Gift of Fire, A: Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues for Computing and the Internet

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  • Edition: 2nd
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2008-01-01
  • Publisher: Prentice Hall
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For courses in Computer Ethics and Computers & Society. This text explores social, legal, philosophical, ethical, political, constitutional and economic implications of computing from a computer scientist's point of view. It covers the issues students will face both as members of a technological society and as professionals in computer-related fields. One of its goals is to develop computer professionals who understand the implications of what they create and how it fits into society at largeanother is to help students outside of computer science understand the issues and controversies generated by computers and the Internet.

Table of Contents

1. Unwrapping the Gift.
2. Privacy and Personal Information.
3. Encryption and Interception of Communications.
4. Can We Trust the Computer?
5. Freedom of Speech in Cyberspace.
6. Intellectual Property.
7. Computer Crime.
8. Computers and Work.
9. Broader Issues on the Impact and Control of Computers.
10. Professional Ethics and Responsibilities.
Appendix A: The Software Engineering Code and the ACM Code.


This book is intended for two audiences: students preparing for careers in computer science and students in other fields who are interested in issues that arise from computer technology. The book has no technical prerequisites. It can be used at various levels, in both introductory and advanced courses about computing or technology. My students are mostly junior and senior computer science majors. Courses on social and ethical issues Many universities offer courses with titles such as "Ethical Issues in Computing" or "Computers and Society." These courses vary in content and focus. Some focus primarily on ethical issues (issues the student might face directly as a computer professional), whereas others address the wider social, political, and legal issues related to computers. The bulky subtitle of this book gives a hint of my preference. I believe it is useful and important for students to learn about the social, legal, philosophical, political, constitutional, and economic issues (and the historical background of those issues) related to computers--issues they might face as members of a complex technological society, not just in their professional lives. The issues are relevant to being a responsible computer user (professional or personal) and member of the public who could serve on a jury, debate social and political issues with friends, or influence legislation. Thus, for example, I think it is important to cover the implications of censorship laws for the Internet, the problems of protecting intellectual property in cyberspace, the risks of new technologies, and so on. The last chapter focuses on ethical issues for computer professionals with discussion of case scenarios. The basic ethical principles in computing are not different from ethical principles in other professions or other aspects of life: honesty, responsibility, fairness. However, within any one profession, there are special kinds of problems that arise. Thus, we discuss "applied ethics" and guidelines for the computer profession. I include two of the main codes of ethics and professional practices for computer professionals in an Appendix. I believe students will find the discussion of ethical issues for computer professionals more interesting and useful if it has as background the discussions of the social and legal issues and controversies in the first nine chapters. Each of the chapters in this book could easily be expanded to a whole book. I had to leave out many interesting topics and examples. In some cases, I mention an issue, example, or position with little or no discussion. I hope some of these will spark further reading and debate. Controversies This book presents controversies and alternative points of view: privacy vs. access to information, privacy and civil liberties vs. law enforcement, freedom of speech vs. control of content on the Net, market-based vs. regulatory solutions, and so on. Often, the discussion in the book necessarily includes political, social, and philosophical issues, but I have tried (with some difficulty because of my enthusiasm for these issues) to focus specifically on the connections between the issues and computer technology. I encourage students to explore the arguments on all sides and to be able to explain why they reject the ones they reject before they take a position. I believe this approach prepares them to tackle new controversies; they can figure out the consequences of various proposals, generate arguments for each side, and evaluate them. I encourage students to think in principles, rather than case by case, or at least to see that the same principle appears in different cases even if they choose to take different positions on them. For example, one issue that comes up several times, in different contexts throughout the book, is whether a device, a technique, or a whole technology should be banned or severely restricted because people can use it for illegal

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