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The 2002 Ethics of Electronic Information in the Twenty-First Century Symposium
The Sixth Annual Ethics of Electronic Information in the Twenty-first Century (EEI21-Memphis) Symposium was held, October 24-27, 2002 in Memphis, Tennessee.
The Ethics of Electronic Information in the Twenty-first Century Symposium is an annual scholarly meeting hosted by the University of Memphis, that focuses on a broad range of issues relating to the ethics of electronic information and information technology. Tom Mendina, current EEI21 chairman, and Les Pourciau, former Director of the University of Memphis Libraries, organized and planned the first symposium in 1997, in an effort to provide a North American forum for the discussion of information ethics issues, similar to what is available at the European EthiComp symposium. While the EEI21 symposium is small, it attracts researchers from many disciplines and countries. This year's symposium featured papers from speakers from Canada, China, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Scotland, South Africa, Uganda as well as the USA.
One of the highlights of this year's symposium was a "Special Programme: African-Theme" session held on Saturday, October 26. Moderated by Dr J.J. Britz, Professor in Information Science, School of Information Technology, University of Pretoria, the "African Theme" session featured seven papers and a panel discussion focusing on the ethical, economic and political challenges facing Africa as it attempts to bridge the global digital divide and join the information-rich developed world in the twenty-first century.
Coetzee Bester, a former member of the South African Parliament and the Head of the Africa Institute for Political Leadership, opened the session with a paper that addressed the process of moral restructuring and democratization in African countries that are struggling with economic and political instability, as well as the AIDS epidemic. The difficulty in developing sustainable democratic societies in Africa was echoed in a paper by Michael Anyiam-Osigwe, coordinator of the Anyiam-Osigwe Group in Nigeria.
Numerous papers analyzed various aspects of the digital divide between Africa and the more developed world. Peter Lor, Director of the National Library of South Africa, provided an analysis of the problem of "Information imperialism" where information flowed from the developed "North" to the underdeveloped "South" but not from the "South" to the "North," resulting in the relative inaccessibility of African research.
S.J. Schaeffer, from the University of Memphis, reported on efforts to develop a modern telecommunications infrastructure of the African continent and the societal implications of rapid modernization. A paper by York Bradshaw, from the University of Memphis, and Kathleen M. Fallon and Jocelyn Viterna, from Indiana University, provided the results of an empirical study assessing the impact of the Internet on economic development and the physical quality of life in Africa and other parts of the developing world.
Esther M. Lumiérs and Martijn Schimmel, from the University of Amsterdam, reported on a study measuring relative information poverty in Pretoria and a rural area of South Africa. Dick Kawooya, a member of the Uganda Library Association Executive Committee, discussed the role of libraries, librarians and library associations in overcoming information poverty and bridging the digital divide in Africa.
The multi-faceted papers presented at the "Special Programme: African-Theme" session highlighted the challenges and opportunities that the African continent faces. The presenters and panelists continually returned to the need for economic and political stability as well as the need to develop the technological infrastructure to help usher Africa from poverty into the information age. The symposium's focus on the continent was timely, as Africa appears poised for major change; as Dr Britz suggested in an article on the symposium in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, "the 'logging-on effect' might be the biggest electrical shock" to the African continent as the rapid deployment of information and communication technology could be the catalysis for rapid social change.
In addition to the papers on information issues in Africa, the other sessions of EEI21 2002 provided papers covering an interesting, eclectic mix of library and information ethics issues. For the first session, Dr Wallace Koehler, Director of the Master of Library & Information Science Program, at Valdosta State University, served as moderator. Topics addressed in the session included the construction of the Chinese Digital Library, a historical review of professional organizations' codes of ethics, the need for undergraduate information ethics instruction, and ethical issues relating to virtual reference services, pay-for-placement search engines and the provision of health information.
Dr Netiva Caftori, Professor of Computer Science and Women's Studies, Northeastern Illinois University, served as moderator of the second session. Papers included an examination of computer and workplace privacy after 9/11, legal protections for library patron records and ethical concerns with the increasing use of biometrics. Other papers featured an application of John Rawls' (1972), A Theory of Justice, to the universal service provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and an application of Jurgen Habermas' discourse on ethics to Internet push technology.
Dr Alistair Duff, Lecturer and Deputy Programme Leader, MSc Journalism, School of Communication Arts, Napier University, served as moderator for the final session of the symposium. This session focused on the proper role of government and legislation in the information age. Topics addressed in the papers included the role of National Information Services in the twenty-first century, the use of copyright legislation to protect technologies that prevent digital content piracy and the constitutional implications of using information intermediaries, such as Internet service providers, to collect information on US and Canadian citizens in a post-9/11 world.
As in past years, this year's symposium brought together an interesting group of information practitioners and scholars to discuss their research and exchange views on a wide variety of information ethics issues. The proceedings of this year's symposium will be published by McFarland & Company, Inc. and is expected to be available in late 2003.
Papers presented at last year's symposium (EEI21-Memphis 2001) have recently been published (Almagno, 2002). Previous years' papers have been published in the International Journal of Information and Library Studies, the Journal of Information Ethics and Ethics and Electronic Information in the Twenty-First Century, by Pourciau (1997).
The next Ethics of Electronic Information in the Twenty-first Century Symposium will be held in Memphis, on October 23-26, 2003. The call for papers will be in Spring 2003. For more information about the symposium go to: http://www.memphis.edu/ethics21/ or contact: Tom Mendina at: 901 678 4310 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Watson, M., "The thing is, there is no privacy", The Commercial Appeal, 26 October 2002, available at: http://www.gomemphis.com/mca/business/article/0,1426,MCA_440_1503692,00.html (accessed 19 November 2002).
Almagno, S. (2002), Ethics and Electronic Information: A Festschrift for Stephen Almagno, McFarland and Co., London.Pourciau, L.J. (Ed.) (1997), Ethics and Electronic Information in the Twenty-First Century, Purdue University Press, West Lafayette, IN.Rawls, J. (1972), A Theory of Justice, Clarendon Press, Oxford.
J.B. Hill (email@example.com) is Head of Reference, Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond, Louisiana, USA.