Strategies for Answering the Discussion Questions



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Strategies for Answering the Discussion Questions

Answers to the Review Questions included at the end of each chapter in Ethics and Technology can be found fairly easily. You simply need to locate and review the relevant section in each chapter, from which the question is drawn. Each Review Question is fairly simple and straightforward, and each is designed in such a way that a clear and precise answer to it can be found in the text. However, there are no “correct,” or at least no uniquely correct, answers to the Discussion Questions, which are also included at the end of each chapter. Hence, I make no attempt to provide “solutions,” in the conventional sense of that term, to the controversial issues raised in those questions. Instead, I provide some strategies for instructors and students to consider as they set out to resolve the issues and dilemmas raised in the various Discussion Questions. For example, I suggest some ways in which certain conceptual tools and methodological frameworks—including the various ethical theories and critical-thinking skills introduced in the early chapters of the textbook—can be applied in answering many of the Discussion Questions.


Please note that the full text of the Discussion Questions themselves, included at the end of each chapter in the book, are not repeated here. So you will likely want to have the textbook in hand, and opened to the relevant pages, as you read through the various strategies provided below.

Strategies for Discussion Questions in Chapter 1 (See pages 28-29 in the textbook)


1. Gotterbarn’s arguments are well constructed, and Gotterbarn makes a plausible case for why computer ethics should be conceived of as field of professional ethics. In defense of Gotterbarn’s position, we must concede that an understanding of professional-responsibility issues is critical to an adequate understanding and analysis of computer ethics issues. In the period of computing preceding the World Wide Web, Gotterbarn’s argument for why the field of computer ethics should be conceived of as an area of professional ethics (whose primary concern was for computer professionals) was plausible. At that time, many (if not most) of the ethical issues involving computers directly affected the computing profession. Since then, however, two important factors have influenced the field. First, a new (and broader) wave of computer-related ethical issues emerged when the Internet became accessible to ordinary people. Second, most people who currently use computers, either for work or for recreational purposes, are not computer professionals. So, it would seem that we need a much broader conception of the field than the one proposed by Gotterbarn. However, we also saw that Gotterbarn’s view may ultimately turn out to be correct as more and more traditional computer-ethics issues, such as those involving privacy, property, speech, and so forth, become folded into “ordinary ethics.”
2. Some computer scientists have suggested that because: (a) Cybertechnology is relatively new; (b) Cybertechnology raises ethical issues; it follows that (c) Cybertechnology has raised new ethical issues. They point out, for example, that recent technologies such as data encryption raise certain kinds of social and ethical concerns that did not exist prior to the introduction of that technology.
Some computer scientists and philosophers have also argued that because computer technology has had a global impact with respect to ethical issues, a new global (or universal) theory of ethics is needed. In other words, Western ethical theories such as utilitarianism are no longer adequate to deal with ethical issues that are global in scope.
Other philosophers have taken a slightly different tack to show why a new ethical framework is needed. Philosophers Hans Jonas (2006) and Luciano Floridi (1999) have argued, independently of one another, that modern technology has introduced new “objects of moral consideration.” For example, recent work in the fields of artificial intelligence has contributed to the creation of software robots (“softbots”); and developments at the intersection of cybertechnology and biotechnology has made possible the creation of certain kinds of objects, entities, or “creatures” that appear to be human-like. As a result, some philosophers argue that we need to expand our sphere of moral consideration to include such objects and entities; and in the process, we will also likely need a new ethical framework.
In our analysis of question of whether any computer ethics issues are unique (in Chapter 1), however, we saw that our existing ethical framework is fairly robust. We also that if we make certain adjustments to the standard, three-step method used in applied ethics, then we can avoid having to construct a new ethical framework For example, if we include the recommendations suggested by James Moor and Philip Brey, we can proceed with our existing set of ethical theories. Following Brey, we would first need to identify and disclose any embedded values in technology (i.e., either transparent or non-transparent moral values); and following Moor, we need to identify and resolve any policy vacuums and conceptual muddles that arise, before we can apply the traditional ethical theories.
3. One relatively recent Web-based activity that may be determined to have ethical implications is Web logging, or simply “blogging.” Blogs are similar to online journals; so one might ask, How, exactly, do they raise ethical issues? Richard Spinello (2006) notes that blogs have generated controversies because bloggers can claim to be journalists and thus be protected under laws applying to protecting a journalist’s sources. For example, Spinello notes that one blogger who exposed some proprietary and confidential information about Apple Corp. claimed that he should not be forced to turn over the name of the source for his information re Apple because that was “protected journalistic information.” In this case, the judge disagreed with the blogger and forced him to reveal the name of his source.
There are also concerns about the truthfulness of information in blogs, especially since many readers get their news from blogs. You can assess these concerns, and determine whether blogging introduces one or more ethical issues applying our framework (for identifying ethical issues) in Section 1.6 of the textbook
As we saw in this chapter of the textbook, a relatively recent practice that has generated considerably controversy involved the way that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) pursued individuals it suspected of exchanging copyrighted music files on the Internet. For example, we saw that the RIAA monitored the amount of “traffic” of unauthorized music files that was routed through the computer systems of users’ systems. In order for the RIAA to get the information it needed about the users who operated these computer systems, the Recording Industry requested that ISPs provide to them the names of individuals that corresponded to certain IP addresses.
Were the ISPs obligated, either legally or morally, to provide the RIAA with the actual names of individuals, which are normally protected under the anonymity of IP addresses? On the one hand, ISPs are required to comply with law enforcement authorities in cases where criminal activities are suspected of taking place in their online forums. On the other hand, having P2P software installed on one’s computer system is not in itself illegal. And even if having unauthorized copyrighted music on one’s computer system is illegal, one could still question whether the means used by the RIAA to track down suspected violators falls within the parameters of what is morally (and even legally) acceptable behavior.
If we apply the first two-steps of the methodology described in Sec. 1.6 (entitled “A Comprehensive Strategy for Approaching Cyberethics Issues”), we must first identify what the ethical issues are in this case. Here, issues involving the personal privacy of Internet users would seem to be apparent; so we have identified at least one ethical issue. Next, we need to see whether there are any “policy vacuums” associated with this particular issue. There would indeed seem to be a policy vacuum in the sense that neither ISPs nor ordinary users have a clear understanding of a law or a policy for determining whether personal information about a user’s online activities can be given to a non-law-enforcement organization merely because some organization suspects one or more subscribers to an ISP of having violated copyright laws. Consider that the RIAA is not a law enforcement agency. So, a policy vacuum regarding cybertechnology once again emerges, and this vacuum or void needs to be filled with a clear and explicit policy.
4. Theoretically, one could envision cyberethics issues being examined from an indefinite number of perspectives. For example, we could conceivably analyze these issues from the vantage point of political science, economics, history, and so forth. However, the three perspectives that we have laid out in Chapter 1 are fairly exhaustive in their scope. Consider that the professional-ethics perspective addresses many of the concerns faced by software and hardware engineers, computer science professionals, and information-technology and library-science professionals in their roles as professionals. The descriptive-ethics approach, which is empirically-based, addresses concerns that are of interest to sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists (and thus indirectly addresses the interests of related groups such as political scientists, economists, historians, and so forth). And the philosophical-ethics approach examines cyberethics issues from a perspective that is both normative (as opposed to descriptive) and conceptual/analytical (as opposed to empirical).
We saw that the Amy Boyer case was interesting because it could be analyzed from all three perspectives. While not all cyberethics issues are analyzable from each of the three perspectives, many are capable of being analyzed from two vantage points. For example, the Napster case can be examined from the perspectives of descriptive ethics (i.e., its sociological impact) and philosophical ethics (i.e., normative questions having to do with fairness and moral obligation).


Strategies for Discussion Questions in Chapter 2 (See page 68 in the textbook)



1. Another example of a discussion stopper would be a remark to the effect, “Morality and ethics are really about religion, so questions about morality only apply for those who have religious beliefs.” Here, the suggestion is that morality is tied exclusively to religious beliefs and that moral issues cannot be debated independently of those beliefs. When we examined the connection between religion and morality, however, we saw that religion was as one of many perspectives from which moral issues could be examined. And we saw that the religious approach to these issues was very different from the approach taken by (philosophical) ethics, which we defined as “the philosophical study of morality.” For example, we saw that philosophical ethics analyzes a moral system from the point of view of ethical theories and logical argumentation.
Unfortunately, it is very easy to fall victim to one or more of the four discussion stoppers that we identified in Chapter 2, because, at first glance, each stopper seems to have some merit. Upon closer inspection, however, we saw why each also is conceptually flawed.
2. If you approach this problem from a utilitarian perspective, you will want to do what is best for the majority of employees and for the company itself. So, if laying off 5% of the workforce would help to bring about more desirable ends for the greatest number of employees affected by the decision, then a utilitarian would favor Proposal # 2. A deontologist, on the other hand, will want to choose whichever option is fair to all of the employees (not just the majority). As such, the deontologist would likely favor Proposal # 1, since everyone would receive a 5 percent cut in pay. In Kant’s deontological scheme, Proposal #1 would be the right course of action because the principle behind that proposal is “universalizable” in the sense that it can be applied to everyone in the corporation, without exception. And, a Kantian would argue that such a principle would treat each employee as an end-in-him/herself, as opposed to a means to some end.
3. In this scenario, you encounter a genuine ethical dilemma. It is a dilemma because you must choose between one of two undesirable options: lying or breaking a promise. A utilitarian would most likely choose lying in order to save the life of her friend. However, we saw that utilitarianism, as a moral principle, also allows some individuals to be treated as means to the ends of others. So utilitarianism is not a fully satisfactory ethical theory, and many philosophers reject solutions to ethical dilemmas that are based solely on utilitarian principles.
David Ross’s scheme of Act Deontology offers an alternative strategy for approaching this kind of dilemma by asking us to look at the “situation” or “circumstances,” as opposed to consequences, in deciding which course of action to take. Ross points out that we would have to be omniscient to know whether a particular action would necessarily lead to a desirable outcome (consequence). So, in Ross’s scheme, the pursuit of desirable outcomes or consequences – i.e., the utilitarian model – cannot be our guiding principle in ethical deliberation. On the other hand, Ross’s scheme also requires that we use a form of ethical intuitionism (similar to mathematical intuitionism) in each situation to “weigh” between the various “prima facie duties” in order to arrive at the correct decision for that particular situation. And, as we noted in Chapter 2, this aspect of Ross’s theory has been controversial.
4. We saw that each of the four traditional ethical theories had its own particular strengths and weaknesses, and that none of these theories, individually, could withstand certain kinds of criticisms. However, we also saw the clever way in which Moor’s theory of “just consequentialism” is able to combine the best aspects of both the utilitarianism and deontological ethical theories, while managing to avoid some of weaknesses of each theory. Moor’s theory also presents us with a concrete, two-step strategy for deliberating on how to proceed in the case of each ethical issue. You may want to review that strategy, described on page 66 in the textbook.

Strategies for Discussion Questions in Chapter 3 (See page 94 in the textbook)


1. One could construct the following kind of argument for why students should be required to take a course in cyberethics.
Premise 1. Undergraduate student should be required to take courses on topics that examine ethical and social issues that will impact them in their professional and personal lives.

Premise 2. Cyberethics courses examine ethical and social issues that impact students in both their professional and personal lives.

Conclusion. Undergraduate students should take a course in cyberethics
This argument is valid or deductive because if the premises are both true, the conclusion must also be true. However, we don’t yet know whether the premises are, in fact, true. Premise 1 is somewhat controversial in that the truth of that statement can be challenged. So the argument is not sound. If we modified Premise 1 slightly to read, “Generally, students should be required…”, the argument would be invalid (instead of deductive), because it would then be possible for one or more premises to be true and the conclusion false. However, because the conclusion would likely be true when the premises are true, this argument would also be inductive. And since it premises would be true in the actual world, this particular inductive argument would be stronger overall than it was in its deductive form.
2. A good starting point in this case would be to locate a copy of either Time or Newsweek magazine. Each periodical has columns on technology issues, and each has run cover stories on Napster, Internet pornography, Internet pedophilia, etc. Once you have located a periodical that contains an article that addresses a particular ethical or social involving cybertechnology, isolate one or more arguments made by the author(s). Next, test each argument via the seven-step strategy we used in Chapter 3 (pages 85-86) to determine whether each argument is deductive, inductive, or fallacious.
3. Construct the best arguments you can to advance the positions that have been held on both sides of the Napster dispute. Next compare the strength of your argument for why the sharing of on-line proprietary music files should be allowed to the strength of your argument for why it should not. Is either argument sound? If not, is either argument deductive (but with one or more false premises)? Is either inductive? Is either, or are both, arguments fallacious? You may also want to consult Appendix G (available on this Web site) to go over the guidelines for determining how to verify the truth and falsity of statements that make up arguments.
4. In constructing this argument, you may want to look ahead to some of the sample arguments included in Chapter 5, on privacy in cyberspace. Once you construct the best argument you can for why personal privacy should be strongly protected in all e-commerce activities, test your arguments against the standards for validity and invalidity that we examined in Chapter 3. Also determine whether your argument contains any informal logical fallacies by reviewing the list of common fallacies that we examined in Sec. 3.9.

Strategies for Discussion Questions in Chapter 4 (See pages 123-124 in the textbook)


1. You can begin by reviewing Table 4-1 on p. 104. Once you have assessed the individual strengths and weaknesses of professional codes, determine whether the overall benefits of having professional codes outweighs the disadvantages of not having them. Apply your conclusion to a current case, such as the one involving computer professionals who are working on aspects of the National Missile Defense System. Or consider a hypothetical scenario where computer professionals are working on the development of a kind of “spyware” to be used by government officials for the purpose of monitoring the on-line activities of its citizens.
2. In examining the five computer-related professional codes (included in Appendixes A-E on the book’s Web site), you will see that the IEEE-CS/ACM Code of Software Engineering and Professional Practice (SECEPP) is the most comprehensive. Review the full text of SECEPP, which you will find in Appendix E. This professional code is fairly comprehensive. Determine whether it is also internally coherent and consistent.
Should a professional code of ethics be expected to be exhaustive in the sense that it can provide its members with a precise or unambiguous answer for every possible ethical issue that may present itself within the context of one’s professional duties and obligations? What are some of the reasonable expectations of a professional code?
3. Once again, you face a genuine ethical dilemma. You have an obligation as a spouse and parent-to-be to provide financially for your family. On the contrary, you have personal convictions and principles that have to be balanced against considerations of career advancement. You would no doubt want to express the concerns you are having with your spouse, who could help you in your deliberation in this particular dilemma. One additional variable, which is external to the case per se but which is also very relevant to your deliberation, has to do with the state of the economy at the time you encounter this particular dilemma. For example, if alternative employment with a similar salary is available to you, then your options are very different than they would be in a bad economy. This factor can clearly affect your autonomy with respect determining whether to leave or remain in your current position.
4. You may already have seen the similarity between the hypothetical scenario posed in Discussion Question 4 and the BART case that we examined on page 112. Review that case and then decide whether you would follow the same course that the three employees at BART took. Which factors, if any, might influence you to make a decision that would be different from the one made by the engineers at BART? Were they justified in blowing the whistle? Would you be justified in this case?
5. In the case involving BART, and in the hypothetical scenario (similar to the BART case) that we considered in the preceding question, you had to decide whether, on moral grounds, you are justified in blowing the whistle. In this case there were no legal constraints preventing you from for doing so. (Of course, you could have been fired for blowing the whistle, as the BART engineers were; but it would not have been illegal to blow the whistle in those cases.) Currently, however, there are certain anti-whistle-blowing provisions in the Homeland Security Act that make it illegal to blow the whistle. Thus, depending on the nature of your work and on the status of your employer, you may now find yourself in a situation where you have to consider whether it would be illegal to blow the whistle even when it may seem morally permissible – perhaps even morally required of you – to do so. Would you still be willing to break the law (and possibly face a jail sentence in doing so), if you thought that blowing the whistle in a certain case might save lives?


Strategies for Discussion Questions in Chapter 5 (See pages 165-166 in the textbook)



1. In our contemporary society, everyone, regardless of whether he or she has ever used a computer, should be worried about losing bits of his or her privacy. For example, we saw that information is gathered about consumers in supermarkets, as customers using supermarket courtesy cards check out their purchases at the stores’ registers. The information gathered about the supermarket’s customers is then stored electronically. We also saw that many agencies transfer electronic records that contain information about individuals. So, non-computer users still have much to worry about regarding their privacy in a computerized world.
It would also seem that those who use the Internet have even more cause to worry about losing their privacy. Consider, for example, the kind of personal information that on-line entrepreneurs gather by way of cookies technology (discussed in Sec. 5.4.2), as well as from other information-gathering mechanisms on the Internet and the Web.
2. In the early days of computing, the main concern about privacy invasion tended to be centered around issues associated with fears involving governments snooping on their private citizens. This was especially the case in the 1960s, when the U.S. government considered the feasibility of constructing a huge, national database that would contain information about every citizen. Fears about this proposal were then allayed when it was determined that such a database would not be constructed at that time. In the 1970s through the 1990s, fears regarding privacy violations of individuals shifted away from concerns about the federal government to worries about businesses and organizations in the commercial sector that collect and exchange personal information about individuals. Following September 11, 2001, however, privacy concerns have once again shifted – this time, moving away from concerns about privacy invasions in the commercial sector to privacy concerns about the new roles that the federal government plays in gathering personal information. The USA Patriot Act, for example, has concerned many civil libertarians who fear that personal privacy has been significantly eroded and that it may never again be fully restored.
3. As a test case, connect to the search engine Google.com and then type in your name in Google’s entry box. How many “hits” were returned under your name? Assuming that one or more hits were returned, was any of the information that you were able to retrieve about yourself information that you personally had authorized to be on the Web. Were you surprised that any of the information about you identified on Google was so easily accessible to the general public? Should that kind of personal information be treated as “public information”? What recourse should you have, if you wish to get that information about you removed from the Internet.
4. Striking the “appropriate” balance in this case has not been easy. Generally, in the US, privacy laws have tended to favor the interests of businesses and organizations in the commercial sector rather than individuals. In Europe, on the other hand, privacy policies and data-protection schemes have been friendlier to individuals. Judith DeCew has argued that we should presume in favor of individual privacy and then let people negotiate their personal information in ways that they choose.
Further complicating the process of trying to balance the interests of personal privacy and information access has been recent concerns about national security. This has been especially apparent in period following the 9/11 attack.
5. In the days immediately following 9/11, there were some signs that people would be willing to trade-off bits of their privacy in return for greater security. Indeed, many Americans still seem willing to do this. However, there have also been recent attempts by privacy advocates to “reclaim” some of the individual privacy rights that appear to have been undermined by controversial legislation such as the Total Information Awareness Act. For example, under certain provisions of this act, it would be permissible for airlines to conduct a background check on one’s credit history before determining whether that individual is considered a security risk. (In other words, an association is made between one’s credit record and that person’s likelihood of being a terrorist; opponents of this legislation have argued that it unfairly biases poorer individuals.)
6. In some sense, privacy interests have already been reassessed and recalibrated in the post-September 11 world. Yet, many American still claim to value their privacy. One way to proceed with respect to privacy expectations in the current period is for individuals to concede that they must be willing to give away more pieces of their privacy to the federal government for purposes of national security, but that they should be able to expect to retain their privacy in cases of commercial transactions. One way of doing this is to think of privacy not so much in all-or-nothing terms but rather how individual privacy can be protected in various sectors – i.e. sectors involving medical privacy, financial privacy, employee privacy, and so forth. Personal privacy in most of these sectors could still be protected from commercial interests, even if the federal government has greater access to our personal information.

Strategies for Discussion Questions in Chapter 6 (See pages 191-192 in the textbook)


1. Any attempt to strike an appropriate balance between security and convenience will always be controversial. For one thing, people often have very different beliefs about where the default should lie – i.e., should we presume in favor of security or of convenience, as a starting point? If we opt in favor of more secure computer systems, then the likely result will be a loss of some convenience for users. If we presume in favor of convenience, on the other hand, then certain aspects of security can be compromised. As computer systems become increasingly vulnerable to attacks from “malicious” programs, more and more ordinary users may be willing to tolerate less convenience and ease of use in order to achieve greater security.
2. This question presents us with a case for examining moral relativism, described in Chapter 2. You may want to review that discussion on pages 46-47 in the textbook. Those subscribing to the Hacker Code of Ethics may believe that “innocent” or non-malicious hacking is acceptable. But the broader community has not been as sensitive to the distinctions that computer enthusiasts draw when it comes to hacking. So, it would seem that from the point of view of descriptive ethics, we have two different moral systems. But it doesn’t follow that members in each group are free to act as they please. The hacker community is clearly a sub-group in the population. As such, it can work to change laws, as well as attitudes, toward non-malicious hacking. However, to embrace its own standards for hacking as an acceptable alternative to the general laws and policies for hacking would also be to embrace a form of moral relativism.
3. Unfortunately, Spafford’s position might seem inconsistent because he claims that one is doing “the right thing” by breaking into the hospital computer system to save a life, even though breaking into computer systems is “unethical” because break-ins always cause harm. However, we also noted that Spafford’s position can be justified on a version of Act Deontology, as described in Chapter 2. There we saw that it is the agent’s actions, not the consequences that result from actions, which need to be assessed in moral dilemmas. So, Spafford could consistently argue that, all things being equal, it is wrong to break into a computer system, and he can also make exceptions on nonconsequentialist grounds for when such a break-in is justified. You may want to review David Ross’ version of Act Deontology (pages 55-57 in the textbook).
4. Once again, we have a question about whether the ends (desired) justify the means (used to achieve the ends). In this particular case, the injured candidate would seem to have a presumptive right to know whether the person who had defamed him or her on the Internet was indeed a rival political opponent. However, if we allow the breach of anonymity in this case, why shouldn’t we allow it in other cases involving on-line defamation? But why stop with defamation? We see that we may encounter a slippery-slope line of reasoning (see Chapter 3). An important question here, at the general level, is: When should an ISP be required to reveal the identity of one of its subscribers to some external source? Consider, for example, the incident in which the RIAA solicited from ISPs the names of individual subscribers that it suspected to be illegally sharing copyrighted music via P2P systems. Should ISPs comply with these requests in such cases, even when no direct warrants have been issued by law-enforcement organizations?
5. The use of encryption technologies by individuals to encrypt messages sent via electronic-communication schemes has raised much controversy. For example, encryption enables members of organized crime syndicates to communicate with each other in a way that prevents government and law-enforcement agencies from reading the content of their communications, even when those agencies have been authorized to conduct wiretap operations.
Since 9/11, the debate has taken on new energy because many believe that the stakes are much higher. Consider that if terrorists are able to communicate freely without the fear that their messages will be intercepted, then, as a society, we are all at greater risk. The question as to whether one can claim to live in a society that is free and open, but that at the same time allows electronic communications between private citizens to be intercepted is one that is difficult to answer. Clearly, a person living in such a society could not claim to live in a society as open and free as one that did not allow private communications to be intercepted and decrypted. However, given the current sate of concern in the US, many individuals may prefer to settle for a diminished sense of openness and freedom in order to live in a more secure society.


Strategies for Discussion Questions in Chapter 7 (See page 219 in the textbook)



1. In one important way, the Internet entrapment case examined in Sec. 7.5.1 illustrates the classic tension between utilitarians and non-consequentilists that can be found in a wide range of contemporary debates involving the means-ends distinction, which we considered above. (See, for example, the strategy for resolving Question 3 in Chapter 5.) Utilitarians would argue that the end (catching the pedophile) justifies the means used (entrapment on the Internet). Clearly, there is something desirable in being able to catch pedophiles. But is the use of any means whatsoever acceptable? Consider that we could have inspectors constantly monitoring conversations between Internet users to catch pedophiles. Is that the kind of society in which we want to live?
Recall the example of computerized matching of electronic records that we discussed in Chapter 5. There we saw that the prospect of catching welfare cheats and deadbeat parents was desirable, but that the means used were highly questionable and very controversial. Non-consequentialists, such as deontologists, argue that we cannot base an adequate moral system solely on the goal of achieving desirable consequences, as utilitarians do.
2. The use of biometric technologies in large public places such as airports and sports stadiums would seem to be justified. Although this technique also is a form of computerized matching, it differs in significant respects from the kinds of matching operations used to track down deadbeat parents and welfare cheats. In those cases, databases containing the names of individuals presumed to be innocent were cross-referenced in the hope of obtaining one or more “hits,” which identified individuals whose names reside in two incompatible databases (e.g., the database of federal employees and the database of welfare recipients). In the case of biometric matching, however, one of the databases used contains a list of names and photos of known or suspected criminals and terrorists.
3. Both the critics and proponents of Clipper believe that the central issue in that 1990s’ controversy will arise again in a different guise. At issue is whether the government can be trusted to hold one of the keys (in a public-key encryption system) in escrow. In the post-September 11 era, however, there seems to be much more sympathy for the view that the government should be able to have a technology such as Clipper. On the contrary, it is not clear how external market forces will respond to American electronics products that have embedded in them an encryption device similar to Clipper.
4. Drafting specific laws to handle certain kinds of crimes can be useful in helping to understand the nuances of certain crimes and in helping to prosecute a crime as a crime of a particular type. For example, we have general crimes involving homicide, and specific crimes involving vehicular homicide. In this case, it is believed that a separate crime for homicides resulting from the use of motor vehicles is useful both in understanding and prosecuting such crimes. Analogously, having cybercrime statutes can help us both to understand and prosecute certain crimes involving cybertechnology is useful. However, attempting to understand and prosecute every crime involving the use of cybertechnology under that category could also be problematic and confusing. Hence, separating crimes that depend solely on cybertechnology from those that happen merely to involve the use of that technology to some degree would seem to be useful.

Strategies for Discussion Questions in Chapter 8 (See page 256 in the textbook)


1. The “common good” approach used by McFarland (and others) to analyze ethical issues has its roots in natural law theory. Natural law, which traces it origins to the writings of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, operates on the assumption that every object has a natural purpose or end. Using McFarland’s insight, we see that the purpose or natural goal of information (as an ‘object” of some kind) is something to be shared and communicated. The view that information should be fee is not necessarily incompatible with natural law theory; however, that theory need not require that information be totally free. Nonetheless, natural law provides us with a certain presumptive principle about how we should proceed in the debate over intellectual property – viz., that information should be shared and communicated. So using this presumptive principle, we could argue against framing overly oppressive and restrictive intellectual property laws that “commodify” information and that militate against the sharing and communicating of information.
2. The “intellectual commons” is analogous to the physical commons in that it provides people with a common area in which they can congregate and freely use the resources available. (In the case of the intellectual commons, the resources are ideas and information that can be freely shared.) As stronger intellectual property laws are passed, the intellectual commons tends to shrink. Many, including Lawrence Lessig, believe that the intellectual commons is shrinking. Consider once again the case of Eric Eldred’s Web site, which we examined in Sec. 8.4.3. We saw that with the passage of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998, some books that were about to enter the public domain will instead remain copyrighted.
James Boyle’s suggestion that we think of the intellectual commons along the lines of the environmental movement of the 1970s could help us to reframe the current debate. For example, thinking of it in this way can help us to see that the short-sightedness of arguments used in favor individual rights for ownership of land could easily have destroyed the environment. When applied to the intellectual commons, the environmental analogy can also be used to muster support among the various “stakeholders” to help preserve the intellectual commons from further degradation.
3. If we proceed from a principle like “information wants to be shared” (but not necessarily free), then we can frame intellectual property laws and policies that help to keep information accessible to individuals while, at the same time rewarding the producers of proprietary information, including computer software. Such a presumptive principle could also help to reverse the trend of commercializing information, which has greatly reduced its ability to be shared.
4. There would certainly appear to be an inconsistency in that both groups flip-flop their positions when it comes to privacy vs. property claims. Each side seems to want to have it both ways. We can find similar inconsistencies between liberals and conservatives with respect to life issues. For example, conservatives who are pro-life in the abortion debate are often pro-death penalty in the debate over capital punishment (despite the fact that conservatives claim to believe in the “sanctity of life,” which implies that all human life is sacred). Conversely, liberals tend to be pro-choice in the abortion debate, but are anti-death penalty in the capital punishment debate (presumably because they believe that taking any human life is morally wrong). So perhaps it is not surprising that with respect to the personal privacy and intellectual property debates, liberal and conservatives are also inconsistent in their respective views.


Strategies for Discussion Questions in Chapter 9 (See pages 292-293 in the textbook)



1. On the one hand, it seems unfair that an individual would be able to register the name of a celebrity (e.g. Julia Roberts) or of a product (such as Budweiser) as an Internet domain name and then be able to profit from such an act at the expense of the celebrity or of the legal owner of the product name. So there were good reasons for passing legislation that makes such a practice illegal. However, we can also question the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act in terms of its fairness. As we noted in Chapter 9 of the textbook, we can reasonably ask whether a small (bricks-and-mortar) bookstore in Minnesota whose name happens to be “Amazon” should be prohibited from registering the Amazon domain name, merely because of the power exerted by an e-commerce business like Amazon.com. Given concerns of this type, then, we can question the fairness of the Anticybersquatting Act, despite the fact that is the current law.
2. “Deep linking” is the ability to connect directly to a sub-page of a Web site without first having to access the site’s main page or home page. We saw that in the case of Ticket Master vs. Mcrosoft, deep inking can be controversial. One problem with deciding controversial cases involving deep linking on the Web has to do with determining what the legal status of a Web site is. If a Web site is considered private property, then users wishing to enter that site can be told which path they must take (just as the owner of home can inform visitors about which door they must use to enter the house). If a Web site is considered a public space, on the contrary, then the site’s owner should not be able to restrict users’ movements in that space by determining which access point (if more than one is available) they must use to enter when linking to that site.
3. On the one hand, companies like Sony BMG have an interest, as well as a right, in protecting their online content. On the other hand, these companies also have an obligation to obey the law in their effort to track down individuals who make unauthorized use of their copyrighted content. While DRM systems are legal, it is not clear that using spyware of the sort employed by Sony BMG to track users is also legal. It would seem reasonable for users to expect to be told that, when they purchase a CD, their activities can be monitored via the company’s DRM systems. In that case, the practice would be open (or transparent) and could be more easily challenged in the courts, and a ruling one way or another on the legality of this practice could be established. So, a model of transparency on the part of the companies who use DRM systems would seem to be the best compromise at this point in time.
4. In one sense, controversies affecting electronic spam are clearly separable from those surrounding the case involving eBay and Bidder’s Edge. However, an issue that links both is a concern raised about the “consumption of resources.” Sending spam and sending out “spiders” (electronic web-bots) both consume system resources. But apart from that common point, the two kinds of online activities are very different. Recall Richard Spinello’s argument for why spam is wrong, both from a utilitarian and a deontological point of view. Those same arguments, however, would not necessarily show that what Bidder’s Edge did in accessing eBay’s Web site was morally wrong.

5. The Communications Decency Act (CDA) was struck down as unconstitutional because the US Supreme Court ruled that this act was over-reaching in terms of its scope. However, the portion of CDA known as the Child Pornography Protection Act (CPPA) was originally upheld, despite the Court’s ruling against CDA overall. The CPPA was also eventually struck down as unconstitutional (in 2002). The Child Online Pornography Act (COPA), passed in 1998, was also declared unconstitutional. One problem with each of these child-pornography acts is that they failed to distinguish between real children being represented on a computer screen in some type of pornographic depiction, and “virtual children” (i.e., computer-generated images of children) being similarly represented. To determine whether these acts should have been declared unconstitutional, review the full texts of the court decisions, which are available on the Web.
We also saw that the Supreme Court upheld the Children’s Internet Pornography Act (CIPA). Yet the majority of the Court’s members also argued that it was unconstitutional to filter information accessed by adults in public libraries, where CIPA applies. So some have questioned whether the Court has been consistent in its decisions regarding online pornography, as it affects children.
6. Both Anton Vedder and Richard Spinello argue, independently of each other, that ISPs should assume some level of moral responsibility, as well as legal liability, for behavior that occurs in their on-line forums. You may want to review their arguments (in Sec. 9.7.3) at this point. If their arguments succeed, then both the Tripod and Geocities ISPs could be held morally responsible, at least to some degree, if the activities of Liam Youens had been brought to their attention (e.g., by other users of those ISPs). However, the two ISPs in question would not be held responsible for failing to have monitored the activities of their users in order to find out what users like Youens had been up to in the case of Amy Boyer.

Strategies for Discussion Questions in Chapter 10 (See page 320-321 in the textbook)


1. If cybertechnology is a vital human resource as Jeremy Moss suggests it is (see Sec. 10.1.3), then having access to that technology would seem to be very important. And if access to that technology is as vital and as important as Moss claims, then it would seem to follow that developed nations in the West have some moral obligation to provide developing nations with better access to cybertechnology.
Within the US, there is some debate over whether universal service for cybertechnology is a necessary condition for receiving a public education. In Chapter 10, we saw that in the US, access to free public education from grades 1 through 12 is considered a “positive right.” Hence, that the US government is legally obligated to provide access to public education for all school-age children. And some argue that if having access to cybertechnology in homes is a necessary condition for one’s acquiring that education, the US government must ensure that all school-age children attending public schools have such access in their homes.
2. With respect to the goal of providing cybertechnology to the disabled, we saw that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) established the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). This initiative has mandated that accessibility features for disabled persons be built into the design of all Web interfaces for computer systems.
We also saw that some have argued that improving access for the disabled is good, because all people (disabled and non-disabled as well) will benefit. There may indeed be some truth to this argument. However, the danger in proceeding with that kind of utilitarian-based argument is that it assumes that greater benefits for the majority of users will continue to be realized. What if it turned out that, at some future date, non-disabled persons would not necessarily benefit from improvements made to access for the disabled? And further suppose that these improvements were also very costly. In this case, it would seem that if we followed the utilitarian analogy we would be justified in not continuing to improve technological access for disabled persons. But would this be the right thing to do from a moral point of view? You can probably see the danger of proceeding from a utilitarian perspective on this issue.
3. We have seen some of the paradoxical characteristics of race and the Internet. On the one hand, the Internet is “color blind” in that Internet users are not conscious of race in terms of the kinds of physical characteristics that are apparent to people when they interact in geographical space. On the other hand, the Internet can and has been used as a tool to promote and spread racist speech. European nations, especially France and Germany, have been more interested in censoring race-related hate speech (such as neo-Nazi propaganda) and have been less concerned with censoring pornography. The US, on the other hand, has been less concerned about censoring speech involving hate and racial prejudice than with controlling pornography as a form of speech.
4. In trying to make sense of the question, “Who should be held responsible for the actions of ES systems?” it would be helpful to return to our discussion of the problem of “many hands” in Chap 4 (Sec. 4.5.2). There we saw that in the case of the Therac 25 malfunctions, several parties could be held accountability. For example, we saw that moral responsibility is not an “exclusionary” concept. That is, because X is responsible for Z, it doesn’t follow that Y also cannot be held responsible for Z. So it would seem that in the case of an ES involving an “expert doctor,’ the following parties could each bear some level of moral responsibility: the hospital that uses the system; the hospital employee who may have entered incorrect information into the system; the manufacturer who sold the system to the hospital; and the software and hardware engineers who built the system for the manufacturer.
5. Lucas Introna sees the workplace privacy issue, especially as it involves the computerized monitoring of employee activities, as an issue of social justice and power. He assumes that employees represent the “oppressed” group in the relationship between employers and employees. As such, employees lack power and are thus at a disadvantage. To compensate for the imbalance – i.e., what Introna calls an “asymmetry of power” – Introna believes that both parties should go behind the “Rawlsian veil of ignorance” (similar to Gert’s “blindfold of justice, described in Chapter 2) to resolve the issue. Since those behind the “veil” do not know what their position will be in the newly designed organization – that is, employees could be employers and vice versa – it would be prudent for those behind the veil to design as just a system as possible, since they could end up in the least advantaged group.

Strategies for Discussion Questions in Chapter 11 (See page 348 in the textbook)


1. We saw that, currently, very few people question the virtues of democracy as a form of government. In fact, all that someone needs to say is that “some process or other is undemocratic” in order to convey the point that the process in question is unjust and possibly inept as well. Yet, historically, democracy, as a form of government, has not always been so revered; we saw that Plato, for example, regarded democracy as a form of “mob rule.” Following the end of the Cold War, few Western governments operate without some democratic processes and principles. So it would seem that, in the West at least, democracy is considered the best form of government. However, we also saw in the arguments advanced by Gordon Graham that the Internet can bring out the worst aspects of both direct and representative democracies. If Graham is correct, we can question whether the Internet should be used as a tool to spread democracy. We also saw that Cass Sunstein believes that the Internet undermines “deliberative democracy,” because it fosters existing prejudices and biases rather than spreading new ideas. Yet, despite these limitations, many still assume that the Internet favors democracy and democratic ideals, and that it should be used as a tool to spread democracy.
2. Brey and Buchanan both show how certain VR technologies can perpetuate existing biases by misrepresenting certain groups. For example, Buchanan notes that images in video games often perpetuate gender stereotypes in that either they exclude woman or portray them in sexist roles (see Chapter 10 in the text). Brey argues that even when virtual representations are accurate in terms of the physical characteristics they portray, they can still misrepresent groups and individuals. In Chapter 11, we briefly considered a hypothetical example involving an African American “shoe-shine bot” in which the physical characteristics of the African American are accurately captured in the virtual representation, but the virtual character is portrayed in a stereotypically demeaning role.
3. For one thing, Rheingold’s portrayal of virtual interaction in the future does not address the kind of harm that could result from individuals engaging in “cybersex.” Because sexual activity of this type is considered virtual, i.e., in the sense that it takes place in cyberspace or virtual space, it does not follow that this activity is unreal (see the Virtuality Fallacy discussed in Chapter 3). Marital infidelity that takes place in cyberspace can still cause harm to the injured party. Brey has shown why we cannot simply dismiss the kinds of harm that can result from behavior carried out in virtual environments as unreal harms.
4. Critics of VR technologies seem to be correct in that, all things being equal, VR experiences are less fulfilling than (“real”) experiences in the physical world. In this sense, then, we can agree with the critics of VR that virtual reality is an “impoverished reality.” However, some people may be capable of experiencing something only through the use of VR technology. For these people, including those with disabilities of a certain sort, the VR experience of some activity would seem to be preferable to not being able to experience it at all. An interesting question, however, is whether some individuals may eventually come to prefer virtual interactions to the kinds of interactions that take place in the physical world. For example, some may prefer to conduct all of their social activities in cyberspace. It is one thing, if someone can interact only in a virtual forum because of geographic constraints or because of a disability. However, if persons prefer virtual interactions because it can eliminate the need of one’s ever having to interact at all in face-to-face social situations, then something of what we have come to believe is a vital part of natural human discourse could be threatened.

Strategies for Discussion Questions in Chapter 12 (see p. 378 in the textbook)


1. One concern that could arise has to do with the converging aspects of computers and humans into cyborgs. Will humans, as they acquire more and more computer parts (e.g., bionic chips and implants), become more computer-like? And will computers, as they acquire emotional states and more intelligence, become more human-like? Will there come a time in the near future when it will be difficult to distinguish some humans from some machines? It would seem that the emergence of cyborgs illustrates one way in which the pace of accelerated convergence of cyber and non-cybertechnologies can generate some additional ethical and social concerns.

2. Would you want intelligent machines making all you house-hold decisions for you? On the one hand, the thought might be appealing—after all, who wants to have to be bothered with routine tasks that seem merely mundane? On the other hand, there are certain risks to consider in delegating these tasks and chores solely to machines. Recall E. M. Forster’s scenario (in the textbook) describing what can happen when humans become too dependent on machines. Also consider what could happen to us if we delegate too many “cognitive” tasks to machines.
3. As a research subject, you could ask for a guarantee that your genetic data would not be used in subsequent processing without your explicit authorization. You could also insist that your data not be sold to third parties. Perhaps you could also find out what would happen if the organization to whom you volunteered you genetic data were to cease operations as that organization—i.e., either declare bankruptcy or be taken over by another organization (in the public or the private sector). You could also ask what role the government would take in your behalf in protecting and safeguarding the personal genetic data about you that resides in the organization’s computer database.
4. John Weckert offers an interesting discussion of the question of how we should proceed with research and development in nanotechnology—i.e., that the “presumptive principle” should be “in favor of” conducting this research. At present, there are no universally agreed upon guidelines in place for conducting research at the nano-level. An ethical framework for nanotechnology research that has been advanced by Ray Kurzweill is based on the ELSI (ethical, legal, social implications) model, used in the Human Genome Project. The ELSI model has been defended as a proactive, rather than a reactive, set of guidelines. But Moor and Weckert reject the ELSI model for nanotechnology, which they describe as an “ethics-first” model. Moor and Weckert are also critical of the “ethics-last” model, as well, which they note has been the standard in many fields of applied ethics. Because the future advances in nanotechnology are difficult to predict, they argue that we can’t wait to get all of the facts before conducting nanotechnology research. They correctly note that ethics is “dynamic” and that the process has to be continually evaluated in terms of ethics and policies. In effect, the (nanotechnology) genie is already out of the bottle! What we need now is a set of clear ethical and policy guidelines to direct us in future research in this area.


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