Technology, Policy, and Ethical Guidelines

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This wiki is committed to informing readers of the complications and implications regarding the development of new technologies and the policies and ethical guidelines associated with them. With the changes and development of new technologies, it is difficult to foresee issues that may arise from their creation and utilization. Because technology is evolving faster and faster as time goes on, it will become more and more difficult to predict the consequences of allowing it to continue developing without any restrictions. In the future policies and guidelines will help control the ethical and legal uses of technology.

General Information

Policies are regarded as plans or courses of action, as of a government, political party, or business, intended to influence and determine decisions, actions, and other matters. The ultimate purpose of policies is for protection. In the realm of technology, policies have the potential to protect personal information and intellectual property. Although policies would offer great protection and peace of mind to users of all technology, it is not clear how to create and implement such policies.

Policies & Ethical Guidelines in Regards to Technology

Policies and ethical guidelines play a big role in the design and utilization of technology just as they do with many other products and concepts. Policies and ethical guidelines help shape the design of products and/or services and how they should be utilized by the users. Without these policies and guidelines, adverse effects may be seen in a variety of ways regarding our privacy, copyright/ownership rights, and wireless services.


The U.S. Constitution, Amendment IV states “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.” The Constitution serves as a policy in itself.

One of the more controversial issues to arise regarding privacy is the USA PATRIOT ACT, which stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. The act was signed into law on October 26, 2001 following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The portion of this act most familiar to society is that of wiretapping phone lines. Ethics have been considered, being that we weren’t allowed to do this without probable cause up until Oct. 26, but now law enforcement no longer has to wait for that search warrant if they feel someone is a suspect. It raises questions concerning how extensively ethics were considered in the passing of the act.

Another issue arising regarding privacy is that of the collection of information for corporations, and what they choose to do with that information. More specifically, the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act of 2003 shows the importance of privacy to consumers. By registering a number in this database, it forbids companies/telemarketers to contact you. Recently, the largest settlement yet regarding unlawful use of numbers included in the registry has been settled. The case involved six companies, including Craftmatic Industries, ADT Security Services, Ameriquest Mortgage Company, Alarm King, Direct Security Services and Guardian Communications. The total settlement came to $7.7 million. Without the Do-Not-Call list, many Americans were receiving unwanted phone calls.


The controversy surrounding digital downloading and the piracy of music & movies has been an ongoing battle for some years now. It was notably started by Shawn Fanning, a Northwestern University dropout. In 1998 he created Napster, a file sharing program that used peer-to-peer networking. Being a “new” idea, there were of course no policies in place or ethical guidelines for how something like this should be created and successfully and meaningfully utilized. Napster spread like wildfire, and people across the country started using the peer-to-peer network to swap music, movies, and other files.

The uninhibited access to downloading media files through this program caused a major upset in the music industry especially. Artists were outraged that their work was essentially being distributed without permission or compensation. On December 8, 1999, The Recording Industry of America (RIAA) filed a suit against Napster for the illegal trading of these media files. These operations were deemed to be unlawful and Napster was shut down, only to resurface as a fee for service program. Though Napster has seen dramatic decrease in it's popularity due to the shift in service, sites like LimeWire, Kazaa and others continue to allow unrestricted downloads of shared media files. Since the Napster controversy, many lawsuits have been filed. The first trial by jury lawsuit involved a 30-year old single mother who was found guilty of copyright infringement after downloading 22 songs from Kazaa. Damages totaling $222,000 were awarded to the RIAA.

Wireless Technologies

The evolution of wireless technologies has led to many implications regarding ethical usage. One such example is that of wireless networks. As they become more and more widely available, concerns arise over rightful subscribers. Free Wi-Fi hotspots that are publicly displayed are one thing. Picking up your neighbor's wireless connection that he or she is paying for while you, unbeknownst to them, are utilizing it for free is another issue. One may say that if a network is not password protected, then it has free range of public use. These are where the ethical concerns come in because it is financially detrimental to the providers of such networks, and their subscribers are unknowingly providing potentially unsecure internet access to strangers.

Another wireless technology in question is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). Simply, it involves a tag placed on a person, animal, or product that allows a reader to intercept radio waves from the tag to pinpoint a location within a specified proximity. Many people do not realize these tags are on their groceries, clothing, electronics, etc. With the emerging use of RFID in human beings, ethical concerns arise as to what extent these RFID tags should be used, and for what purpose. The safety of using the tags in humans creates questions as to whether or not they are worth the risk involved. Further, there is concern over what information is relayed via these devices.

Difficulty in Policy and Guideline Development

Effective technology policy is difficult to formulate for many reasons. One of the main reasons is because developers are often unaware of the policy implications of technologies they create. Policymakers are also usually unfamiliar with the technologies they are asked to regulate.

It has been estimated that about 90% of all scientific knowledge has been generated over the last 30 years. Both the generation rate of new technology and the number of workers engaged in technology may double again over the next 15 years. Due to the above facts, it is not an exaggeration to predict that there will be more change in the next 30 years than we saw in the last 100. These great transformations require policymakers to formulate or modify existing technological policies. These will clarify for people their rights and responsibilities in developing content for the new digital media. The understanding of the economic, security, environmental and cultural implications of technological advances has not kept pace with underlying changes in technology. It is because of this that policymakers are having a difficult time coping with this accelerating rate of development.

Driven by convergence, globalization, and significantly disruptive new technologies, changes in the 21st century are coming much faster than ever before. Regulating any new technology in its infancy is inherently problematic. In order to develop a policy regarding a new technology, the government or policymakers need information about potential risks. Unfortunately, that information is greatly missed in the beginning stages of any new technology. If this information were available when the majority of new technologies were created, regulators would be able to adopt more effective policy approaches.

The Future of Ethics and Technology

As previously mentioned, technology has been and still is an area where potential risks are hard to predict which proves difficult to produce policy. This shows no signs of changing due to the fact that technology develops and changes faster year after year. Although this is true, it doesn't mean that companies aren't already trying to create and improve guidelines for ethical conduct, as is apparent by the companies discussed below.

A list from Ethisphere has the World's Most Ethical Companies for 2007. The following organizations made the list for the top tech companies: NEC, Sun Microsystems, Texas Instruments, Xerox, General Electric, Canon, Philips, Sharp, Google, Nokia, and Vodafone. However, some huge companies did not make this list such as Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo and Sony. So what makes some companies more ethical than others?

Apple is one company that did not make the list and the recent iPhone controversy added to why they did not rank higher on the ethics scoreboard. Apple has a lucrative deal with AT&T that guarantees their network is the only one iPhone users will have access to. The Apple iPhones's latest software update eliminated unauthorized programs installed to allow a user to utilize a non-AT&T network. It also wiped out other user-installed programs, and in many cases killed the phone. The buyers of the iPhone were furious and out of about $600.00.

Texas Instruments made the list of one of the most ethical companies of 2007. More than 60 years ago, Texas Instruments employees placed their personal imprint on the ethics of the company. They have chosen to conduct themselves to the highest standards of personal integrity, and they demanded the same of others. These principles and values still permeate all of TI's actions and decisions. Values and morals drive ethical companies, while the unethical companies may be hindered by their lack of those same values and morals. Ethical issues surrounding technology are not only present in the business world, but in other areas as well, such as the military.

Autonomous decision-making robots, particularly for military use, could also have negative impacts without relative proper policies and guidelines. Though these robots are being used in warfare, the future use of robots in society has been largely unexamined so far. Robots that can make decisions without human intervention and can decide for themselves when to take a course of action spawn a whole new breed of issues. Safety is the biggest element involved in the ethical use of robots, especially on the battlefield. The consequences of the use of robots in war are unforeseen as they are a new technology, and ethical guidelines are important to prevent unwanted results.

Questions and concerns regarding policies and guidelines as they relate to technology should be addressed sooner rather than later. As was stated, it is becoming more and more difficult to formulate these policies and guidelines as technology is only evolving faster and faster. Because an ever increasing amount of people have the power to change and develop technology, it will prove even more difficult for policymakers and ethicists to keep up with the implementation of these policies and guidelines.


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