People working in Information Technology (IT) must be trusted with many things so we look for people who are ethical. But who defines what is ethical or not?

If you take an ethical action, you should not feel that someone is telling you what to do. Ethics is all about deciding for yourself what the right thing is to do. Conversely, if you believe an action is ethical, then you should take it regardless of what others tell you to do. For example, the people who ran the underground railroad to help slaves escape believed this action was the only ethical thing to do even though their culture and even the laws of their country said otherwise. So how is this different that just doing whatever you want?

The Jesuits explain that ethics is about having a FRAMEWORK to help you decide the right actions. You will note they say it is NOT about religion (although that may motivate you to be ethical). You must think about how to decide which action is right.  Is it the action that will help the most people? Or if it does great good for a few people with minimal harm to anyone is that better? And then you want to have standards about obligations and fairness, virtues like honesty and rights like privacy. There must be reasoning to support it all.

Most of us do not spend the time to develop our own framework. We look at what others have come up with and if makes sense to us we use it. They are not telling us what to do, we are choosing their work as meaningful to us. In the IT industry the CIPS Code of Ethics has given us a good start. If you agree with it, CIPS can certify you as knowing their explanation of ethics.

But having a framework is not enough. Ethics also asks us to continue to question our standards and what they imply about what our actions should be. The University of Manitoba knows this and have set up a Center for Professional and Applied Ethics.  The Jesuits have delved into several focus areas including business ethics and the internet .

In IT we know that our industry is much more than the internet. So it may be time for us to take our framework to the next level and see where we should focus.