We must set an ethical example

We all think of ourselves as IT professionals, possessing a degree of knowledge and skill related to the use and proliferation of technology.

But being a professional also means, in an equally important but perhaps less tangible way, that we have a responsibility to live up to the trust that has been placed in us by our clients, employers, colleagues and the public at large.

During a recent visit to a university, a student asked me how CIPS is keeping its code of ethics up-to-date to reflect the latest technological advances. I am pleased the student asked, because the subsequent discussion highlighted an attitude that I feel is pervasive in today’s students, and which may also be less openly shared by many of you reading this column.

Here are some issues and questions addressing the subtleties of this topic:

Ethics are about values and behaviour, not about technical capabilities. Changing technology and increased opportunities for illegal or unethical behaviour does not change our obligation to know and to do what’s right. If we are not sure what’s right, we should ask for clarification; many organizations are able to provide guidance.

Can we overcome the “if you can do it, it must be okay” perception? It’s human nature to go with the simple solution. It’s easy to think that because someone made something available on the Internet, it must be above-board. It’s easy to ignore issues of copyrights and other legal questions. It takes time, extra effort and a desire to question and confirm the legitimacy of Web sites and services.

Can we overcome the practice of “if I can and want to do it, I will do it?” It’s easy to get lost in the relative anonymity of being just one person in a sea of millions of Internet users and to assume no one will care enough to follow-up. Many who would never steal a music CD don’t hesitate to steal via the Internet.

Are we developing a population of technologically sophisticated but otherwise na