To help counter terrorism, many countries are planning the development of computer systems that track large numbers of their citizens and their actions. Clearly this has privacy implications. Discuss the ethics of developing this type of system.
Ethics is a concern of humans who have freedom of choice. Ethics is about individual choice: When faced with alternative courses of action, what is the correct moral choice? What are the main features of ethical choice?
Software engineers have wider responsibilities on systems development than the mere application of their technical skills. Ethically, an engineer should respect the confidentiality of the public irrespective of whether or not a formal confidentiality agreement has been undertaken.
Developing computer systems to counter terrorism by tracking citizens of a country and their actions has privacy implications. Privacy entails an individual’s right to control the collection and use of his or her personal information, even after that information is disclosed to others with the consent of that individual. Systems are been developed that violates the human privacy rights. Examples are:
Surveillance cameras are setup in peculiar places and are often illusive in the sense that individuals don’t realize that they are being filmed. For the most part these cameras are setup with good intensions namely for the benefit of public safety. They can be a vital tool in preventing or solving crimes. The problem is not that the individual is being filmed, but usually this is done without his or her consent. In some cases the surveillance cameras have been unlawful used or setup without permission.
When we contemplate all the electronic data that is now gathered about each of us as we move through our everyday lives, there seems little doubt that we are leaving behind an electronic record of our activities.
There are a multitude of data gathering tools available for everyone, and these are being used to monitor the activities of unsuspecting Internet users. What’s alarming is that often these tools covertly collect the information without the user’s knowledge.
One of the latest services offered by mobile phones is Location Based Services (LBS), which in its basic form will give individuals information about their location. Location Based Services doesn’t only give away the location of individuals, but gives a pattern on what services individuals are interested in.
Countries are adapting a system that automates the passing through of cars by using a billing system which binds the vehicles identity to the owner. While these types of systems are beneficial in many circumstances, privacy could be jeopardized since they easily can facilitate the location of individuals.
It is often possible to obtain a biometric sample, such as a person’s face, without that person’s knowledge. This permits covert recognition of previously enrolled people. Consequently, those who desire to remain anonymous in any particular situation could be denied their privacy by biometric recognition.
All of the above given examples are having same privacy implication and such would be present in developing computer system to track citizens and their actions. Citizen’s confidentiality should be properly considered and evaluated before making decisions on their actions unknowingly. Information gathered from individual can go a long way to cause many damage to one’s life than anticipated.
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In developing such systems, when confronted with a situation that seems to present ethical issues, how should it be analyzed? The following five-step process should help.
1. Identify and describe clearly the facts. Find out who did what to whom, and where, when, and how. In many instances, you will be surprised at the errors in the initially reported facts, and often you will find that simply getting the facts straight helps define the solution. It also helps to get the opposing parties involved in an ethical dilemma to agree on the facts.
2. Define the conflict or dilemma and identify the higher-order values involved. Ethical, social, and political issues always reference higher values. The parties to a dispute all claim to be pursuing higher values (e.g., freedom, privacy, protection of property, and the free enterprise system). Typically, an ethical issue involves a dilemma: two diametrically opposed courses of action that support worthwhile values.
3. Identify the stakeholders. Every ethical, social, and political issue has stakeholders: players in the game who have an interest in the outcome, who have invested in the situation, and usually who have vocal opinions. Find out the identity of these groups and what they want. This will be useful later when designing a solution.
4. Identify the options that you can reasonably take. You may find that none of the options satisfy all the interests involved, but that some options do a better job than others. Sometimes arriving at a good or ethical solution may not always be a balancing of consequences to stakeholders.
5. Identify the potential consequences of your options. Some options may be ethically correct but disastrous from other points of view. Other options may work in one instance but not in other similar instances. Always ask yourself, “What if I choose this option consistently over time?”