A Survey of Ethics and Regulation within the ICT Industry in Australia

AUTHOR
Richard Lucas, Yeslam Al-Saggaf

ABSTRACT

Introduction

The Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE) in partnership with the Australian Computer Society has received funding from the Australian government’s Australian Research Council for a project to examine ethics and regulation in the ICT industry.

The project will provide a new integrity system for the ICT industry that is relevant to the industry as a whole. This system will include an ethics framework which contains, amongst other material, a code of ethics and a code of conduct. Material for educating and training the professionals, and for that matter students, will also be considered.

Among the things the project will also deliver are promotional and motivational mechanisms that will encourage professionals to act ethically, and accountability and preventative mechanisms that should discourage them from engaging in misconduct. Most importantly, there would be regulatory frameworks, both external and internal, which will monitor the conformance to the standards and provide a disciplinary role in case of breaches.

In this paper we outline the framework and report on the preliminary results of a survey that examined the beliefs of ICT professionals concerning the state of ethical behaviour and regulations in Australia. This framework is used along with the survey in this and subsequent analysis to show the strengths and weaknesses of the codes and regulatory mechanisms that are currently in play in Australia. In this paper we will focus on the responses given to the questions about occupational specialty and those about ethical notions. Specifically we seek to understand the relationship between occupational specialities within the industry and the priority ordering that respondents gave to ethical notions.

The Survey

One of the methods used to gather data for this project is a survey which has been conducted to determine the ICT professionals’ beliefs about the state of ethics and regulations within the industry. The survey was placed on a secure server managed by the Centre for Educational Development and Methodology at the Australian National University. This made the survey available to participants to complete online.

The survey methodology was fourfold with the online survey being the first part. Initially a snowball technique was employed. A few identified ICT professionals were selected to seed the initial survey responses. These were then asked to forward the URL of the survey to other ICT professionals. Subsequent to this, targeted email lists were constructed and sent. Also details of the survey were included in the Branch newsletters sent to members of the Australian Computer Society as well as the Society’s publication, Information Age.

Following the survey detailed interviews were conducted. Individuals identified from the survey as well as those separately chosen were interviewed. Finally, focus group interviews were conducted.

The survey consists of three parts; demographic data, substantive questions, and follow-up indicators. The demographic data consists of twelve questions of the usual: age, gender, experience, geographical location, work classification, formal credentials. The substantive questions section consists of twenty-five questions. These relate to knowledge of and reaction to (un)ethical behaviour in the Australian ICT industry. The final section of the online survey is a follow-up indicator. Here respondents are asked if they wish to participate further in this research and are given several ways to indicate this.

Results

The results of the survey that are reported on in this paper relate to the self-described occupational category question (job, position title), industry sphere (systems development, systems maintenance) and industry area (public or private sector) of the demographic data section; and the most important ethical issues facing the ICT industry question of the substantive questions section.

The Null hypothesis for this examination is that there is no relationship between speciality occupational group and the priority ordering of ethical notions. The confirmation/rejection of the Null hypothesis will be supplied in the full paper.

The ethical framework explained below is used as a coherent rationale in choosing the null hypothesis.

Interpretation

An interpretation of the analysis of the relationship between the selected questions will be supplied in the full paper.

The Ethical Framework

The framework consists of four sections; general beliefs and values, a code of ethics, a code of conduct and decision making, and governance considerations. In the first section general ethical notions (beliefs and values) are explored. The section containing the code of ethics examines what our ethical beliefs and values are. It answers the question: What do we belief? The section containing the code of conduct explores how do we live up to our ethical beliefs and values. It answers the question: How do we decide and act? The final section of the framework looks at general ethical governance issues such as laws, regulations, and policies. Notions such as compliance, violation of the codes, and consequence (usually punishment, sometimes benefit) are examined. The ethical framework will be used as part of an integrity system to be recommended for the ICT industry in Australia. Schematically the framework is depicted in the diagram below.

Conclusion

By assisting in the development of regulatory frameworks designed specifically for the ICT industry, professionals and corporations, this project will facilitate higher levels of professional competence, more effective delivery of ICT services, more transparent complaint and disciplinary procedures, and higher levels of stakeholder satisfaction. The project thus will have significant economic and social benefits. It will directly benefit the Australian Computer Society in further development of its codes of ethics and conduct and in its advisory role in government policy. Other conclusions from this survey will be supplied in the full paper.

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