Moral, Legal, & Ethical Questions in Computing

Moral, Ethical, and Legal questions in Computer Science tend to be aimed at the longer essay style questions and require both knowledge and application to a variety of scenarios. Practice of longer answer questions is a great way to prepare yourself for the exam because you are able to show your understanding in depth.

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Much of the reasoning behind why we study this particular topic is because of the impact that computing has on everyone’s day to day lives.

When we talk about computing rather than computer science, we mean a combination of three subjects: Computer Science, ICT, and Digital Literacy

Imagine this scenario:

A programmer is working on a CCTV program 
that automatically records students in a
corridor outside of lesson times.

When deciding how to design the project, or even if they want to be involved, they would consider arguments relating to moral, ethical, and legal considerations.

What is the difference between Morals & Ethics?

When we talk about morals, we are discussing someone’s personal beliefs of what is right and wrong. Our morals are influenced by the society that we live in, the places that we go to school and work, and the laws of our country.

Our morals may change as we learn more about the world around us, but are always individual.

In the case of the programmer, they may consider whether the loss of privacy in the corridors outweighs the benefits in terms of personal safety, or damage to property.

The users of the system may consider the same question, but reach different conclusions depending on their own beliefs.

Ethics are similar to morals in that they identify behaviour that is right and wrong, however ethics are given to us by external sources.

In the case of the programmer, they may be part of a professional organisation such as the British Computer Society (BCS). Part of being a member of the organisation means abiding by a code of conduct. Members that do not comply, may be removed from the register.

Similar codes of conduct are found in most workplaces and schools.

What Laws Apply to Computing?

In addition to the moral and ethical considerations that we must give to creating and using the computer systems around us, there are also laws in place to ensure that our data is safe and that devices are used safely and responsibly.

Read more about Computer Science Legislation here.

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Answer 2:


  • Moral principles- personal views
  • Ethical risks- against teacher, mark copying the students work
  • Legal implications- copyright for mark, and data protection act for teacher

The moral principles of Mark copying the essay are dependent on Mark’s personal views of copying. From one viewpoint, it is a form of cheating and plagiarism to copy another students work for personal gain in writing his own essay. However, from another stance, if the activity was not an assessed exercise and the teacher felt it was acceptable to leave the students work on the screen, then it may even be advised that Mark takes a copy of the students work as an example of the style of essay he can then develop for himself.

The ethical factors of Mark copying the essay would have negative implications. It is unethical for Mark to plagiarise another students work as it would be unfair to the student who took the time and effort to write the essay,and would be against school policy. However, it is also unethical of the teacher to leave the student’s personal work on the screen as any documents sent between student and teacher should stay confidential, even if it is just for practise.The teacher must uphold professional standards- which involves confidentiality. It also includes school conduct on Mark’s part.

The legal implications of Mark copying the essay would be a breach of the copyright design and patents act,which prevents people from unlawfully taking a copy of the creators work without the permission or a permit from the creator. In this example, he would be breaking this law as he would not have had any form of permission from the student themselves. Mark would be entirely unethical, as he would have to go out of his way to go over to the teachers personal computer and look at the screen.

However, if the teacher initially placed the essay on screen prior to leaving the room, by implication, the teacher has broken the data protection act which prevents unauthorised persons from accessing private data. Because of this, it may be argued that Mark is not entirely the person of fault. staff policy to lock the computer when walking away from it.

Mark broke the computer misuse act, as he accessed a computer he had no authorization to access.

To conclude, it is dependent on the discussion between the student who initially wrote the essay, and for the teacher to ask permission to display his/her work. It is also dependent on the context of why the essay was on the screen in the first place; if it was just an exam preparation activity, the teacher might have used the student’s work as an example of what the essay style should be like, and the essay might even be completely unrelated to the essay Mark must write. It really all comes down to Mark’s personal views and moral principles. However the legal aspects are not negotiable, Mark would definitely be breaking more than one law if was to go over to the teacher’s computer.