The Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics

The Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics

Like in our real lives, we must have rules to follow with regards to the use of computers. There is a set of rules known as the Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics. Like the Ten Commandments in the Holy Bible, many of these are common sense approaches. Some keep you out of trouble, while others keep you private. No matter how you look at it, they are good to follow.

Computer ethics is based upon the premise of intellectual property; what you create with your mind is yours and yours alone, and no one else has the right to use it without your permission. The Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics were created in 1992 by the Computer Ethics Institute. The commandments were introduced in the paper “In Pursuit of a ‘Ten Commandments’ for Computer Ethics” by Ramon C. Barquin as a means to create a set of standards to guide and instruct people in the ethical use of computers. Many security organizations such as CISSP use these commandments as a foundation to guide them in the use of computer security guidelines. Whether you are a computer professional, or just a casual user, it is just a good idea to follow these commandments:

1. Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people.

(In other words, do not use a computer in ways that may harm someone else).

2. Thou shalt not interfere with other peoples computer work.

(Do not use computer technology to cause interference in other users’ work).

3. Thou shalt not snoop around in other people’s computer files.

(Do not spy on another person’s computer data).

4. Thou shalt not use a computer to steal.

(Do not use computer technology to steal information).

5. Thou shalt not use a computer to bear false witness.

(Do not contribute to the spread of misinformation using computer technology).

6. Thou shalt not copy or use proprietary software for which you have not paid. (Refrain from copying software or buying pirated copies).

7. Thou shalt not use other people’s computer resources without authorization or proper compensation.

(Do not use someone else’s computer resources unless authorized to do so).

8. Thou shalt not appropriate other peoples intellectual output.

(It is wrong to claim ownership on a work which is the output of someone’s else’s intellect).

9. Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you are writing or the system you are designing.

(Before developing a software, think about the social impact it can have).

10. Thou shalt always use a computer in ways that ensure consideration and respect for your fellow humans.

(Be respectful and courteous with the others when using a computer or technology).

The Commandments are short and to the point. They by no means cover every possible situation which could arise from the use or misuse of a computer. They are guidelines. Violating some of them might be a violation of law in some countries, while in others, no laws exist. Take for instance Commandment number five. Bearing false witness can mean the spread of misinformation. Is that necessarily a violation of law? It can be considering the circumstances or situation. Consider Commandment number six. Software offered on a “trial” basis usually will have features locked that would become available for use once the software is paid for. It would be illegal to modify the code so that one can use those features without paying for them. On the other hand, what if someone downloads the program with the features already unlocked? Did they steal the software even though it was offered as a free download from a third-party site? That would depend on whether or not the person downloading knew it was a pirated copy.

As you can see, these Commandments can become a bit tricky depending on the circumstances. But as a general rule, practicing common sense while using a computer will usually keep you out of trouble.