December 12, 2000, 10:04 AM — A SYSTEMS ANALYST becomes aware of illegal activity -- fraud, money laundering,
evasion of taxes -- at his company. After a late night of work, the analyst breaks the
network's security code and examines confidential files. A few days later, an envelope
containing several thousand dollars appears on his desk.
Elsewhere a software developer spends months working on a new program. She devises
a scheme to take vengeance upon those who illicitly copy her code. Her program's
protection feature allows only one back-up copy. Attempts to make additional copies
corrupt the source disks and wipe clean any accessible hard disks or floppies.
Scary? Computer science students are tackling these and other moral dilemmas in
computer ethics courses on college campuses this fall. The problems cited above are
from Computer Ethics: Cautionary Tales and Ethical Dilemmas in Computing by Tom
Forester and Perry Morrison, published by Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Universities have heard the ethics call. To earn the Computer Science Accreditation
Board seal of approval, a university's computer science curriculum must
include "sufficient coverage of social and ethical implications of computing" -- a
significant evolution since the first computer science curriculum taught in 1968.
Ethics go to work
Cynthia Esty took a computer ethics course in the late 1980s to fulfill the
criteria for her degree in business administration. Esty, now director of strategic
alliances at digitalESP, an e-business solutions provider, in Raleigh, N.C., had no
idea how the principles of technological integrity would dictate her career.
Esty decides with which companies digitalESP will partner. Part of this process
includes examining the morals and values found in the potential partner's
organization. "We incorporate [ethics] in everything we do. It's woven into our
corporate environment. We don't want to work with people we don't trust." If Esty feels
a company's principles are not up to par, the business is downgraded to vendor.
On the other hand, Michael Cohen admits he has yet to face an ethical dilemma as a
software architect at Roanoke Technology, an online procurement software leasing
company, in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. This May, Cohen earned two bachelor's degrees: one in
computer science, the other in mathematical sciences.
As part of his studies at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Cohen took a four-
week computer ethics course. At the first class meeting, Cohen and the other students
were building a philosophical framework from which to analyze issues of piracy,
hacking, Internet privacy, and encryption regulations.