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Ethics in Information Technology: The United States Perspective

Ethics in computers and information technology began slightly after World War II. Norbert Wiener is considered to be one of the founding scholars of the field. He was a professor of engineering and mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Professor Wiener and his colleagues developed the first information technologies and electronic computers for the United States government. Ethics in information technology and computer science is now considered to be a type of practical philosophy. This philosophy includes formal ethics, informal codes, and personal codes of ethics. Advances in technology have led to ethical considerations for users to access computers, which are networked. These networks affect both the society and individuals. There is a wide range of issues involved such as computer security, patents, trademarks, copyrights, intellectual property rights, discrimination, computer security, privacy, and the licensing of programmers.

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Computers are now used extensively by universities, colleges, and other institutions of learning throughout the United States. There are several important issues, which must be addressed with regards to the ethical use of computers and information technology by students.

One important issue is the security and privacy of communications. Learning institutions that do not encrypt e-mail should inform students that messages can be intercepted as they move through the network. There can also be modifications made to messages or their copies. For this reason, students should be aware that messages sent through the system should not be considered as confidential and may be similar to discussing something openly with another individual in a public place.

Another important issue for students is data integrity. Students should maintain their data with secure backups, which can be accessed if there is a data breach. Many times the best approach to this issue is to have a remote online backup of all important information.


IT Campus Ethics
There are several agencies in the United States, which have developed a community that addresses ethical issues related to computers and information technology. One of these agencies is the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). This is an international society which is based in the United States. It was founded during 1947 and is a nonprofit membership group that had more than 100,000 members in 2011. This group regularly addresses issues related to ethics of computers and technology.

Another agency which is based in the United States is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). This group is based in New York City and has over 400,000 members who are located in more than 150 countries. Approximately, half of these people are in the United States. This group is concerned with standards, including those regarding ethics in the information technology and computer science arena.

In addition to the IEEE and ACM, there are a number of other agencies in the United States, which have communities concerned with computer and information technology ethics. These agencies include the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).


Computer and information technology ethics include the topic of computer crimes. These types of crimes can involve international spying done by hackers, computer viruses, breaches of confidentiality and privacy, theft of copyrighted material, breaches of patents, and a wide variety of other actions, which have been determined to be illegal.

The American laws regarding computer crimes can be divided into five general categories. These include those which protect data by ensuring it is consistently presented, the control of access to limited resources, the provision of unimpaired services, integrity of hardware and software, and the confidentiality and privacy of individuals and groups. For example, the willful distribution of a computer virus can fall into the category of a crime which affects the integrity of software. It may also impair services or the consistent presentation of data. Hackers generally engage in activities, which breach privacy or confidentiality laws.


The term "hacker" was originally coined during the 1960s and referred to an individual who did programming. Visionary pioneer programmers such as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates would have been included in this category. However, the term now is most often used to indicate individuals who have malicious intentions and hope to sabotage computer or information systems, spread viruses, or infiltrate networks.

There are many ways in which malicious hackers can adversely affect information technology and computers in the United States. These methods fall into the categories of spying on e-mail, creating zombie computers, gaining back door access, infecting systems or a computer with a virus, hacking of passwords, and the logging of keystrokes.

The penalties for hacking vary from one location to another in the United States. However, hacking often results in crimes, which are considered felonies and can involve substantial fines and jail terms. This is especially true when the activity of negatively affects the smooth operation of the United States government.


In the United States and many other developed countries, there is frequent reference made to an "information society." This refers to the crucial role now played by intangible assets, which comprise the increasing knowledge-based economy. In this situation, ethics regarding information systems and computers becomes increasingly important. The modern society has a wide range of information-intensive services. These include actions in the fields of insurance, finance, communications, property, and myriad forms of business.

Society in the United States is now faced with a situation in which there must be significant infrastructures designed for communication and information technologies. This involves the ever-changing complexity of these systems and evolving technologies. There must be laws and ethical codes developed, which take into account the relatively short life cycle of many types of new technology. There must also be an estimate made of the value of intangible items such as useful ideas.


As the United States becomes more reliant on computers and other types of information technology, the topic of ethics and laws regarding this technology become increasingly important. In fact, developing appropriate ethics and laws in the area of technology can be conceptualized as creating an infrastructure of knowledge. In order for the United States economy to operate properly, there must be an underlying physical infrastructure such as roads, railroads, airports, and hospitals. Similarly, there is an increasing requirement for a knowledge infrastructure which includes laws governing e-commerce, intellectual property rights, privacy, confidentiality, and the access to resources, which may be limited. The need for this knowledge infrastructure is quickly becoming as important as the physical infrastructure.


This analysis provides a clear message regarding the importance of ethics regarding information technology and computers in the United States. As the country becomes more reliant on being able to engage in communications and business transactions through linked computers, there are key ethical issues for these activities which must be addressed. These issues include areas such as campus ethics, community values, computer crimes, hacking, and the social impact of computer ethics. It is crucial that these items be resolved quickly and efficiently. The United States has the opportunity to become a worldwide leader in computer and information technology. In order to secure this honored status, the country will need to address the ethical issues involved.


There is an increasing trend for the global economy to become more reliant on computers and information technology. Like other highly-developed countries, the United States is merely several years ahead of the developing nations. This means that over the next few years and decades, advanced forms of information technology will become more common in other areas of the world. This will most likely result in a global economy which is ever more reliant on information technology, which is reliable and consistent. The ethical issues which are now faced by the United States and other technologically advanced societies set the stage for future resolutions of these problems globally.


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