Computer Ethics PHI3626 Chapter 5

Computer Ethics 3rd Edition by Deborah G. Johnson

These are the questions from the book with my answers, which are what I understood from studying the information in this book.

Chapter 5 Questions

  1. Is there anything new about the current computers and privacy issue?

    My Answer: The author suggests that computer and information technology, like other new technologies, creates new possibilities; it creates possibilities for behavior and activities that were not possible before the technology. Public concern about computers and privacy arises for precisely this reason.

  2. How has computer and information technology changed information gathering practices?

    My Answer: Computers make it possible (and in many cases, cheap and easy) to gather detailed information about individuals to an extent never possible before. Federal, state, and local government agencies now maintain extensive records of individuals behavior including such things as any interaction with criminal justice agencies, income taxes, employment history for social security, use of human services agencies, motor vehicle registration, and so on. As well, private organizations maintain extensive databases of information on individual purchases, airline travel, credit worthiness, health records, telephone or cellular phone usage, employment, and so on.

    Computer technology has changed record-keeping activities in a number of undeniable and powerful ways.

    First, the scale of information gathering has changed.

    Second, the kind of information that can be gathered has changed.

    And, third, the scale of exchange of information has changed enormously.

  3. What is the panopticon? How is it a metaphor for the future?

    My Answer: It is a word Jeremy Bentham used in 1787 to describe his idea of the design of a prison. This system allowed only a one way observation of all prison cells so that prisoners never knew when they were being observed. When individuals believe they are being watched, they are compelled to think of themselves as the observer might think of them. This shapes how individuals see themselves and leads them to behave differently than they might if they werenít being observed.

    Many authors have expressed concern that the degree of information gathering that now takes place in our society is having or will have a similar effect. We are building a panopticon in which everything we do is observed and could come back to haunt us.

    These 5 points listed on page 117 are very important:

    (1) it has made a new scale of information gathering possible;

    (2) it has made new kinds of information gathering possible, especially transactions generated information;

    (3) is has made a new scale of information distribution and exchange possible;

    (4) the effect of erroneous information can be magnified; and

    (5) information about events in oneís life may endure much longer than ever before. These five changes make the case for the claim that the world we live in is more like a panopticon than ever before.

  4. Why is information about individuals so important to organizations? Give examples of the uses of personal information by private and public organizations.

    My Answer: Information about individuals would not exist if organizations did not have an interest in using it. Information is created, collected, and exchanged because organizations can use it to further their interests and activities. Information about individuals is used to make decisions about those individuals whom the information is about.

    Information about you, stored in a database, may be used to decide whether or not you will be hired by a company; whether or not you will get a loan; whether or not you will be called to a police station for interrogation, arrest, or prosecution; whether or not you will receive education, housing, social security, unemployment compensation, and so on.

  5. What arguments can be given for the importance of personal privacy?

    My Answer: The most important arguments on behalf of privacy as an instrumental good have focused either on its being necessary for special relationships or on its being necessary for democracy.

    In a society in which individuals were always being observed, friendship, intimacy, and trust could not develop. If we want such relationships, we must create domains of privacy.

    Privacy is necessary for democracy. Here the important idea is that if individuals are constantly being observed, they will not be able to exercise that kind of independent thinking that is essential for democracy to work.

    If privacy is essential to autonomy, then the loss of privacy would be a threat to our most fundamental values. But the connection between privacy and autonomy is often presented not exactly as a means-ends relations. Rather the suggestion is that autonomy is inconceivable without privacy.

  6. How does information mediate relationships? Relationships with organizations?

    My Answer: James Rachels (1975) has argued that people need to control information about themselves in order to maintain a diversity of relationships. His insight is that individuals maintain a variety of relationships and each of these relationships is different because of the different information that each party has.

    What is important in the individuals and formal organizations relationship is that the individual have some power or control in establishing or shaping the relationship. Information about us is what allows an organization such as a marketing firm, a credit card company, or a law enforcement agency to establish a relationship with us. And, information determines how we are treated in that relationship.

  7. The author offers an alternative to framing the computers and privacy issues as a tension between individual interests in privacy and the social value of information. What is the alternative?

    My Answer: Since everything we do creates a record of us, acting unconventionally may become fearful of creating a negative record. This will diminish Democracy.

    When the argument for privacy is framed in this way, privacy is shown to be something which is not just an individual good that can be diminished for the sake of a social good; rather, it is shown to be a social good in its own right and more important than other social goods such as efficiency and better consumer service.

  8. Describe cases in which individuals would be harmed by inaccurate and/or irrelevant information.

    My Answer: False arrest due erroneous records.

    Denial of something due to identity errors.

  9. Why does the author claim the current information gathering practices make personal privacy too costly to individuals?

    My Answer: When it comes to public organizations, what I have to give up in order to get privacy is even more precious. Citizens are entitled to many benefits such as social security, Medicare, driverís license, as well as having rights to due process, protection from law enforcement agencies, and so on. However, the moment I request these entitlements, information is created about me and stored in a computer.

  10. Describe three policy approaches to protecting personal privacy. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

    My Answer: Information privacy

    Communications privacy

    Psychological privacy

    When individual privacy is pitted against social goods such as law enforcement or government efficiency, personal privacy loses.

  11. How does globalization of the economy impact information gathering practices?

    My Answer: Information about individuals may flow across national borders. Because of this we need international policies about handling this information.

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Deborah G Johnsonís Conclusion:

Privacy is, perhaps, the most important of the ethical issues surrounding computers and information technology. I have tried to show this by making clear the importance of privacy to democratic society and the subtle ways in which our lives are changed when we are being watched. Individuals who walk through life knowing that each step creates a record and may or may not end up in a database somewhere are very different from individuals who walk through life feeling free and confident that they live in an open society in which the rules are known and fair.

Protecting personal privacy is not easy and is not likely to get easier. The most effective approach to privacy protection is a many-pronged approach. One thing is for sure, the use of personal information is not going to diminish of its own accord. Information about individuals is extremely valuable both in the private and in the public sector. This issue is not going to go away until we do something about it.


These questions and the chapter conclusion come from the book "Computer Ethics" 3rd edition by Deborah G. Johnson. The conclusion and questions come from this book, but the answers are what m3cats found in the text of that book. The purpose of this duplication is for a study guide for PHI3626a at UCF during the spring of 2003.

Computer Ethics PHI3626 Chapter 6

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