Codes, Spaces for Discussion and Law
An IFIP Book Edited by
Profs. Jacques Berleur (B) and Klaus Brunnstein (D).
Chapman & Hall 1966; 255 pp

This text was composed by Jack Rosenfeld for the IFIP Newsletter and condensed by Heinz Zemanek.

The book views ethics from an international perspective. It represents the latest step in a project begun in 1988, when Prof. Harold Sackman (USA), then chairman of TC9, the IFIP Technical Committee on Relationship between Computers and Society, undertook to create an IFIP code of ethics. The work was later assumed by a task group of TC9 chaired by Prof. Berleur, culminating in the publication of this book. Prof. Brunnstein was chairman of TC9 during most of the period during which the task group worked.

The book is described by the publisher as follows:

Ethics of Computing represents the first attempt to confront, on a world-wide basis, the way computer associations face up to their social responsibilities in an age increasingly dominated by information and communication technology.

This major reference work deals with codes of ethics and conduct, and related issues. Some thirty codes of national computer societies are compared and analyzed in depth. To put these into perspective, there are discussion papers covering methodological, philosophical, and organizational issues.

Features of this book are

Major chapters of the book are

Approximately half of the book comprises the text (in English) of codes of ethics and conduct of thirty computer societies, as well as commentary on some of these codes. In addition, the chapter by Berleur and d'Udekem-Gevers presents an analysis of the codes and guidelines in terms of topics covered, wording, groups involved (e.g., employers, employees, students), sanctions, and many other areas. An appendix provides means of locating topics in the various codes. The book also contains an extensive bibliography, in addition to the bibliographies of the individual chapters.

In his chapter, Dr. Holvast discusses general aspects of ethics. He introduces it as follows:

At long intervals, the same question is raised: Are we technicians, scientists, and users of technology responsible for the problems that are caused by the introduction of technology? The answers given are not uniform, but the fact that the question is raised shows that we are beginning to realize that our technology is capable of not only constructing the world but destroying it as well. And we are becoming conscious of this destruction through the confrontation with questions dealing with environmental pollution, nuclear power, and, more recently, questions surrounding genetic engineering, such as DNA recombination and the use of test-tube fertilization on older women.

At this moment, this question is not only raised, but an answer is also expected. Very often, ethics are looked at with the full expectation of containing the answers. Through this, it is expected that norms in science, and solutions, be formulated as ethical codes. The same types of problems and questions are raised in relation to information technology. In this field, too, the demand for codes is increasing.

In this paper, we go more deeply into detail on ethical norms and the possible solutions, such as ethical codes and codes of conduct, but specifically into the responsibilities that should be accepted in reference to a broad range of topics.

With regard to an IFIP code of ethics, Dr. Holvest comments as follows:

For an international organization like IFIP, formulating a code acceptable for all Members will be an impossible task. There is clearly a certain ethical relativist thinking behind the following comment: it is impossible to formulate an ethical code for once and for all. Cultural and, especially, political differences make this impossible. Although I agree in some sense with this type of criticism, ethical relativist thinking is, in my opinion, strongly related to one of the ethical theories, consequentialism. The way in which the results (in this case, information technology) are seen depends on the cultural and political situation in various countries. In this sense, there are differences between developed and developing countries, between East and West, between democratic and less democratic societies, all of them possible Members of IFIP. This situation is even more problematic when one considers that Members of IFIP are not individuals but primarily national scientific or technical societies.

This does not mean that IFIP should do nothing. It only means that it is impossible for the 1990 Draft IFIP code of ethics to be accepted. IFIP needs general principles that will be accepted by all national societies. In my view, these principles must consist of deontological statements. One of the statements might be the suggestion that every national society produces a national Code of Ethics, taking into account what has already been discussed by many national constituencies.

Much of the discussion in the book concerns professionalism. In his chapter, Prof. Brunnstein cited a number of fatal or otherwise serious incidents attributed to improper system design (aircraft crashes, autopilot malfunctions, radiation overdoses, accidental shooting of civilian aircraft, breeches of computer security). Eur. Ing. Sizer also concentrated on professional standards.

In concluding their comparative analysis of codes, Berleur and d'Udekem-Gevers write the following:

Codes do not pretend to solve all questions, but they may help to create awareness, to supplement the law, and to reinforce ethical behavior. When the role of selfregulation increases, the roles of ethics, law, and codes have to be more carefully scrutinized, but they may lean on each other. Codes offer a "framework on ethics" that may help to maintain openness and fuel the needed dialogue in the "spaces of discussion."

In the foreword, Profs. Berleur and Brunnstein write as follows:

IFIP has opened "space for discussion," creating a Special Interest Group (SIG9.2.2 on Framework on Ethics), which will, in particular, analyze issues and conflicts that may arise in the cooperation between IFIP Members societies with different codes of ethics. It aims at improving understanding and formulation of ethical issues. But it will also increase the international cooperation which, in specific questions such as personal liberties and privacy or in the domain of security, has proven valuable in providing general guidelines now enacted into law in many countries.

The book closes with a section of recommendations.

What Can IFIP Do?

IFIP does not intend to provide its Member societies with precise guidelines for codes, but to advise them to consider the recommendations outlined below when writing or updating their own codes. IFIP cannot actually state what "ethics" the Member societies should espouse. It can, however, outline certain principles that all might want to consider and take account of in their codes.

In this book, IFIP provides all the material needed for its Member societies to consider: some 30 computer societies' codes, their analysis, comments on the most important codes, the philosophical background of cultural diversity, and papers on some more sensitive questions.

In accordance with the diversity of histories, cultures, and social and political backgrounds of IFIP Member societies, IFIP regards it as essential that, when wanted or needed, codes of ethics or of conduct (or guidelines) should always be developed and adopted within the Member societies themselves. IFIP offers its expertise in assisting such developments, collecting and disseminating material about established codes, and organizing international debates on further developments.

The analysis of the subject presented in this book shows that we have to be aware of the distinction between "codes of ethics" and "codes of conduct." The codes studied show a large heterogeneity in their titles and no systematic relationship between the titles and the contents.

A code of ethics might be favored when a society's main purpose is to develop a mission statement, giving visions and objectives. Some commentators consider that the expression, "code of ethics" is related to codes that are oriented more toward the public or society as a whole. The expression "code of conduct" seems to be related more to a profession. This distinction has to be treated with care.

Today, certain people who have been working for a long time on this issue think that "the rules of conduct have to reach beyond the well-structured body of computer scientists to the larger circle of computer users. We must shift from a deontology of informaticians to an objective deontology of informatics under the control of the law." From this perspective, codes are seen more as preparing for the law or specifying it than as self-regulatory instruments, and are written to address a large audience.

Main Topics of the Codes

Five main topics are developed in nearly all of the thirty codes:

Computer-Specific Ethical Issues

Computer specific ethical issues arise as the result of the roles of computers such as:

Other computer-specific ethical issues include

The recommendation section of the book continues as follows:

Broader Ethical Issues

When speaking of computer ethical issues, one cannot avoid mentioning some broader-scope issues that are real questions today and are most often examined in the literature on computers and society:

Spaces for Discussion

What IFIP intends to do

Therefore, IFIP will collect, compare, and help disseminate knowledge on developments in the national societies. In the case of controversies, it will also advise on the resolution of problems in projects with professionals from countries that have very different codes.

IFIP hopes that its national societies will issue codes or guidelines along the lines suggested here, including a careful and flexible attitude to changing technologies.