Data and Information Ethics

How do your ethics cope with today’s availability and exchange of data? Guest blogger Andrew Rosenfeld writes:

I remember the first time I spoke the words, “I believe information should be free.” A close family friend and English man confronted me at the dinner table. I grew up immersed in open source ideology and, with the appearance of Napster, this ideology was put to the test. I had only the argument that the freedom of information is essential in avoiding a 1984 Orwellian scenario. I’m a professional out in the world now, and I need a more robust argument to stand upon.

“I Was Just Following Ethics.”

Data and Information EthicsBeing a Jewish man, I answer to a higher authority. The Hebrew writings tell me to respect the laws of the land. The fact that ideologies often conflict here does not change my responsibilities to this higher authority. The basis of the Nazi convictions at the Nuremberg Trials summed up this idea and put to rest the adequacy of the “I was just following orders” argument. Many people stay within these laws, enjoying the benefits of the world and also citing this very same writing for a clear conscience in obedience to this higher authority.

Ethics and the Law

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed these issues elegantly and most deeply. In his letter from a Birmingham jail, where he was being held for civil disobedience, he stated: “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.” This is my new firm ground to stand upon.

Are the Ethics of a Professional Different from the Ethics of a Student?

As a graduate student moving from the science world to the education world, I am confronted with new and complex ethical dilemmas. I’m guided to not move recklessly, or go out of my way for trouble. When I see a journalist protecting sources and other events, I am to express support and perhaps provide resources. Artists need to make a living too, and for that, I have a brain. When my time comes to choose my authority, I will be ready, and know what is expected of me.

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