Email, Voicemail, and Privacy: What Policy is Ethical?

Marsha Woodbury


“What should we do about our employees and their email?” That is the question that business people repeatedly asked Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR). After many such requests to our organization, we attempted to construct guidelines that we could endorse. This paper will outline the guidelines that we proposed and will discuss the public reaction to them. Are they practical? Do they follow ethical strictures? What has happened since CPSR stepped into the fray? This paper will try to answer those questions.

There is obviously a tension between the employee’s right to privacy and the business’ right to control what goes on in the workplace. Also, before digging into the topic, I would like to emphasize that you as a company should endeavor to change your overall policy as little as possible. As Scott Adams has written, the person doing the work of the company-the hands-on person-is central to the company, and creating policies is one step removed. The policy, in short, should get out of the way of the worker. (The Dilbert Principle, Scott Adams, NY: Harper Business, 1996, p. 317) The average person is only mentally productive a few hours a day no matter how many hours are “worked,” and your email and voicemail policy should endeavor not to kill happiness and creativity.

And now, to the discussion of policy. The original guidelines that we proposed are: CPSR’s Sample Electronic Mail and Voice Mail Use Guideline

Email and Vmail are corporate assets and critical components of communication systems. The Email and Vmail systems are provided by the company for employees to facilitate the performance of company work and their contents are the property of. Although the company does not make a practice of monitoring these systems, management reserves the right to retrieve the contents for legitimate reasons, such as to find lost messages, to comply with investigations of wrongful acts or to recover from system failure.

Personal use of Email or Vmail by employees is allowable but should not interfere with or conflict with business use. Employees should exercise good judgment regarding the reasonableness of personal use. A junkmail group and other ad-hoc mail groups are available for employees to exchange information or post personal notices (i.e. “for sale”, “for rent”, “looking to buy”, etc.). Employees may sell items or post messages on junkmail or other ad-hoc mail groups as long as they do not violate the law or company policies.

Use of Email and Vmail is limited to employees and authorized vendors, temporaries, or contractors. Employees and authorized users are responsible to maintain the security of their account and their password. They should change their password quarterly and take precautions to prevent unauthorized access to their mailbox by logging off when possible if their terminal is unattended. (Unauthorized entry to an individual’s account or mailbox poses system security issues for other users.) Email and Vmail passwords should be at least 6 alphanumeric characters including at least one numeric character for Email.

  1. Efficient Usage
  2. Efficient use of the Email and Vmail systems suggests that messages should be concise and directed to individuals with an interest or need to know. General notice bulletins may be sent to public groups, news groups local to , junk mail, or specific work groups. Standards for global mailings can be found in (some location)

    Vmail messages which have been read will expire after seven days. This is a limitation of the disk storage capacity of the voicemail system.

  3. Misuses of Electronic mail and Voicemail Misuse of Email/Vmail can result in disciplinary action up to and including termination
  4. Examples of misuse includes the following:

    Prohibits obscene, profane or offensive material from being transmitted over any company communication system. This includes, for example, accessing erotic materials via news groups. Also, messages, jokes, or forms which violate our harassment policy or create an intimidating or hostile work environment are prohibited. Use of company communications systems to set up personal businesses or send chain letters is prohibited. Company confidential messages should be distributed to personnel only. Forwarding to locations outside is prohibited. Accessing copyrighted information in a way that violates the copyright is prohibited. Breaking into the system or unauthorized use of a password/mailbox is prohibited. Broadcasting unsolicited personal views on social, political, religious or other non-business related matters is prohibited. Solicitation to buy or sell goods or services is prohibited except on junkmail or ad-hoc mail groups.

  5. Responsibility for this policy
  6. “A specified department in the company” is responsible to ensure the efficient use of systems according to this policy. Where issues arise, the department will deal directly with the employee (and notify their manager where appropriate). The interpretation of appropriate use and future revisions of this policy are the responsibility of “a committee”or an appointed official.

    As soon as we published our guidelines electrically, our members proposed amendments. (David Levinger and Carl Page,, Sept. 19, 1997) Basically, they suggested three things:

    1. The level of email monitoring should be made clear. For example, the company ought to state that email will not be monitored or reviewed for the purposes of enforcing managerial authority.
    2. The language of “efficiency” bothered some of our members. They wanted companies to orient their policy to more human values and individual rights.
    3. Proper disclaimers on external postings are important.

    Also soon after our proposal was made public, we also received a post from a labor union representative, who urged that “prohibitions against political opinions should be amended to allow for messages of interest to the members of a unionized workforce.” (Gary E. Schoenfeldt,, Sept. 19, 1997)

    Had CPSR overlooked anything else? Indeed, we had neglected a rather large area concerning the nature of the communications themselves. As one respondent put it, “Its more important aspects are related to its role in recording the on-going business of the organization and legal risks associated with its use and abuse. One of the most important aspects of email, vmail and other electronic documents, is that they constitute organizational records in many if not most cases. Where I have done studies of email usage and policy in organizational settings, I have found that the large percentage of employees do not have a clue what is and is not a record, least of all with respect to email/vmail. And they have little or no understanding of what their responsibilities are in this respect.” (Rick Barry,, Sept. 19, 1997). Barry also recommended that the the policy should say that the author of any email be promptly notified after the fact if an email message has been accessed, and told why.

In sum, the subject of handling email and vmail in the workplace became a deeper and more complicated issue than our organization had initially appreciated. We wandered from privacy into freedom of information and from pornography to protest. We are still on this journey. My final paper will deal in more detail with each of these separate issues.

The Development of Computer Ethics: Contributions from Business Ethics and Medical Ethics

Kenman Wong and Gerhard Steinke


Computer / Information Technology (IT) ethics is generally considered to be a branch of applied ethics. Although there is an impressive body of literature containing moral reflection on new forms of technology (broadly defined) and their potential impact on society, the more specific area of IT ethics is a relatively new field of inquiry. It is therefore not surprising that, to date, little effort has been made to examine the connections between this area and older, more developed fields of applied moral reflection such as medical ethics and business ethics.

There are several important reasons why this task should be undertaken. Practitioners operating in the field of information technology are faced with challenges which are qualitatively similar to those raised in these other fields. For example, like many dilemmas in medical ethics, the field of IT ethics must also respond to the question: “just because we can, should we?” with respect to new advances in technology. Moreover, since many of the gains in computing have been and are being utilized by corporations to enhance the bottom line, information technology professionals are also faced with business ethics dilemmas which pit the consideration of profit versus other social goods, such as privacy and human well-being. An example of the intersection of these fields is the issue of privacy in genetic testing and medical records management.

Although medical ethics has enjoyed much more success at this endeavor, both it and business ethics have made significant inroads in becoming a part of “the dialog” among professionals in their respective fields. Some professions have a recognized and widely accepted set of prescribed ethical statements. In addition, the educational process in the medical and business fields include a strong component of ethics. IT curricula has yet to develop this common emphasis and content of ethical education.

We highlight specific developments in the fields of medical ethics and business ethics which we believe can make significant contributions to the development of IT ethics. We have issues such as the following in common:

  • Concern with the development of normative stances on professional dilemmas.
  • Concern with developing proper meta-ethical theories and decision making models.
  • Shared goal of becoming a part of the dialog among professionals in their respective fields.
  • Concern with influencing public policy and developing professionally enforced standards of conduct.
  • Shared challenges in speaking to academicians, professionals and the broader public.

We also address possible objections, e.g., medicine is concerned with healing patients, business ethics with profit maximization, and IT ethics with neither. Thus, they are not very useful for one another.

Thus, the field of information technology ethics potentially stands to gain tremendously in understanding how these fields have come to make such strides in development and general acceptance, and in comprehending their respective shortcomings. In this paper, we examine the potential for constructive interaction between these three fields of reflection. We argue that the areas of overlap among the fields have been underestimated, and, as a result, extremely useful resources have been largely ignored in the development of IT ethics.

Going for broke, not brokerage: what the virtual university can ethically bring to the electronic marketplace

Ian Kennedy White and Rosane Pagano


This paper argues that there is an ethical choice to be made when implementing the virtual university. Either the electronic commerce model is adopted, with the necessary consequences for the tutor-learner relationship; or an alternative is sought in the professional pledge that a university requires its members to make, as part of a community. The paper begins by considering the growing importance of electronic commerce as a model to be applied to the extension of distance learning and thence by implication to the notion of a virtual university. What follows from this, as the moral grounds of the professional-client relationship in the virtual university, are then examined. Attempts to ground its legitimacy in the stakeholder model, as a variant of what underlies electronic commerce, are shown to be inadequate. Instead a covenantal model is proposed as the basis for such grounding. It is suggested that, unlike a contractual model, the covenantal model can embody the recognition of the learning process as a transformative act, and one that is fundamentally social, not individual. Only by confronting the ethical choice posed by these two models can the legitimacy of the virtual university in a world of the future be addressed.

Characteristics correlated with an individual’s predisposition to making a computer related ethical judgement

Cheryl Welch


As computer technology is assimilated more and more into society and the business environment the issues of computer fraud, sabotage, illegal software copying, viruses, and hacking will become more empirically measurable. Until that time, these issues must not be shunned just because they do not easily lend themselves to empirical testing. Through the use of the ethical decision making model in identifying the enduring characteristics correlated with decision making we may be able to understand the thought processes of the computer abuser.

The purpose of this study was to identify the inherent characteristics that are correlated with an individual’s predisposition to making a computer-related ethical judgment in accordance with a behavioral model of ethical and unethical decision making developed by Harrington (1992). The inherent characteristics identified were negative-affectivity, other-directedness, moral perspective, locus-of-control, and denial-of-responsibility. Data for this study were gathered using questionnaires. The questionnaires were administered to undergraduate and graduate business students enrolled in a computer course.

They study was helpful in understanding the computer abuser. The data analyzed seemed to suggest the enduring characteristics of other-directedness, negative-affectivity, locus-of-control, moral perspective, and denial-of-responsibility are significant factors in determining ethical and unethical decision making. The scenarios used on the questionnaire presented situations that were clearly moral in nature, yet participants responded favorably to questions where it would be acceptable to alter behavior. It would seem that individuals place personal wealth and security values above honesty and property rights.

Demographics, in general, had little relationship to the responses in the instrument. Education and job tenure were correlated with locus-of-control and denial-of-responsibility. Higher levels of education would prepare an individual to take control of a situation by devising solutions and evaluating the outcome of each one before implementing. The longer an individual is on a job, the greater the likelihood that he will experience a situation where he could use the organizations resources to his benefit and rationalize the act. These findings suggest continued education programs for employees over the term of employment.

According to the responses to this survey, nearly 93% of the respondents reported never taking a course in computer ethics. Any instructor who wants to install a sense of ethical use of computers in students might address the topics of spreading viruses, sabotage, hacking, fraud, and illegal software copying. The ethical decision making model and its corresponding individual characteristics will prove helpful in getting everyone to see a situation from the same perspective.

Overall, analysis of the data indicated an individual’s intent to perform the computer abuse was found to be a function of negative-affectivity and the interaction of the individual factors of other-directedness, moral perspective and denial-of-responsibility. Negative-affectivity was significant to understanding decision making in different kinds of situations and the degree to which individuals are likely to attribute personal control in the same situation.

People-Centred Information Systems Development

Julie Ward and Clare Stephenson


Our paper was conceived during our undergraduate course, and is continuing to expand with our life and work experiences. We feel our work has close links with the ethical issues in computing today, and this will be examined in detail through our principles of design and two case studies, where our ideas were put into practise. Through the case studies we were able to document how our principles were easily transferrable into “real life” situations and proved highly successful for all involved.

The 14 principles

The main points that influence our principles of systems design are closely linked to Pain et al (1993). Human-Centred Systems Design, they are as follows:

  • The empowerment of people is more important than the efficiency of the organisation.
  • The provision of good information facilitates empowerment.
  • Communication, commitment, co-ordination, and co-operation should permeate any project. Control should not be the primary concern.
  • The organisational context of a problem situation needs to be as fully understood as possible before any systems design can take place.
  • To achieve the above analysts need to become a part of the organisation to fully understand the context.
  • We aim to facilitate participative design, which should also be emancipatory by the inclusion of all groups in the organisation and the breaking up of power groups.
  • The dynamics between people in the organisation need to be analysed and taken into account for any new system to work.
  • There is a need to take a bottom-up and top-down approach simultaneously. This could also be viewed as inside-out and outside-in development.
  • As analysts we need to be sympathetic to the difficulties that occur when raising levels of IT awareness.
  • We need to continue to develop our abilities in alleviating people’s fears surrounding technology.
  • The framework should evolve to suit the context of the problem space; it should bedynamic.
  • As analysts we should not walk away as soon as a system is in place.
  • A technical solution is not always the best answer.
  • The organisation should be left with a sustainable and maintainable system which empowers the people by providing the information they require.

Our working practice places emphasis on qualitative rather than quantitative analysis. This we feel allows for ethical considerations to become part of the solution space. We act as agents of change, while using a “hands-on” approach within the organisations, because we recognised that mainstream formal methods alone are inadequate.

The similarities between the following case studies are that they were both small organisations with very limited IT knowledge. However they were very different in structure and in their levels of available technology.

Case Study One

The Care Forum (TCF) is an umbrella organisation in the voluntary sector who promotes the participation and involvement of voluntary user-led and carer groups in the development and planning of health and social care services.

Within this case study we tackled

  • Practical day to day problems with a bottom up strategy.
  • We set up an IT slot in the weekly staff meetings.
  • We facilitated them in the use of good working practices, which would enhance their image to outside organisations.
  • We repeatedly went back to different users for clarification of their understanding of the use of technology and their organisational needs.
  • We swopped jargon sheets and continually added to these
  • We were committed to being as approachable as possible and not setting ourselves up as ‘the experts in their office’.

Case Study Two

Bristol Friends of the Earth (Bristol FoE) is a very proactive organisation, whose main aim is to campaign on local environmental issues and to support and empower groups and individuals to help provide a sustainable future for the world. Members of Bristol FoE regard themselves primarily as front line campaigners, whose office and fund-raising activities come as secondary.

  • We did not set ourselves up as experts
  • We kept our language jargon-free
  • We identified with the FoE cause
  • We were not afraid to ask them for information
  • We were able to be flexible because we were not restricted by a rigid methodology
  • Our working style is creative, innovative, and adhoc, which mirrors that of the organisation. We are both equally unstructured (in the traditional sense) yet extremely effective
  • We consciously chose to wear casual clothes, being aware that dressing differently would not fit in with the organisational culture and would quite probably put up barriers

We believe that People-centred Information Systems Development is a way of life, it is not something that has been invented but is an evolutionary framework. It needs a philosophical shift in thought and is not something that can just be picked up and used like formal methods. There are no pre-defined sequence of events as it requires experiential and “tacit” knowledge to be successful.

The Case for Responsibility of the Computing Industry to Promote Equal Presentation of Women and Men in Advertising Campaigns

Eva Turner


Although women account for over 53% of the UK workforce, there are still marked divisions between the types of work that women and men are associated with. For example, the lower levels of the service, and “caring” sectors are largely dominated by women, particularly where there is a significant percentage of part-time work available. Men tend to dominate the upper levels of most sectors, but, notably, all levels of technology sectors. The stereotypical characterization, then, is that women are associated with people-oriented work, whilst men are associated with technologically-oriented work. Leaving aside questions of how tenable this divide is, our focus here is upon such stereotypical associations, how these are played out in the advertising images deployed by the computing industry, and what affect this has on the industry as a whole, and women in particular.

Increasing computerisation of a wide variety of jobs means that more and more women are becoming proficient in using technology. However, whilst the stereotypical associations mentioned above are still dominant, this has two negative effects upon women’s working lives. As more and more work becomes mediated via computers, the ways in which the technology can handle the work becomes more important than the traditional practices that have developed in the workplace. This can have the effect of invalidating the kinds of knowledge women have been *allowed* to have, effectively deskilling them. Furthermore, if computers are continually associated with men, women’s interactions with computers will be confined to the “operator” level, preventing women from accessing the higher levels of the industry, where power is located and decisions are made. We argue that deploying stereotypical associations in computer industry advertisements maintains this situation, engendering a polarization where women remain proficient operators, but powerless recipients, of technology.

This paper gives a brief introduction to the feminist critique of advertising and the influence this has had on the advertising industry in general. This critique is then applied to advertising in computing. We show the results of a detailed study of three years of advertisements in Personal Computer World magazine. We compare many images of women and men in advertisements aimed at all sections of the population, from the home buyer aiming to buy her/his first machine, to the major industrial purchasers. The paper analyzes the pictorial representation of women in these advertisements, considering the messages conveyed about their qualities and abilities. In 25,000 pages we found very few images of women who may be considered technologically competent and knowledgeable. Depictions of women are mainly used for decorative purposes, including the pretty-faced, friendly voices on the other end of a helpline. By contrast, images of men are most often used as symbols of power, be they symbolic, as sportsmen, or real, as financially powerful decision makers. The second part of our research develops a detailed textual analysis of two particular advertisements. This shows how the relationship between text and image can either serve to mutually reinforce sexual stereotypes, leaving less space for reappropriation, or can convey a message that undermines an apparently positive image, causing a reversion to stereotypes.

Although this work relates entirely to presentations and constructions of gender, we also note that women and men of colour make-up an extremely small proportion of the images, and, of these, about half are grossly stereotypical, invoking colonialist discourse. The vast majority of computing advertisements leave us in no doubt that the white, Western, male is the buyer, but what is it, exactly, that he is being invited to buy? We argue that such images, and the stereotypes they deploy, have a negative impact upon the computing industry as a whole. The question then remains of what to do about this. Many industries prefer to be self-regulating, and the computing and advertising industries are no exceptions. However, over the last decade and a half, the European Union has commissioned various reports and passed various resolutions concerning the depictions of women and men in advertisements. The latest of these, from the summer of 1997, is based on MEP Marlene Lenz’s report, recommending the adoption of resolutions passed at the 1995 Beijing Women’s Conference. Such political directives raise two particular problems: censorship, and international convergence.

The main problem with censorship, in respect to the debate here, is that it creates a situation where an industry is responding to sanctions which do nothing to address actual beliefs held. Censorship can have the effect of simply hiding institutional sexism, for example. Furthermore, where freedom of expression is stifled, freedom to critique, question and challenge is also stifled. In terms of international convergence, a particular issue for the member states of the European Union, the debate seems to revolve around the status of nudity, and the art/pornography divide in each country. This tends to focus the issue in a well-worn groove of xenophobia and prurience, playing into the polarized censorship debate, and ensuring that very little changes because the issue then becomes regarded as one of homogenizing national difference, which most member states resist.

Our concern is with the global computing industry. In terms of suggested Codes of Conduct, we feel the emphasis of debate is best placed upon exclusion, who is excluded and how are they excluded from being addressed by the industry? For example, in both gross and subtle depictions of women-as-objects, women are there for others, not for themselves. We see this as the crucial issue, in which claims and counterclaims about “decency” and “humor” are side issues which distract from this key point.

In conclusion, we argue that the responsibility falls to all of us involved in computing to acknowledge the power of media images, and to decide what kind of industry we want to be a part of. We also discuss the respective roles of legislation and industry guidelines, and what these mean for arbitration.

A theological reflection on integrated information networks

Richard Thomas MIPR


Three major world religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have as their focus a God who communicates, and who created us to belong to supportive and loving communities. In the Christian tradition, the integration of the individual into his or her family, community and place of work is an essential part of his/her ‘shalom’, or peaceful well-being. This integration is founded on good communication; knowing yourself, knowing your immediate family and friends and being known by them, knowing and being known by those with whom you work, and knowing and being known by God. We are not meant to be consumers, but to be contributors in a common purpose – the good of the communities to which we belong.

Information Technology has the potential for increasing this ability to know and be known. The popular theory of GAIA, which suggests that the earth is an inter-connected system where the ultimate good is the regulation of the planet by the process of knowing and being known by all the other elements of the system, is reflected in the inter-connection of individuals and groups by electronic means. Yet within the Jewish and Christian traditions there is also the story of the Tower of Babel – where the same connectivity by a common language led to the people ‘becoming like Gods'; and the breaking of that connectivity to create small, discrete communities was seen as essential for the ethical and moral good of humanity. The origin of languages was a protection against unrestricted evil, rather than a frustration of unrestricted good.

Whilst Information Technology has the ability to create new networks of knowing, it also has the potential to separate us from human contact and creativity. At the heart of real human satisfaction is the ability completely and fully to know, and be known by, another human being. Information technology cannot replace that warmth of knowing, and is in danger of supplanting it. The resulting isolation can create a false substitute for knowing that is ultimately destructive of human contact. Art and Music, good food and wine enjoyed with friends, loving sexual relationships and the enjoyment of nature are all essential for human health and happiness. They cannot be replaced by technology. Where they are, as for example in the growing demand for computer pornography or internet relationships, individuals and communities are diminished. The intrusion of the electronic work place into the home may bring benefits to the avoidance of travel, but it also brings dangers for family life and welfare.

The benefit of information technology is that it can release us to be more fully human. It can help create space and time for the human enjoyment of ourselves, our families, our communities and our work. As a means to an end – specifically, the end of improving the common good – information technology can assist us to create small scale village communities. But as an end in itself, Information Technology will become the Babel that will need to be resisted and frustrated for the protection of human contact.

The Revd. Richard Thomas is an Anglican Priest, and Director of Communication for the Diocese of Oxford. He is a member of the Church of England’s Internet Reference Group, and Chairman of the Churches’ Advertising Network. He is an elected member of the Institute of Public Relations, and has spoken at several conferences on the nature of Christian Communications. He has one published work, ‘An Introduction to Church Communications’, and is currently working on issues to do with the way people belong to religious communities.

UK views of ethical and spiritual implications of IT

Harold Thimbleby, Penny Duquenoy and Nicholas Beale


The UK Worshipful Company of Information Technologists has organised two high-level colloquia to debate ethical issues of IT.The colloquia were hosted in the British House of Lords and the first colloquium was held February 10, the second October 15 1997. This paper summarises the debates of those colloquia.


This abstract paper submitted to Ethicomp has several limitations! The deadline for abstracts to Ethicomp means we cannot yet report on the second colloquium! The full paper will integrate the two debates into a single report. We will not simply report the two colloquia separately, but will present a single coherent paper summarising the substantive points raised at both.

As a matter of style, this submission is in anonymised reported speech (see background notes, below). After the second colloquium, the two reports will be substantially rewritten and reorganised.

Debate Summary

“What has God wrought?” asked Samuel Morse after he had sent his first telegraphic message. A question that has been asked many times over with each advance in information technology and answered in many different ways. Some regard technology as a gift of God, others are fearful and sceptical.

One theme that informed the first discussion was the question of the quality of electronic communication. Several speakers pointed out that historically communication has taken place face-to-face with all of the visual clues as to meaning.

In contrast the electronic medium was anonymous. It provided access to huge amounts of information, but made it difficult for people to communicate effectively because they lacked a common experience. There was a great gulf between transmitting information and communicating information. “It is easy to forget there are people out there.” One speaker warned that the new technical bias towards seeing the world in objective terms might lead to “repetitive soul strain”. “Any conversation about communication must include some reflection on the meaning of life.”

Huge areas of life essential to some people were utterly cut off from others. “More and more people are having uncommonly held experience in diverse and protected cells than in previous generations,” commented one speaker. Some thought that the anonymity and diversity of the Internet was healthy in that it subverted totalitarianism of all kinds.

Others argued that the denial of body was something new. “Pornography is comparatively trivial compared with the questions of sovereignty and democracy raised by the Internet”. Would the technology further the unity of the world, or merely confirm the dominance of an elite?

All were agreed that technological change is occurring very fast. “We are rushing towards a vacuum,” complained one father, struggling to keep up with his children’s knowledge of the Internet, and worried that no one was supervising their electronic adventures. Others decried the tendency of electronic media to create a domination of the momentary. The question of how to control the Internet was raised by many of those who spoke. “The speed of technological change is greater than the speed of institutional change , especially in government. The effect is not only that government now moves legislatively five years behind reality, what is worse we have too little time to devise the right legislative responses to new technology,” declared an eminent IT entrepreneur. There was no need to hurry observed another, it was sensible to let the law evolve at a slower pace.

Some argued that while governments might control the flow of ideas to their populations by banning books, they could not stop people reading material on the Internet’s web sites and bulletin boards. “There is no way that the law can keep pace with technological change. All we can expect of the law is some high level principles. We have got to generate a culture that respects the use of personal information. The law can only be a back stop.”

However, with sex sites among the five most popular UK web sites, many were convinced that regulation was necessary. One speaker even claimed that information providers would welcome a definition so that they could push the barriers. Others were concerned that the Internet bestowed great power and huge profit, creating divisions between the information rich and the information poor. But there remained the question of how to enforce laws and detect law breakers.

The Church of England’s role in guiding attitudes to new technology and its efforts to communicate via the new medium also came under discussion. The Church was closely involved with the invention of printing. Indeed, the spread of Luther’s Protestant teachings was aided by the use of printing press. However, some were concerned that it had yet to fully embrace the latest technology. “The Church dominated printing because it could read, now we are in a situation in which the Church can’t read,” said one theologian.

However, many were convinced that the Church could provide deep analysis of the moral and ethical questions raised by the Internet and were investigating the possibility of a charter to guide Christian use of the technology.

The Government was also urged to examine the impact of technology on society. One speaker called for a cross-party Commission to spend a year examining the sort of issues raised at the Colloquium. “There is a moral duty for government to look at these problems.”

“Where do we go from here?” the Chairman concluded.

Further comments

A web site has been maintained that is collecting further comments. In this abstract, we include a small selection of them.

Focus in Government
There are many groups of people questioning what the ethical and/or regulatory environment for the information society should be but no one focus for the debate. Should there be one? If so where should it lie? Within Government interest is split between the Home Office (Obscenity, Privacy, Data Protection); Cabinet Office (Freedom of Information, DTI (IT for all etc.); and DfEE (National curriculum, use of IT in schools). There is no one select committee looking at this. As part of our thinking about Government proposals for changing Data Protection Legislation we have considered whether the time has come to focus information issues in one area, giving a Minister with the lead interest and an ‘Information Committee'; an alternative would be to look at the opportunities which might arise were the opposition’s proposal for a Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament to look at human rights be taken forward, considering the right to privacy; to free flow of information and to freedom of expression which are crucial to the search for a proper balance in this area.

Open Access
We talked about levels of literacy, but not access to the equivalent of books. The same arguments apply. The bible chained to the lectern for all to come to read is replaced by the terminal, still available only to a few. Who provides the hardware? Who decides what content should be accessed? Libraries are beginning to make access to the ‘net’ a real opportunity for all, though some are charging. Is this a community facility that schools and churches should provide? Only when there is universal access is there at least a chance for the majority to become literate. Nowhere in our debate did we have time to recall the recent survey which said only 19% of the population know how to obtain Internet access – our view of the world is perhaps skewed.

Teaching Ethical Systems Engineering
Discussion focused on the Internet but if systems designers build ethical solutions to meet business requirements we will go a long way to meeting ethical requirements (see our paper on Privacy Enhancing Technologies). Focusing on the undergraduates who will build tomorrow’s systems must be one way forward (all undergraduate courses have to cover something called ‘the engineer in society’, or ‘ethical computing’ or something similar, to get BCS accreditation. We are working to ensure more coverage of Data protection issues).

Constant work contact
One of the indirect ill effects of the revolution in technology has been a strong deterioration of family life and one’s personal quality of life. I have travelled extensively, and would say, without reservation, that there is no place in the West where people have the obsession with their jobs that they do in the United States. Many today are virtually owned by their employers. Those “non-productive” enough to actually take the two weeks’ holiday allowed each year (and which the employer will “reassure” you that you are not obligated to take) are still “virtually connected” to the office. The pager, e-mail remote access, voice mail, etc., have grown to mean that breaks which do not include contacting the office are unknown. Where technology has greatly reduced the time for task completion in many instances, most of us have a longer working day than in the past. The “home office” has led to people working well into the night, even after they leave the office itself. Many employers will not even allow their staff to take the few federal holidays that mean only one day away from the office. Since those paid for 35-40 hours of work each week are working 50-60 or more, employers are eliminating staff. Everyone fears “downsizing”, unemployment, and being without medical insurance (or the means to pay for it privately) if out of work.

Invasion of privacy
Privacy is not the most significant issue (or the best way of depicting the issues that lie behind “privacy” concerns), the ways that the Internet in particular and IT in general are used for surveillance (in the unprejudicial sense of the gathering of personal data) are of vital importance. IT-based surveillance raises major questions, ranging from power to personal identity, that have tremendous ethical import. Management decisions (commercial and government) are increasingly based on simulations of the real world, and these in turn depend upon data acquired from persons about their attitudes, lifestyles, practices, affiliations and so on. These issues affect many IT applications, from policing and government databases to direct (including Internet) marketing.

Economic promises
The Internet is supposed to have all sorts of economic benefits and to open access to all. Our society relies on ‘retiring’ people over a particular age, though this is already causing economic problems because those paying tax are not paying enough to support the ‘unproductive’ people in society. If the Internet does open access and is economically productive, then these ‘unproductive’ people are going to partake of economic production in as big a way as is promised for the Internet. Therefore many of our politico-economic assumptions are going to be severely tested.

Background notes

The Worshipful Company of Information Technologists
Established 1987, the Company is the one hundredth livery company. WCIT is dedicated to improving awareness and understanding of the benefits of Information Technology and achieving the highest standards in the application of IT, especially within the City of London. Its aims are directed towards educational and charitable activities.

Chatham House Rules
The colloquia were held under Chatham House rules. This is standard practice to allow free speech and honest debate. The debate may be freely reported, but no part attributed to particular contributors. Although some subsequent discussion on the Web has been attributed, as editors of this paper we have taken the liberty of uniformly anonymising all contributions – for the same reason, and for fair treatment. We take responsibility for our editorial presentation.

Ethical Aspects of the Employment of Expert Systems in Medicine

B. Spyropoulos and G. Papagounos


The operation of medical Artificial Intelligence systems depends on a large number of parameters and on the availability of an evaluative calculus which assigns relative importance to the various information items since the data relevant to a case do not have equal weight in the decision making process which leads to diagnosis and treatment.

The two components of A.I. systems, knowledge-base and inference methods based on the experience of physicians, do not usually incorporate socio-cultural or axiological characteristics. Further, the decisions reached entail ethical implications both in respect to the patient concerned and to the broader context of the health care system in a given community. Specifically, the authors argue that ethical issues and value conflicts pertaining to A.I. systems in medicine arise first, in terms of the development and the employment of the systems themselves. Second, they emerge in the interaction -the diagnostic and the therapeutic- between the patient and the health-care professional and, third, ethical problems appear in respect to the resources -human and material- allocated in dealing with the cases in question. As a result, A.I. systems should allow for a casuistic approach to the decision making process in order to accommodate the particularities of each individual patient.

The role of an A.I.-system depends much more on the proximity of the description of the empirical disease to the well defined and theoretically supported medical knowledge and much less on the programming abilities and the sophisticated computer technology used that would enable the processing of the huge amount of data, often leading to a diagnostic “information pollution”. On the other hand, the available computer technology often offers the possibility to provide theoretical foundations to clinical practice since it constitutes a powerful instrument for the acquisition and dissipation of medical knowledge. It is precisely this role of theoretically supported and experimentally enriched approach to medical practice that an A.I.- system is called to fulfil.

The main challenge, however, which artificial decision supporting systems face is the incorporation of the social and the ethical premises into the inference model employed. Such an implication, however, necessitates the identification of the ethical issues which are involved in the decisions made in a health care context. Further, it requires the codification and the classification of the ethical problems. Additionally, this procedure should be focused on the various sections and the ensuing activities of the hospital since problems are not identical nor do they carry the same weight in all departments.

This process, can reach its goal only if it is accompanied by the education of those involved in the decision making processes in the hospital. This means, that the reasoning models employed in the inferences at the various sections of the hospital should be assimilated, and the ethical issues present in health care delivery should become familiar to the personnel involved in the decision-making procedure.

The IT revolution and the future of hierarchies

Jacek Sojka


In this paper I would like to concentrate on the widespread conviction that the IT revolution has as its consequence the dismantling of all hierarchies. Does it mean that only markets will remain? Direct transactions between millions of buyers and sellers? Can we really do without hierarchies? (Also: without nation states which have always required political, hierarchical structures?)

Despite many philosophical hesitations concerning the impact of IT on culture and society, the role of IT is indisputable and crucial in the world of business. Within seconds one is able to gather all information about prices of a given product or securities in all different places and choose the best one. Electronic orders from all around the world can reach a seller immediately. Both buyer and seller can operate globally without leaving their offices. Information about legal regulations in different countries is available without special efforts and makes life of foreign investors more comfortable. It is often said that the IT revolution can strengthen or revive the spirit of entrepreneurship and ability to compete. The improvement of the organisational decision making process is one of the most obvious benefits of this revolution.

The advocates of the vision of the bright future caused by the computer networks regard as one of the main characteristics of a (future) global world the breakdown of all hierarchies: economic, social, political. According to this opinion the hierarchy serves as a means of controlling an access to information and as basis of power of those who have that control. New possibilities opened by the wide use of computer as well as other communication technologies constitute a threat to all those who would be inclined to monopolise information whether they are political dictators or business leaders. Information technology becomes then a major factor of all decentralising and democratising processes.

The most telling example of this process is supposed to be the emergence of the so-called virtual corporation: a network of small companies or even individuals instantaneously producing a specific, customised product and “organising” itself accordingly, i.e. spontaneously, without building any hierarchy or permanent structure. “To the outside observer, it will appear almost edgeless, with permeable and continuously changing interfaces between company, supplier, and customers. From inside the firm the view will be no less amorphous, with traditional offices, departments, and operating divisions constantly reforming according to need.” The future belongs – according to the IT enthusiasts – to this type of flat, edgeless, constantly changing organisations. And even the most respectable economists and organisational theorists admit that they have real doubts about their basic concepts. “For example, organizational scholars are now questioning the concept of the hierarchy as the main mechanism for organizing commercial, non-market transactions, at least in large global firms. In pointing to MNEs such as IBM, SKF and ICI, in which key resources and capabilities are geographically dispersed, cross-border flows of knowledge, information and ideas are multidimensional, communication is lateral, and there is a strong sense of shared values and mission among the different parts of the organization, the interplay of decision taking is better described as a heterarchy.”

The concept of a form of interactions which might be classified as something between hierarchy (with all its tyrannical predilections) and market (with all its failures). This question was raised some time ago in connection with the nature of the firm and types of production co-ordination: through price mechanism in the open market or within organisation. All depends on the costs of transactions. “The most obvious cost of ‘organizing’ production through the price mechanism is that of discovering what the relevant prices are.” In the thirties there was no debate on the use of computers; rather the telephone was the most modern device which can influence the speed of the information transfer and thus reduce the costs of making such discoveries about prices. As a matter of fact the reduction of costs might have occurred on both sides and the deciding comparison was between both rates of reduction. On the one hand if the reduction of costs relating to price mechanism was bigger then the reduction of the cost of organising (within a firm), the size of firms tend to decrease. This possibility can be considered an equivalent of today’s forecasts about the breakdown of all hierarchies due to global electronic information transfer. On the other hand however, this does not need to happen at every instance. The calculation of costs may show that the reduction on the side of organisations (hierarchies) is bigger and suggests something else. “Changes like the telephone and the telegraph, which tend to reduce the cost of organizing spatially, will tend to increase the size of the firm. All changes which improve managerial technique will tend to increase the size of the firm.”

Today this question is being debated within the so called transaction cost economics. From this perspective any development of new technologies does not necessarily entail the diminishing of the role of hierarchy of an organisation. “While the relation of technology to organization remains important, it is scarcely determinative. I argue in this connection that, but for a few conspicuous exceptions, neither the indivisibilities nor technological nonseparabilities on which received theory relies to explain nonmarket organization are sufficient to explain any but very simple types of hierarchy. Rather I contend that transactional considerations, not technology, are typically decisive in determining which mode of organization will obtain in what circumstances and why.” Same opinion was expressed by Fukuyama who cannot agree with the “end of hierarchies” statement. What is good for the computer industry (small, flexible networks) will not do for other industries, “from building airliners and automobiles to fabricating silicon wafers.”

In other words the technological possibilities will not decide by themselves about the type and size of organisation. Instead of being fascinated by the technological achievements one should have a closer look at the costs associated with any new form of business organisation. What obtains in one industry, may not be viable in the other. Traditionally computer manufacturing has provided us with the examples of diminishing the size of a firm and of introducing new forms of co-operation between companies. But even in this field the reverse might be true as recent plans for co-operation between Microsoft and Apple show. In sum we need more empirical studies on the size of multinational corporations and on the impact of information technology on their structure. But one thing remains obvious: the speed of information flow cannot revolutionise by itself the world of big organisations. Accordingly the nation states will not disintegrate due to the impact of only one factor: the Internet. One cannot expect any “revolution” in this field.