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The Information Age: An Age of Ethics

The information age is the age we live in today, and with the information age comes an age of ethics. When we deal with the new technologies introduced every day, we need to decide what we must consider ethical and unethical. We must consider all factors so that the use of the information readily available to many persons is not abused. "Information technology will be the most fundamental area of ethical concern for business in the next decade" (Houston 2).

The most widely used tool of the information age is the computer, whether it be a PC or a network of computer systems. As we enter the information age the newness and power of information technologies tests the ethics of the average person, not just the criminal and causes thousands of computer crimes to be committed daily. The most common computer crime committed daily, some aware and many not, is the illegal sharing of computer software. Software is any of the programs used in operating a digital computer, as input and output programs, as defined by Funk and Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary. When you purchase computer software, you purchase it with the understanding that it will be for use on a single computer, once installed on that system, it is not to be loaded on any other computer. However many people are not aware of this understanding, and many load a program on a couple of computers or on a whole network of computer systems not aware that they are committing a crime. Even though you probably will not be prosecuted for loading a program on a friends computer, this is where your ethics come in. Do you consider anything when you share a program with others? If not then consider the programmers of the software who are denied compensation for their developments every time you distribute a piece of software. "Why is it that people who wouldn't think of stealing pack of gum will copy a $500 piece of software" (Houston 3)?

A popular form off illegal software distribution is throughout the online world. Whether it be the Internet, America Online, CompuServe, Prodigy, or a BBS (Bulletin Board System), software "pirates" thrive freely online. These so called "pirates" operate by uploading pieces of software, commonly referred to as "warez", into an online service's database then sending through e-mail the rights to download them. "The Information Superhighway has opened the door to a new kind of highway robbery - the home shoplifting network" (Mattia 43). When you access a online service, you are identified through an account which most commonly consists of a user ID and password. The password is so you only can access the online service with your user ID. Many people online use their own accounts to access their service, but many steal and use the accounts of others or make fake accounts. When online, these account "pirates" many times trick other users into giving their passwords to them by impersonating an employee of the online service. Others can hack into the online services mainframe computer and steal thousands of accounts.

Probably the most common method of getting online without paying is the use of fake or fraudulent accounts. These are made by giving false information when attempting to gain access to an online service. Name, address, phone number, and billing information, such as checking account or credit card number, are all falsified in obtaining an online account. With these stolen and fake accounts, software "pirates" have virtually unlimited time to download their "warez" without any charge to them. Many people don't consider the people behind the creation of software when they illegally distribute it. The developers of software are not properly compensated for their work because of the extent of software piracy. No one can argue with a software company's desire, and right, to make sure everyone using their products has paid for it (Furger 73). The numbers add up, it is estimated that in 1994 alone that software companies lost $15 billion from illegal software copying (Maremont 65). It is not only illegal, but clearly unethical to distribute software knowing that the people behind the software are experiencing the downfalls of it. Every time software companies cannot compensate their programmers for their work, more people are out of a job. Consider this, you enter a store and purchase an item, during this transaction you give your name and phone number. The person you have given this information to then enters it into a computerized database. After this person has collected a sufficient amount of names, they then sell it to a telemarketing firm for a profit. This action is legal, but is it ethical? Do you want your name sold without your consent? Most people don't because they don't want to be bothered by sales persons on the telephone. Also, your address could be sold and you put on a mailing list. Then it's an issue of do you want your mailbox filled with junk mail. This action is unethical for the simple reason of consent. If the person had just gained consent to enter the names into his/her database then he would not have committed and unethical act. One conclusion from studies sponsored by the National Institute of Justice is that persons involved in computer crimes get form skills and interests at an early age. Usually they are introduced to computers at home or in school and usually start their "career path" with illegally copying software (McEwen 2).

As young people interact with hackers, they incorporate the beliefs of the hackers into their own. Many of these unconventional beliefs of young hackers about information and computers leads them to a career in computer crime. Many times it is the lack of education by parents and schools that helps to make these beliefs all the more true to a young person. Computer criminals have their own set of beliefs about information and computers. Their beliefs are based on obvious unethical reasoning. For example, hackers believe that computerized data are free and should be accessible to anyone. They also believe that passwords and other security features are simply obstacles to be overcome in obtaining data that should already be available and while data should never be destroyed, there is nothing wrong with viewing and transferring data for one's own use (McEwen 2). One member of the Legion of Doom, a nationwide group of hackers who exchange information about computer systems and techniques to break into them, has said, "Hackers will do just about anything to break into a computer except crashing a system, that's the only taboo" (McEwen 2).

The key to stop computer criminals from forming is education. It is often times the case that people commit computer crimes without even know they are doing so and the reason for this is the lack of education. Few schools teach computer ethics, and parents of arrested hackers are usually unaware that their children have been illegally accessing computer systems (McEwen 2).Colleges and universities do not usually include computer use and abuse in their courses, arguing that it is the responsibility of the schools. On the other hand, many secondary school educators are not sure about what should be taught and are reluctant or unable to add ethical computer education to many subjects in the curriculum. Textbooks on computer literacy rarely mention computer abuses and individual responsibilities. Educators and software developers have worked together to prevent software piracy in educational institutions.

In 1987, the Software Copyright Committee of the International Council for Computers in Education (ICCE) developed a policy to guide educators. The policy call on school districts to teach staff the provisions of the copyright law and both staff and students the ethical and practical implications of software piracy. This policy has been adopted by many school districts across the country (McEwen 3). In recognition of the problems arising with the illegal and unethical use of computers, criminal justice forces have begun to crack down on computer criminals. In 1989, three computer crime studies were sponsored by the National Institute of Justice. One of these studies examined different organizational approaches for computer crime investigation and prosecution, another documented the experiences of several dedicated computer crime units, and the third developed a computer crime investigation handbook (McEwen 2).

Computers are a permanent fact of life in work places and classrooms across the country. More businesses are likely to incorporate policies on information access and confidentiality in their employee orientation and training programs. Many schools and universities, responding from pressure around them, are beginning to incorporate computer ethics into their courses. For the criminal justice community, computer crime, which poses special challenges in detection and prosecution will require more and more attention. In order to prevent computer crimes in the future, criminal and juvenile justice agencies must look for ways to help parents, teachers, and employers educate the computer-using community to the importance of ethical computer behavior (McEwen 4).



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