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ACTIVE ethics: an information systems ethics for the internet age

Neil Kenneth McBride (Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK)

Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society

ISSN: 1477-996X

Article publication date: 4 March 2014




The purpose of this paper is to present a novel mnemonic, ACTIVE, inspired by Mason's 1985 PAPA mnemonic, which will help researchers and IT professionals develop an understanding of the major issues in information ethics.


Theoretical foundations are developed for each element of the mnemonic by reference to philosophical definitions of the terms used and to virtue ethics, particularly MacIntyrean virtue ethics. The paper starts with a critique of the elements of the PAPA mnemonic and then proceeds to develop an understanding of each of the elements of ACTIVE ethics, via a discussion of the underpinning virtue ethics.


This paper identifies six issues, described by the mnemonic, ACTIVE. ACTIVE stands for: autonomy, the ability of the individual to manage their own information and make choice; community, the ethical effect of an information systems on the community which it supports; transparency, the extent to which the derivation of content and process in an information system is made clear; identity, the social and ethical effect of an information system on the definition and maintenance of the distinctive characteristics of a person; value, the value or moral worth placed on information associated with an individual and hence on the relationship with the individual; and empathy, the ability of the information systems professional to emotionally connect with the user and the extent to which the information system distances or connects.


The paper applies virtue ethics to developing a tool to help information professionals reflect on their ethical practice in developing and supporting information systems.



Kenneth McBride, N. (2014), "ACTIVE ethics: an information systems ethics for the internet age", Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 21-44.



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