Sample Essay on Ethics in Information Technology

Ethics in Information Technology

Introduction

Ethics is a term used to describe the extent to which an action meets the moral principles in a given society.  It defines concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong and justice that regulate the way people relate with one another.  Understanding the moral philosophy of a particular society is important in defining and implementing an efficient code of ethics in an organization. It is through the code of conduct that employees understand how they should relate with each other and this helps reduce organizational conflicts. With minimal conflicts in the organization, success in achieving the set objectives is almost guaranteed. In some cases, ethics differ from one region to the other such that an activity may be considered good in a particular society but evil in a different one.

The difference is brought about by the variation in principles that guide cultural values in a society. However, there are some actions that are universally good or bad, regardless of one’s culture. They include the intrusion of one’s privacy be it at home or in their work place. In An organizational set up, privacy relates to how well the personal data related to employees is secured. The lack of privacy of these data has led to conflicts in the organizations when malicious individuals use the personal information of other employees to carry out fraudulent activities.  Privacy is increasingly becoming an issue in the information technology and it has the potential to destroy the safety of employees. It is thus important for companies to understand ethical issues related to privacy and address them amicably. This paper examines the ethical perspective of privacy in information technology.

 

Privacy in the workplace

Privacy is increasingly becoming an ethical concern in the workplace where individuals feel unsafe with their personal information in the hands of the organization. When recruiting new members, companies require the individuals to provide their personal information such as their dates of birth, nationality and health status (Hinman, 2012). This information is very sensitive as it can be used to the disadvantage of the persons involved leading to discrimination. For instance, the stigma associated with particular illnesses may lead to their discrimination of the other employees learn about their health status. The individuals are finally employed by the company they are required to provide information that is even more personal. This includes providing their social security numbers and personal identification data. Other personal information that organizations have included compensation of the employees and account identifiers that are accessed by authorized persons (Richards, 2006). However, the fact that they are accessed by authorized persons only does not guarantee privacy since information technology experts can hack into the company’s system and obtain all the information they need, especially of the system is not well secured.

Organizations have strict policies on how employee data should be handled to enhance privacy but the failure to enforce these policies makes them meaningless. In some cases, organization share data that contain personal information identifiers and this threatens employee privacy. The activities of employees are also monitored by the organization when they are using the company’s resources (Introna, 2007). The employees have the right to be notified about any surveillance that may be taking place. Organizations must let the employees know that the time they spend on the internet is monitored, the sites they visit and their emails if the company checks on them too. This helps in avoiding conflict between the employer and the employees thereby creating a good working environment.  Prior to absorbing individuals into the company, some organizations carry out private investigations to know the background of the employee as a way of ensuring they do not hire a criminal. The investigations are justifiable but the individuals should be notified at the application stage that once they are considered for employment the company will carry out a background check (Moor, 2005). Through the information technology, companies are able to quickly gather and process personal information of the employees and in some cases, it may be used unjustly.

Applying ethics to IT profession

Ethical theories propose the use of ethical decision making in all the aspects of the organization so as to promote justice for all employees.  Applying ethics in information technology does not only entail determining whether an action is right or wrong but rather it is aimed at evaluating the impacts of an action on the persons concerned. Understanding the issue of employee privacy is the first step in applying the ethical decision-making in an organization (Mehrotra, 2012). The issue of privacy may relate to different aspects such as misuse of financial information of employees during promotions. The next step in enhancing ethical decision making with regard to employees is to gather all facts about the issue at hand so as to identify the parties that are affected.

The lack of privacy in an organization has the potential to bring it down through bad reputation. The talented and experienced individuals in a particular filed do not want to work in an organization where their privacy is not guarantee. The lack of privacy may thus affect the current as well as the potential employees. In business, the success in achieving set objectives is attained by having and well motivated team of employees. Exposing their privacy reduces this motivation and majority may opt to leave the company for the competitors’. Once the facts about the issue are analyzed, it is important to come up with the available alternatives that can address the issue. This must consider both the employer and the employee. The issue of privacy at the workplace affects both the employer and the employee.

While the employee needs to have their personal information private, the employers may require such information to gauge the performance of the employee (Sama & Shoaf, 2002). For instance, if the social security number shows that the employee had been employed by many employers in the past, it may be an indication that they are not permanent in their jobs, either due to underperformance of lack of satisfaction.  It is therefore important for the policy makers to consider the two parties on matters concerning privacy of employee personal information.  The alternatives provided must be evaluate to ensure that the company implements the best that balances the needs of both the employer and employee.

Ethical issues in information technology

There are many ethical challenges that an organization may face but they are all caused by unique factors. The rapid evolution of technology is among the factors that are contributing to ethical issues at the workplace day by day. The ethical challenges posed by information technology are unique to the other ethical issues since the system keeps on changing. It is therefore becoming hard for companies to define the most efficient ways to solve the ethical issues that emanate from advancement in information technology (Mason, 2005).  The in-home offices in the modern technological world are efficient as they save on financial resources and time that employees spend commuting to work but it poses a challenge to the work environment since the employees and the employers cannot detect any invasions on their private information.  Ethical issues related to privacy arise from the activities that involve collecting information, verifying whether it is accurate and disclosing it.

The knowledge by the employees that the employer has their personal information is uncomfortable but having a third party access the same makes them feel violated. There is a part of human nature that likes autonomy and the ability to control one’s personal information brings about a feeling of satisfaction. However, with the advancement in information technology, it is easy to access any information that one needs even if they are not authorized to access a file through hacking.

Managers and supervisors are able to track the activities that employees do on the internet, some of which might be personal.  They use computer programs that show the downloaded file, the amount of time the employees spend surfing and the websites they visit. Other even monitor the phone calls they receive during the working hours to determine if they are distracted by telephone calls at work.  The programs also allow the individuals to filter sites and put restrictions on the number and type of sites that should be visited. In some organizations the employees are notified about the monitoring process but other s monitor the employees work from a distance without letting them know. Monitoring the employees is important as it enhances efficiency in use of company resources but doing so without the knowledge of the employees is a way of invading into their privacy and it is unethical.  The information technology has contributed largely to the success of businesses by making operations easier as they are computerized but it has also led to a number of ethical challenges that may lead to failure of such businesses if they are not addressed.

The issue of privacy in the workplace is brought about by conflicting interests between the workers and the employers. The interest of the employee is to have their personal life separated from work life by keeping their personal information private.  On the other hand, the employers are interested in maximizing their profits by making sure they operate under minimum loss. The best way to minimize these losses is by monitoring the efficiency of the human and non-human resources. The interests of both parties can be justified, implying that there is no right or wrong action unless one considers their consequences.  The employers have the right manage their resources and among these resources are the employees. By monitoring the employees closely, the employers are able to learn about their level of commitment to work and this influences the accuracy of their decisions regarding promotions. An employer would not risk promoting an employee who spends most of their time on social networking sites discussing personal issues.

Monitoring also allows the employers to determine factors such as compensation. For example, an employee who spends more time in the internet working for the company deserves a higher pay than the one who spends lesser time. It is only possible to indicate this by monitoring the time that the employees spend on the computer.  Without close monitoring of the employee’s activities, such decisions would not be made accurately. The employees require the companies to trust them fully by letting them work independently. One of the factors that lead to loss of morale by the employees is close supervision as they get a feeling of mistrust by the company. The employees are rational and they should be left to make their decisions on work schedules independently so long as they deliver quality work by the set deadlines.

 

Areas where privacy issues arise

Recruitment of employees

During the recruitment process, the potential employees are required to provide personal information to the company and this may threaten their privacy. The information collected about the employee includes fingerprints that may help indicating if they have ever been convicted of a crime. One is also required to provide their background information that helps the company evaluate the suitability of the person in handling the job.  The individuals may also be required to provide information about their medical test to ensure that they are sober.  One would feel uncomfortable having their fingerprint information collected for a normal office job eve if they have no criminal records. The requirement gives an impression that the information collected may be used for other purposes other than the intended one without the knowledge of the employee.  The increased access to drugs has made it necessary for most companies to screen the employees for the same prior to selection. This is not necessarily meant to cut out any persons found to be using drugs but it is a way of selecting the most suitable sections in the company they would suit. Most of the drug users have a higher probability of causing accidents at the workplace thus the drug test is meant to protect the company resources including the employees. This also helps the company to be safe from any legal liability that may occur in case of accidents.

Surveillance

The other area related to privacy is surveillance which is done through the use of cameras, accessing employee records and monitoring their activities when they are working and during the time they are not at work.  Monitoring of the employees is a very effective management tool but the ethical issue arises when the employers go overboard. The activities that the employers are involved in while at work affect their productivity directly. For example, the amount of time that employees spend working for the company is crucial to determining the extent to which the company can realize its goals.  However, the activities they are involved in outside the work environment have minimum impact of the productivity of the company (Johnstone, 2007). It is thus unethical for the company to monitor the activities of the employees when they are not working.

The employers should not demand the employees to provide information about how they used the time they spent outside work (George, 2006).  Information technology has also made it possible for employers to check the social networking sites that the employees post their personal information and updates about their personal lives. There have been incidences where people have lost their jobs as a result of posting an opinion or a picture on the social media. This clearly shows a sign of employer’s invasion into the employee’s private life (Calluzzo & Cante, 2004). The invasion of the employee’s private life is unjust but the company may justify its actions making the activity ethical. Companies want to employ persons who portray a positive image about their workplace.  There are individuals who turn to social media to express their feelings about various aspects affecting their lives such as work. This makes social media the best channel to determine if the employees are dissatisfied with their work.  By monitoring the activities of the employees on social media, the company is able to determine if the employees are motivated to work and the factors that they wish to have in their workplace to be motivated. In light of this, the company’s action of monitoring the employees’ social networking is ethical.

 

Legal and ethical issues in employee privacy

The law is n important aspect in business as it protects both the employers and the workers. On the issue of privacy, the law prohibits any party to intercept into the electronic information of the employees without authorization (Couldry, 2003).  To this extent, the actions of the employers to monitor the employees’ activities in the workplace without their knowledge are unethical. It is the right of the employees to have their privacy respected by being allowed to live a separate life from the work environment. There are some institutions that monitor even the employee’s phone calls in effort to determine whether they are distracted by the calls but this is unethical from a legal perspective.   The law also provides that the employees’ personal information may e accessed by the service providers and this includes the employers (De George, 2008). The employers’ actions from this perspective are ethical because they act as service providers. One may argue that the employers provide internet and computers to the workers thus they have the right to monitor all the activities related to these resources including emails.

The fact that monitoring the employee in the workplace is legal does not imply that it is right.  The employees are unique resources in an organization because they can think unlike other resources that have to be operated (Ali, Green & Parent, 2009). Close supervision and monitoring of the employees reduces them to other resources that do not have autonomy or independence.  The employees need to be respected and trusted to meet their deadlines on time without being monitored. The moral status of the employees is defined by the rights they have to be free from unauthorized intrusions.   The employee privacy may be intruded under some circumstances such as when the information that may be omitted is crucial to the company. However, the purpose for the intended information must be legal under such circumstances.

Applying moral theories in the issue of privacy

Ethical theories are crucial to determining the reasons that make an action good or evil as well as proposing the most suitable course of action. The issue of privacy in the information technology is not set to end in the near future as technology keeps on changing. However, the human nature of employees does not change and their need for privacy is still an issue that if not addressed may lead to their loss of morale. The teleological ethical approach is applicable to the situation as it focuses on the consequences of the actions that lead to ethical issues (Beauchamp, 2004). In the case of employee privacy, the consequences of monitoring the employees closely are increased productivity by the company and growth and expansion of the company due to efficient use of resources. The growth of the company favors the employees as well s they are able to earn higher salaries and improve their standards of living (Floridi, 2005).  However, the consequences of using information technology to monitor the employees may lead to reduced productivity due to reduced morale of work by the employees.

Deontological approach is the other theory that can be used effectively to address the issue of privacy related to information technology (Capurro, 2006). The approach considers the purpose of doing the action and in this case, the companies can justify their actions as ethical. The primary reason for monitoring the actions of the employees is to ensure that the company’s resources are well utilized. Among the company’s resources is the employees thus it monitors them to ensure that they use the company resources for the intended purpose.  One would also argue that the employees are justified to demand for privacy using the deontological approach. The purpose of their demand is to protect the control they have on personal information.

In conclusion, the evolution of technology has benefited the business sector but it has also created moral challenges that may affect the productivity of the employees. The issue of privacy in the workplace has mainly been fueled by advancement in the information technology. In the modern business world, it is possible for the employers to quickly and efficiently access the information of employees, most of it personal data that the employee would prefer to keep.   The employers justify the violation of employees’ privacy by arguing that it is for the good of the company. While it is true that monitoring employees enhances the performance of a company, the action is unethical if it is carried out without the consent of the employees. The same case applies for the employers who look for employee’s background information without their knowledge.  The employees’ demand to have their privacy is justified by the fact that they need to have control over their personal lives. The close monitoring may reduce the effectiveness of the monitoring by reducing the morale of employees as it implies mistrust of the employer on the worker.  Based on the ontological and deontological ethical approaches, both the employer and the worker are justified in their demands. Consequences of implementing the monitoring methods are positive and negative for both parties. The issue of privacy may lead to a reduction of company’s profitability thus it is crucial for companies to address the same. Applying the ethical decision making process is an effective way through which the company may solve the issue of privacy at the workplace. The approach ensures that all the stakeholders, in this case the employer and employee are considered and an amicable solution reached.

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