest access questions in privacy concerns today is the intrusion of the government on private information. In the United States, the government has accessed cell phone accounts and other private information in their hunt for terrorists, and they have attempted to access other information, such as library records, for use in hunting down dangerous individuals or uncovering illegal activities. Some people believe these records should be open to the government in an attempt to control these activities, but others are not so sure. The American Library Association (ALA) is openly opposed to these activities, squarely on ethical grounds. A group of authors note the ALA's position, "The government's interest in library use reflects a dangerous and fallacious equation of what a person reads with what that person believes or how that person is likely to behave" (Adams, Bocher, Gordon, and Barry-Kesslerm 2005, p. 53). The ethics of this problem are clear. Library patrons expect privacy and confidentiality in their library records, because they can be very informational, and giving the government access could lead to some incredibly wrong conclusions. This holds true in other areas of computer ethics, as well. A person's search patterns could lead to false conclusions regarding their likes, interests, and activities, and just handing out this data could lead to ethical violations and misunderstandings galore.

However, there is a segment of the population that believes the government and business should make information easily available, because it is extremely important for citizens to be able to monitor and correct that information. They should also be able to freely access private information because they could uncover and abuses or wrongdoings by the agencies or businesses, and bring them to the attention of the authorities (Rennie, 2008).

Traditionally, law enforcement agencies have had access to libraries in certain situations, such as with a court order against a specific individual, to access that person's record. The same holds true for other institutions, such as banks and healthcare facilities, when a suspect's activity and history are necessary for the investigation. This is a fair violation of privacy laws and ethical standards, because it has a specific purpose. However, when implemented in a general fashion, this type of access is ethically and morally wrong. For example, the FBI implemented a program in the 1970s and 1980s, covertly monitored several libraries in the U.S. For foreign nations checking out or reading materials on terrorism or bomb making, and asked librarians to notify them if they had patrons checking out or reading these materials. They had no search warrants and no specific subject. The librarians baulked and called out for termination of the program, and eventually, the FBI backed down. The librarians were concerned about the privacy of their patrons, and how they would lose their trust if they "ratted" on them to the FBI (Adams, Bocher, Gordon, and Barry-Kessler, 2005, p. 55-56). The ethical lesson here is clear. A person's privacy is very important, and protecting a person's privacy is a moral and ethical issue that influential people must take a stand on to protect. The librarians feel that a person's privacy is more important than a vague threat that has not been proven, and they stood up to the FBI to make an ethical and moral judgement on their actions.

What are a person's rights to controlling their own information, including verifying and correcting its accuracy? In some systems, that is relatively easy, as it should be. In others systems, it is increasingly difficult, affecting the person, their family, and sometimes their well-being. For example, it is increasingly complicated to get a social security or identification card in many countries, including many steps, time off from work or school, and producing several forms of identification, such as a birth certificate, etc. However, people hack into such governmental and institutional databases seemingly all the time, stealing information and invading people's privacy, or they obtain falsified documents with extreme ease. An author notes, "The answer may be that we should try to make it difficult for people who are not us to use that social security number and get our bank accounts or other valuable records" (Rennie, 2008). It seems that it would be more efficient and ethical if the process was more difficult for the hackers and those engaging in illegal activities, and easier for the honest people who only need to control their own information and privacy.

People in other situations have control of their own privacy in many ways. Specifically, medical research offers opportunities for patients to control their privacy. Another medical professional notes, "Privacy in research refers to the right of an individual to make decisions concerning how much information about their physical status, health, social network, and thoughts and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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