Ethics and Technology: Ethical Issues in an Age of Information and Communication Technology, 2nd edition

Stuart Hannabuss (Aberdeen Business School, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 21 March 2008




Hannabuss, S. (2008), "Ethics and Technology: Ethical Issues in an Age of Information and Communication Technology, 2nd edition", Library Review, Vol. 57 No. 3, pp. 253-255.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The first edition of this work established itself as a substantial source of ideas and interpretation in its field. Things move fast in cyberlaw and cyberethics, as Tavani (professor of philosophy of Rivier College in the USA) knows, and so it good now to have a second edition. It has been awaited eagerly and does not disappoint.

Tavani has updated the book with recent court decisions like Verizon v RIAA and MGM v Grokster, cases with influence far wider than merely in the USA itself. He also draws out current issues like privacy and surveillance, intellectual property rights (IPR) and open source software, bioinformatics and the legal and ethical implications of genomics research, and online pornography and young people. These are all mainstream ethical issues for practitioners and students/lecturers on relevant courses, and Tavani's discussion of the issues (which includes scenarios) make his approach particularly thought‐provoking and informative. With all this, you get a lot for your money in what is a sturdily‐bound softback textbook.

The shape of the book gives an idea of its scope and approach – cyberethics and how to look at/for them, a bit of ethical background and critical thinking, professional ethics and codes of conduct, cyberspace and privacy and security and cybercrime, intellectual property issues (including digital rights management (DRM)), commerce and free speech in cyberspace, the digital divide and work, identity and community, and technology‐driven issues. This gives you an idea of how such a book will be of interest not just to readers like those noted above but also to students of computing and technology, the Internet, the media and journalism, sociology and criminology. Seven appendices are available online and include codes of ethics and other resources. Advice is also given to students and instructors. There is a glossary of key terms and the book is well indexed.

Typical chapters provide definitions and cases (the first one is that of Verizon and the Recording Industry Association of America in Washington in 2003, and further scenarios include ones on software piracy and theft), perspectives (ways of looking at cyberethics – professionally, methodologically, philosophically), chapter summaries, review and discussion questions, and further readings. He sorts out ethics and morality and where they crossover, acknowledging that many people never get beyond relativism and “who am I to judge others?”. Consequence, duty, contract and virtue theories get a quick but useful mention. How to think and argue critically and logically comes in chapter three.

The chapter on professional codes of ethics and accountability is one that should not be side‐stepped by any pre‐ and post‐experience training course, and adds to the already substantial stuff out there from bodies like the American Library Association and others. I am glad to see them criticised, too, because codes of ethics are not self‐evidently good things like motherhood and apple pie but deeply challenging and complex fields of engagement. The US context here does not constrain Tavani's debate of the issues having wider resonance. Cases about whistle‐blowing rightly move on to issues of professional liability, an area of law close to codes to ethics.

Privacy is another unavoidable issue in such a book and Tavani acquits himself well here, picking up on the information theme but looking wider at cookies, radio frequency identification and data warehousing, likely to be of interest to readers in related fields. Such a wide‐ranging topic as privacy is hard to manage concisely, and Tavani defines it clearly, asks why it is important above all today when new technology makes data monitoring and surveillance easier. Some interesting and plausible cases are presented for study, and the discussion includes data mining, search engines, and the effectiveness of privacy‐protection tools. Privacy law is there but for Tavani, in an ethical context, the law is only one element in the mix. Again, extensive further reading is provided.

Tavani picks out ethically relevant issues from what is a wealth of material on the technological and legal aspects of security (for instance, the ethics of hacktivism, the effectiveness of encryption, and whether we can expect total security in cyberspace). Under cybercrime come hackers and worms, the law and various scenarios that open up ethical choices for students, practitioners and companies. Identity theft (phishing and pharming) is where cybercrime and privacy converge. Corporate espionage and sting/entrapment are two more interesting issues. Surveillance (by Carnivore and other methods) throws up the challenges and controversies associated with the Patriot Act 2001 (about anti‐terrorist interception): Tavani moves quickly on to international issues and biometrics.

One of the most important and complex dimensions of cyberethics, and information ethics generally, is the overlap between law and ethics. Time and time again this overlap provokes practitioners to wonder what is best in any situation. IPR and copyright law play an important part in software and digital music distribution, as cases like Grokster and DeCSS (music copyright and DVD decompilation, respectively) show. This could easily turn an ethics textbook into a law textbook, but Tavani takes care to avoid this – by examining the utilitarian theory of property (including IPR) for instance, by asking whether one's personality is property, and by discussing Gnu's Not Unix and the open source movement. The whole debate about copyright as a creative commons, in cyberspace and elsewhere, is as much ethical and social as legal. With an intellectual commons, might the “public domain” disappear, he asks. Lessig understandable hovers (in books like The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, New York, Random House, 2002).

Final chapters deal with domain names and (as?) trademarks, online pornography and defamation, the liability of internet service providers, and the extent to which DRM might be used to enforce copyright rules. Interesting cases are provided, interestingly from sources that include Wikipedia (spelt incorrectly on page 265). Metatags, deep linking, spam, pornography – the usual suspects but ones that open up community standards as well as the law. There is, too, the wider issue of free speech and how far it can and should go. Understandably for information readers, hate speech, filtering, and liability are not far behind.

Widening out globally, the digital divide presents social, political, economic and ethical challenges, and Tavani will provoke reaction with his remarks about race and gender and disability, employee monitoring in the workplace, the pluses and minuses of online or virtual communities, and virtual reality. In these ways, his book extends beyond traditional information readers to a much wider constituency, such as people interested in media, e‐government, virtual reality, and remote working. In creating new opportunities to create avatars and new identities, and in posing new challenges of social fragmentation, these “developments” deserve full ethical investigation. It may even be that biochemical and genomic projects may not only redefine our sense of self but change community for the worse.

This second edition, then, is wide‐ranging, sympathetic to many different readers' interests, a good working textbook for academic use, and on the button in making readers think hard about the issues. Tavani challenges us not only to examine the issues but to avoid complacency about the law dealing with things: it is only one way in which solutions might be found, and, like technology, is has a Faustian dimension – at times decisions are misguided and aggravate problems. It is all too easy to get heavy in books about ethics, particularly in the information profession where wanting to be right makes many of us earnest. Tavani's book is worth buying in multiple copies where ethics and technology, and information ethics, are taught seriously, although instructors in countries other than the USA should expect to provide appropriate jurisdictional law and cultural ethical approaches to the issues.

Related articles