Ethics on the Web

Ethics would seem to be the last topic to be covered in a technical discussion of the Internet. But, as with any democratic society, the Internet depends on agreed-upon rules of behavior to survive.

As the computer era evolves each day, our society is gradually forming into a gigantic chain through the increasing use of the Internet. Human beings interact with each other every day by using the Net. Just as ethics evolve as human societies grow and change, so similar ethical questions are raised during the evolution of this global electronic community.

How can ethics be defined? They are our moral code. Ethics describe how we determine what is good and right from what is bad and wrong. They are somewhat abstract yet definitely the art of the human race. They distinguish us from other creatures in nature.

As electronic communication becomes essential to the daily lives of more and more people, ethical questions take on a practical urgency. For sometimes the hacker can kill. According to Britain's Scotland Yard, someone broke into the weather computer network, interrupting the weather forecast for the English Channel. In this case, this unauthorized entry led directly to the loss of a ship at sea. (John Markoff. The New York Times, Vol. CXLI II, page E7, October 24,1993. Cited on:15).

Some examples of unethical and criminal behavior:

You and people you know may already have experienced the results of unethical computer behavior. The professor of this class was recently the victim of a thief who used her credit card number for a telephone shopping spree. Luckily, some companies acknowledge such purchases by mail, and my professsor was able to take action right away. She suspects that the thief may have obtained the card number through the Internet.

Surely, we should adopt a more serious attitude toward the ethical issues raised as our computer techonology progresses. How can we refine the art of ethics? It depends on how much we want to respect one other on the Net. And how much we want to take it seriously.

The Ten Commandments from the Computer Ethics Institute:

Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people.
Thou shalt not interfere with other people's computer work.
Thou shalt not snoop around in other people's files.
Thou shalt not use a computer to steal.
Thou shalt not use a computer to bear false witness.
Thou shalt not use or copy software for which you have not paid.
Thou shalt not use other people's computer resources without authorization.
Thou shalt not appropriate other people's intellectual output.
Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you write.
Thou shalt use a computer in ways that show consideration and respect.

Related Sites:

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This page was designed and developed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for Baruch College, Graduate Course "Networks and Telecommunications" -- CIS 9350. The information provided in these pages is accurate and up to date (as of December 1995) to the best of our knowledge and abilities. The page was designed and created for educational purposes only. Any opinions represented on this page are from the students' perspective as they researched the opinions of the faculty or the Baruch College School of Business.

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Please send comments about this page to Stephanie Yang at

Last modified 16 Dec 95