I ran into these Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics created by the Computer Ethics Institute while looking for something completely different. Isn’t that so often the case? I like them. I think they are useful guidelines that are worth thinking about and discussing. Ethics can be complicated though. Some complain that these rules are too simplistic and overly restrictive. This set of class notes expands on the commandments and includes a claim that the “10 commandments contradict the hacking communities constitution

  1. Thou Shalt Not Use A Computer To Harm Other People.
  2. Thou Shalt Not Interfere With Other People’s Computer Work.
  3. Thou Shalt Not Snoop Around In Other People’s Computer Files.
  4. Thou Shalt Not Use A Computer To Steal.
  5. Thou Shalt Not Use A Computer To Bear False Witness.
  6. Thou Shalt Not Copy Or Use Proprietary Software For Which You have Not Paid.
  7. Thou Shalt Not Use Other People’s Computer Resources Without Authorization Or Proper Compensation.
  8. Thou Shalt Not Appropriate Other People’s Intellectual Output.
  9. Thou Shalt Think About The Social Consequences Of The Program You Are Writing Or The System You Are Designing.
  10. Thou Shalt Always Use A Computer In Ways That Insure Consideration And Respect For Your Fellow Humans.

The Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics were first presented in Dr. Ramon C. Barquin's paper, "In Pursuit of a 'Ten Commandments' for Computer Ethics."

To some extent the commandments are a bit simplistic but that argument can be made about most lists of ethical practices. The proof is in the implementation and how the spirit of the commandment is interpreted and not just in the literal words of it.

I have known any number of students who would ignore commandments 3 (snooping) and 7 (unauthorized use) as they see the world as their playground and believe they have rights to go anywhere and use anything that they are not physically restrained from doing.

I’d love to hear other comments on these “commandments.” I’d also like to hear about the results of classroom discussions on them with students. If you talk about these or other sets of ethics rules in your classroom (or business) I’d love to hear about it.

Commandment 6 (dealing with proprietary software) is anathema to people who believe that proprietary software is itself unethical. Is there middle ground on this issue? Worth some discussion for sure.