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Information Essay, Research Paper

The information age is the age we live in today, and with the

information age comes an age of ethics. When we deal with the new

technologies introduced every day, we need to decide what we must

consider ethical and unethical. We must consider all factors so that

the use of the information readily available to many persons is not

abused. “Information technology will be the most fundamental area of

ethical concern for business in the next decade” (Houston 2). The most

widely used tool of the information age is the computer, whether it be

a PC or a network of computer systems. As we enter the information age

the newness and power of information technologies tests the ethics of

the average person, not just the criminal and causes thousands of

computer crimes to be committed daily. The most common computer crime

committed daily, some aware and many not, is the illegal sharing of

computer software. Software is any of the programs used in operating a

digital computer, as input and output programs, as defined by Funk and

Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary. When you purchase computer

software, you purchase it with the understanding that it will be for

use on a single computer, once installed on that system, it is not to

be loaded on any other computer. However many people are not aware of

this understanding, and many load a program on a couple of computers

or on a whole network of computer systems not aware that they are

committing a crime. Even though you probably will not be prosecuted

for loading a program on a friends computer, this is where your ethics

come in. Do you consider anything when you share a program with

others? If not then consider the programmers of the software who are

denied compensation for their developments every time you distribute a

piece of software. “Why is it that people who wouldn’t think of

stealing pack of gum will copy a $500 piece of software” (Houston 3)?

A popular form off illegal software distribution is throughout the

online world. Whether it be the Internet, America Online, CompuServe,

Prodigy, or a BBS (Bulletin Board System), software “pirates” thrive

freely online. These so called “pirates” operate by uploading pieces

of software, commonly referred to as “warez”, into an online service’s

database then sending through e-mail the rights to download them. “The

Information Superhighway has opened the door to a new kind of highway

robbery – the home shoplifting network” (Mattia 43). When you access a

online service, you are identified through an account which most

commonly consists of a user ID and password. The password is so you

only can access the online service with your user ID. Many people

online use their own accounts to access their service, but many steal

and use the accounts of others or make fake accounts. When online,

these account “pirates” many times trick other users into giving their

passwords to them by impersonating an employee of the online service.

Others can hack into the online services mainframe computer and steal

thousands of accounts. Probably the most common method of getting

online without paying is the use of fake or fraudulent accounts. These

are made by giving false information when attempting to gain access to

an online service. Name, address, phone number, and billing

information, such as checking account or credit card number, are all

falsified in obtaining an online account. With these stolen and fake

accounts, software “pirates” have virtually unlimited time to download

their “warez” without any charge to them. Many people don’t consider

the people behind the creation of software when they illegally

distribute it. The developers of software are not properly compensated

for their work because of the extent of software piracy. No one can

argue with a software company’s desire, and right, to make sure

everyone using their products has paid for it (Furger 73). The numbers

add up, it is estimated that in 1994 alone that software companies

lost $15 billion from illegal software copying (Maremont 65). It is

not only illegal, but clearly unethical to distribute software knowing

that the people behind the software are experiencing the downfalls of

it.

Every time software companies cannot compensate their

programmers for their work, more people are out of a job. Consider

this, you enter a store and purchase an item, during this transaction

you give your name and phone number. The person you have given this

information to then enters it into a computerized database. After this

person has collected a sufficient amount of names, they then sell it

to a telemarketing firm for a profit. This action is legal, but is it

ethical. Do you want your name sold without your consent? Most people

don’t because they don’t want to be bothered by sales persons on the

telephone. Also, your address could be sold and you put on a mailing

list. Then its an issue of do you want your mailbox filled with junk

mail. This action is unethical for the simple reason of consent. If

the person had just gained consent to enter the names into his/her

database then he would not have committed and unethical act. One

conclusion from studies sponsored by the National Institute of Justice

is that persons involved in computer crimes get form skills and

interests at an early age. Usually they are introduced to computers at

home or in school and usually start their “career path” with illegally

copying software (McEwen 2). As young people interact with hackers,

they incorporate the beliefs of the hackers into their own. Many of

these unconventional beliefs of young hackers about information and

computers leads them to a career in computer crime. Many times it is

the lack of education by parents and schools that helps to make these

beliefs all the more true to a young person. Computer criminals have

their own set of beliefs about information and computers. Their

beliefs are based on obvious unethical reasoning. For example, hackers

believe that computerized data are free and should be accessible to

anyone. They also believe that passwords and other security features

are simply obstacles to be overcome in obtaining data that should

already be available and while data should never be destroyed, there

is nothing wrong with viewing and transferring data for one’s own use

(McEwen 2). One member of the Legion of Doom, a nationwide group of

hackers who exchange information about computer systems and techniques

to break into them, has said, “Hackers will do just about anything to

break into a computer except crashing a system, that’s the only taboo”

(McEwen 2). The key to stop computer criminals from forming is

education. It is often times the case that people commit computer

crimes without even know they are doing so and the reason for this is

the lack of education. Few schools teach computer ethics, and parents

of arrested hackers are usually unaware that their children have been

illegally accessing computer systems (McEwen 2).Colleges and

universities do not usually include computer use and abuse in their

courses, arguing that it is the responsibility of the schools. On the

other hand, many secondary school educators are not sure about what

should be taught and are reluctant or unable to add ethical computer

education to many subjects in the curriculum. Textbooks on computer

literacy rarely mention computer abuses and individual

responsibilities. Educators and software developers have worked

together to prevent software piracy in educational institutions. In

1987, the Software Copyright Committee of the International Council

for Computers in Education (ICCE) developed a policy to guide

educators. The policy call on school districts to teach staff the

provisions of the copyright law and both staff and students the

ethical and practical implications of software piracy. This policy has

been adopted by many school districts across the country (McEwen 3).

In recognition of the problems arising with the illegal and unethical

use of computers, criminal justice forces have begun to crack down on

computer criminals. In 1989, three computer crime studies were

sponsored by the National Institute of Justice. One of these studies

examined different organizational approaches for computer crime

investigation and prosecution, another documented the experiences of

several dedicated computer crime units, and the third developed a

computer crime investigation handbook (McEwen 2). Computers are a

permanent fact of life in work places and classrooms across the

country. More businesses are likely to incorporate policies on

information access and confidentiality in their employee orientation

and training programs. Many schools and universities, responding from

pressure around them, are beginning to incorporate computer ethics

into their courses. For the criminal justice community, computer

crime, which poses special challenges in detection and prosecution

will require more and more attention. In order to prevent computer

crimes in the future, criminal and juvenile justice agencies must look

for ways to help parents, teachers, and employers educate the

computer-using community to the importance of ethical computer

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