Computer Ethics (cis 12W/Philosophy 14. 4) Fall 2005

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Computer Ethics (CIS 12W/Philosophy 14.4) Fall 2005
Professor: Samir Chopra

Office: 1214 Ingersoll Hall

Mailbox: 2109 Ingersoll Hall

Email: (the best way to get in touch)

Phone: 718.951.4139

Class Meetings: Wednesday: 9:25 AM – 12:05 PM (214 New Ingersoll Hall)

Office hours: Wednesday: 12: 15 PM – 1:15 PM (or by appointment)
An electronic copy of this syllabus can be found at:

Exceptions to Class Schedule: We will not meet on October 5th and 12th.
Read this syllabus carefully. It contains answers to the questions you will raise during the semester.
Required Textbooks
(SML) Richard A. Spinello, Cyberethics: Morality and Law in Cyberspace, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Massachusetts, 2005. ISBN: 0-7637-0064-9
(ST) Richard A. Spinello and Herman T. Tavani, Readings in Cyberethics (2nd ed.), Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Massachusetts, 2005. ISBN: 0-7637-2410-6
Book website:
Any technology brings with it an attendant ethical debate: the appropriate uses of the technology, the challenges it raises for traditional ethical theories, its effect on social norms and structures and so on. Any mature technology must train its practitioners to become familiar with the ethical debates associated with the field. Recognizing this, premier computer science professional societies such as the Association for Computing Machinery have long made Computers and Ethics an integral part of curricular recommendations. Computing raises an interesting set of challenges because of the rethinking it forces of many established norms (the nature of production, the kinds of economies created, the social and political change it enables or disables and so on).
This class' task is to make students aware that as computer professionals designing, using and maintaining computing technologies they have a special responsibility to understand the ethical issues that those technologies raise. In this class we will focus on four areas: regulation and laws, free speech, privacy, security and codes of conduct for computer scientists. To enable a systematic assessment of arguments made in this sphere, we will apply traditional ethical theories such as virtue ethics, utilitarianism, or deontological theories to debates in computing technology.
This is a writing-intensive class. Expect to do lots of reading and writing. It is not an ‘easy’ class because ‘there won’t be any programming’. Writing good essays is as hard - and as your employers will let you know, as important - as writing good code.
Course Requirements
Attendance and Participation: 20% of the final grade

Paper Assignments: 80% of the final grade (4 assignments – each for 20 %)
Assignment Guidelines

  • For writing assignments, you will have two weeks to work on your answers. If you experience any difficulty with the questions, come and talk to me. I will not accept late assignments. Do not ask me for extensions.

  • I do not accept emailed assignments. This means you cannot send me attachments. If I receive an email with an attachment I will delete it.

  • All papers must be handed to me in class the day the assignment is due. Or left in my mailbox if you cannot attend class on the day the paper is due. No exceptions; the same rule applies to everyone. Once again, do not ask me for exceptions.

  • There will be no 'extra-credit' assignments. You can resubmit a paper for a regrading. The grade you receive on the regraded paper will replace the original grade.

  • If you plagiarize a paper – and it is very easy to catch plagiarism – you fail the class. There will be no exceptions.


  • If you miss 2 classes, you lose 5 of the 20 points for attendance and class participation. If you miss another, I will take another 5 off. So, do the math: if you miss 5 classes, you lose all 20 points for attendance.

  • It is in your interest to attend class. Not attending classes means a lower grade in your papers, because you will have missed the classroom discussion necessary to write high-quality analytical papers.

  • Be on time. There is nothing more disruptive than a constant stream of late arrivals, opening the door, walking in and settling down. You disturb me and the rest of the class.

Classroom Participation
Participation in class discussion is of paramount importance. Your understanding of topics will be best displayed by asking intelligent, well reasoned questions, raising valid objections to arguments and displaying an awareness of issues raised in assigned readings. Nothing you say in class will cause your grade to be lowered. Asking questions about the lectures and the readings will aid your understanding of the material, and help me as well.
Each class discussion will build upon previous sessions. Absence from a class means that you will not profit from the class discussion and that your ability to answer exam questions and write relevant papers will be diminished.
The classroom is not the place for tirades, personal attacks and hostile polemics. If you have a point to make, express it as a reasoned argument. Otherwise, I will not take you seriously (and neither will anyone else in the class).
Grade Scale

  • 90-100: A

  • 85-89: A-

  • 80-84: B+

  • 75-79: B

  • 70-74: B-

  • 65-69: C+

  • 60-64: C

  • 55-59: C-

  • 50-54: D+

  • 45-49: D

  • 40-44: D-

  • 0-39: F

Class Mailing List
Go to, pick the ‘subscribe’ (default) option (the list name is CIS12W_fall05) and enter your email address. Subscription to the class mailing list is mandatory. Any student not registered at the end of the first week of class will lose a grade on the first writing assignment.
All readings listed below are required in that they can, and will be, the subject of questions asked on writing assignments.
The more you read this semester, the more you will get out of this class. The topics covered in this class are not simple, and require considerable diligence in reading the material indicated. If you find the vocabulary unfamiliar, work with a dictionary. If you find material hard going, don’t worry, it is meant to be hard. Work through the readings closely, and, if need be, more than once.
Your classroom experience will be immeasurably enhanced and enriched if you come to each lecture having worked through the indicated readings. Conversely, the classroom experience will be considerably diminished if you insist on coming to class unprepared. If you do not do the readings every week, you will not follow the lectures and you will almost certainly receive bad grades on the writing assignments.
Please use the Internet to look for additional reading for topics covered in class, as research resources for your papers and to further pursue your readings if this area interests you. A good strategy for broadening your readings would be to search for authors mentioned in the reading list to look at other writings of theirs – and to chase down links provided on those pages.
All readings below are from the ST text unless otherwise indicated. I will occasionally provide additional readings – either by sending you a link to a webpage or by giving you a handout in class. These readings will also be required.

The Basic Issues

  • (ST) Introduction to Chapter 1

  • Moor, “What is Computer Ethics”, at:

  • Bynum, “Ethics and the Information Revolution”

  • (SML Chapter 1) Spinello, Preface and “The Internet and Ethical Values”

  • Adam, “Gender and Computer Ethics”

  • Johnson, “Ethics On-Line”

Regulating the Internet

  • (ST Chapter 2) Introduction to Chapter 2

  • (SML Chapter 2) Spinello “Governing and Regulating the Internet”

  • Lessig, “The Laws of Cyberspace”

  • Post “Of Black Holes and Decentralized Law Making in Cyberspace”

  • ACLU, “Fahrenheit 451.2: Is Cyberspace Burning?”

  • Lipinski, Buchanan and Britz, “Agents of Harm or Agents of Grace”

  • (SML Chapter 3) Spinello, “Free Speech and Content Control in Cyberspace”

Intellectual Property

  • (ST Chapter 3) Introduction to Chapter 3

  • Notes on the DeCSS Case

  • Boyle, “A Politics of Intellectual Property”

  • McFarland, ”Intellectual Property, information and the Common Good”

  • Warwick, “Is Copyright Ethical?”

  • Raymond, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”

  • (SML Chapter 4) Spinello “Intellectual Property in Cyberspace”

  • Spinello, “Digital Music and Peer-to-Peer File Sharing”

  • Readings from:

  • Richard Stallman:

  • Richard Stallman:


  • (ST Chapter 4) Introduction to Chapter 4

  • (SML Chapter 5) Spinello, “Regulating Internet Privacy”

  • Nissenbaum, “Toward an Approach to Privacy in Public”

  • Moor, “Toward a Theory of Privacy in the Information Age”

  • Fulda, “Data Mining and Privacy”

  • (Class Handout) Lawrence Lessig on Privacy



  • (ST Chapter 5) Introduction to Chapter 5

  • (SML Chapter 6) Spinello, “Securing the Electronic Frontier”

  • Tavani, “Defining the Boundaries of Computer Crime”

  • Manion, “Terrorism or Civil Disobedience: Towards a Hacktivist Ethic”

  • Denning, “Cyberterrorism”

  • JeanCamp, “Web Security and Privacy”

Professional Codes of Conduct

  • (ST Chapter 6) Introduction to Chapter 6

  • Buchanan, “Ethical Considerations for the Information Professions”

  • Epstein, “The Wheel”

  • Weckert, “Lilliputian Computer Ethics”

Course Objectives
Goal:Understanding the ethical issues in computing.
Learning objectives: By course-end the student will be able to understand and evaluate arguments pertaining to the analysis of ethical issues as they arise in the following areas:

  • Technology as an agent of social and political change

  • Regulating the Internet

  • Privacy and anonymity of computer users

  • Copyright and patent law as applied to software

  • Security on the Internet

  • Codes of professional conduct for computer professionals

Goal:Effective Writing
Learning objectives: Ability to express ideas clearly in writing, which includes the ability to:

  • Use writing to reflect on one' s learning and to understand difficult material.

  • Demonstrate philosophical and ethical arguments in writing

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