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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