Information Ethics


Access to Information

Personal Information

            Do you have a right to know what information is collected about you?

            Do you have the right to correct it?

            What if that information is the private property of a database company?

            What if the information is in a government database?


Credit laws require that you be given free access to your credit history and the right to update/correct information contained there.  You have no right to sue for damages if the information was added incorrectly.  You may have rights to sue if the information was added maliciously.


The Freedom of Information Act allows you to see some kinds of government information about you, but may exclude criminal investigations (the Monfils case) and has been modified by the Patriot Act.


Personal access –

            Do all citizens have the right to internet access to check web sites?


Access limits can occur from skill, location, and income.  Public librarians have taken a professional mission to address this problem, but there is no legal requirement that they do so.  In fact, they are being sued by various conservative groups for giving too much access, especially to sites that may be pornographic.  And, after the use of libraries by the September 11 killers, libraries are under pressure to track patron usage.


Censorship of the Internet



Intellectual Property


Should you be able to make a free copy of anything you find on the Internet?

What if you make a few changes to the music/pictures/films you find on the Internet and resell them?

Can you legally make copies of songs and sell them?


IPR is based on the assumption that people should be allowed property, and that individual effort should be rewarded.  Rewards take the form of prestige and cash.  It is assumed that without such rewards there would be no creative activity, or that it would be dramatically reduced (historical efforts at ending IPR usually show its necessity)


Harm can come in many forms:

            Take someone’s idea/digital product and sell it (China)

            Take someone’s idea/digital product and take credit for it (plagiarism)

            Take someone’s idea/digital product and use it without payment


Each of these is a form of theft and has long been illegal.  It can also be economically injurious as in the situation software houses in China face when they try to compete with “free” MicroSoft products.





What is privacy?  Thoughts, relationships, actions, location, commercial processes.


Personal data –


Employment surveillance

Can you legally be fired for sending personal email from a company computer?


Current technology allows employers to read employee email, monitor web sites visited, count key strokes or otherwise monitor performance.


All of these are legal and are justified on the basis that the employer owns the equipment and is paying for the employee’s time.