Questions of ethics and legality are essential in many industries. Doctors, teachers, government officials and business people all have legal and ethical oversight to control how their professions function. Information technology, by contrast, has no overarching standardization in place. However, as information technology becomes increasingly influential, the ethical and legal considerations become similarly relevant. Here are the five most pressing ethical and legal issues confronting the industry today.

1. Privacy

Most people have their personal data spread throughout the digital world. Even things thought to be secure, such as email or private accounts, can be accessed by unintended sources. Most employers actively check their employees’ computer habits. Privacy has evolving legal implications, but there are also ethical considerations. Do people know how their accounts are monitored? To what extent is such monitoring occurring? As Computer World points out in this article, privacy concerns can easily become a slippery slope, slowly eroding an individual’s right to privacy completely.

2. Digital Ownership

Digital mediums have allowed information to flow more freely than before. This exchange of ideas comes with a legal and ethical backlash. How can ownership be established in the digital realm? Things can be easily copied and pasted online, which makes intellectual property hard to control. Legal notions such as copyright have struggled to keep up with the digital era. Companies in the music and entertainment industries have pushed for greater legal protections for intellectual properties while other activists have sought to provide greater freedoms for the exchange of ideas in the digital realm.

3. Data Gathering

On some level, everyone knows that their online lives are monitored. The United States has even passed legislation allowing the government to actively monitor private citizens in the name of national security. These measures have revived a debate about what information can be gathered and why. This debate applies on a smaller scale as well because companies need to consider what information to collect from their employees. This issue invokes a question of consent. Do people know what information is being monitored? Do they have a right to know how their data is being used?

4. Security Liability

In the past, security issues were resolved by locking a door. Digital security is much more complicated. Security systems for digital networks are computerized in order to protect vital information and important assets. However, this increased security comes with increased surveillance. All security systems have inherent risks, which means it is a question of what risks are acceptable and what freedoms can be forfeited. Ultimately, IT professionals need to balance risk with freedom to create a security system that is effective and ethical at the same time.

5. Access Costs

Net neutrality has become a trendy issue thanks to legislative efforts in the last few years. The issue of net neutrality is essentially a question of access. Proponents want the Internet to remain open to everyone while some businesses want to create tiered access for those who are willing to pay. The issue even extends to private Internet usage since the cost of service in some areas may be cost prohibitive. The larger ethical question is whether or not digital exchange is now a universal right. The cost of access can impede business growth, entrepreneurial spirit and individual expression.

These issues are essential for everyone, but they carry extra weight for those who work with information technology. It is important to remember that working with technology is not separated from ethical contexts but can actually help define a legal and ethical code for generations to come.

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