Computer Science

A Gift of Fire

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A Gift of Fire Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues for Computing Technology

fourth edition

Sara Baase San Diego State University

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Credits and acknowledgements. Excerpt from Mike Godwin speech: at Carnegie Mellon University, November 1994. Copyright © 1994 by Mike Godwin. Reprinted with permission. Excerpt from Jerrold H. Zar’s “Candidate for a Pullet Surprise”: from JOURNAL OF IRREPRODUCIBLE RESULTS, 39, no. 1 (Jan/Feb 1994). Copyright © 1994 Norman Sperling Publishing. Reprinted with permission. Excerpt from “Social and Legal Issues”: From INVITATION TO COMPUTER SCIENCE, 1E by Schneider/Gertsing. Copyright © 1995 South-Western, a part of Cengage Learning, Inc. Reproduced by permission. Appendix A.1: The Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice. THE SOFTWARE ENGINEERING CODE OF ETHICS AND PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE © 1999 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. and the Association for Computing Machinery, Inc. Reprinted by permission. Appendix A.2: The ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. ACM CODE OF ETHICS AND PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT. Copyright © 1999 by the Association for Computing Machinery, Inc. and the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. Reprinted by permission. Adi Kamdar Excerpt: Adi Kamdar, “EFF Denounces Flawed E-Verify Proposal That Would Trample on Worker Privacy,” July 1, 2011,, viewed July 31, 2011. Reprinted under the terms of the Creative Commons Attributions License. Calvin and Hobbes “today at school . . . ” cartoon © 1993 Watterson. Reprinted with permission of UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE. All rights reserved. Calvin and Hobbes “what’s all the fuss about computers . . . ” cartoon © 1995 Watterson. Dist. By UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. “Opus” cartoon used with the permission of Berkeley Breathed and the Cartoonist Group. All rights reserved.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Baase, Sara. A gift of fire : social, legal, and ethical issues for computing technology / Sara Baase. — 4th ed.

p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-13-249267-6 1. Computers—Social aspects. 2. Computers—Moral and ethical aspects. 3. Internet—Social aspects.

4. Internet—Moral and ethical aspects. I. Title. QA76.9.C66B3 2013 303.48′34—dc23 2012020988

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

ISBN 10: 0-13-249267-9 ISBN 13: 978-0-13-249267-6

To Keith, always

And to Michelle Nygord Matson (1959–2012)

For her love of life, learning, and adventure For her laughter, wisdom, and determination For her friendship

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Preface xiii

Prologue 1


1.1 The Pace of Change 4 1.2 Change and Unexpected Developments 6

1.2.1 Connections: Cellphones, Social Networking, and More 7 1.2.2 E-commerce and Free Stuff 15 1.2.3 Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Sensors, and Motion 17 1.2.4 Tools for Disabled People 21

1.3 Themes 23 1.4 Ethics 26

1.4.1 What Is Ethics, Anyway? 26 1.4.2 A Variety of Ethical Views 28 1.4.3 Some Important Distinctions 36 Exercises 40


2.1 Privacy Risks and Principles 48 2.1.1 What Is Privacy? 48 2.1.2 New Technology, New Risks 50 2.1.3 Terminology and Principles for Managing Personal Data 56

2.2 The Fourth Amendment, Expectation of Privacy, and Surveillance Technologies 60 2.2.1 The Fourth Amendment 61 2.2.2 New Technologies, Supreme Court Decisions, and Expectation of

Privacy 63 2.2.3 Search and Seizure of Computers and Phones 66 2.2.4 Video Surveillance and Face Recognition 68

2.3 The Business and Social Sectors 70 2.3.1 Marketing and Personalization 70 2.3.2 Our Social and Personal Activity 75 2.3.3 Location Tracking 79 2.3.4 A Right to Be Forgotten 82

viii Contents

2.4 Government Systems 84 2.4.1 Databases 84 2.4.2 Public Records: Access versus Privacy 90 2.4.3 National ID Systems 91

2.5 Protecting Privacy: Technology, Markets, Rights, and Laws 95 2.5.1 Technology and Markets 95 2.5.2 Rights and Law 100 2.5.3 Privacy Regulations in the European Union 110

2.6 Communications 112 2.6.1 Wiretapping and Email Protection 113 2.6.2 Designing Communications Systems for Interception 115 2.6.3 The NSA and Secret Intelligence Gathering 116 Exercises 119


3.1 Communications Paradigms 134 3.1.1 Regulating Communications Media 134 3.1.2 Free Speech Principles 137

3.2 Controlling Speech 139 3.2.1 Offensive Speech: What Is It? What Is Illegal? 139 3.2.2 Censorship Laws and Alternatives 141 3.2.3 Child Pornography and Sexting 146 3.2.4 Spam 148 3.2.5 Challenging Old Regulatory Structures and Special Interests 152

3.3 Posting, Selling, and Leaking Sensitive Material 153 3.4 Anonymity 159 3.5 The Global Net: Censorship and Political Freedom 163

3.5.1 Tools for Communication, Tools for Oppression 163 3.5.2 Aiding Foreign Censors and Repressive Regimes 165 3.5.3 Shutting Down Communications in Free Countries 168

3.6 Net Neutrality Regulations or the Market? 169 Exercises 171


4.1 Principles, Laws, and Cases 180 4.1.1 What Is Intellectual Property? 180 4.1.2 Challenges of New Technologies 182 4.1.3 A Bit of History 185 4.1.4 The Fair Use Doctrine 186 4.1.5 Ethical Arguments About Copying 187 4.1.6 Significant Legal Cases 190

Contents ix

4.2 Responses to Copyright Infringement 196 4.2.1 Defensive and Aggressive Responses From the Content Industries 196 4.2.2 The Digital Millennium Copyright Act: Anticircumvention 201 4.2.3 The Digital Millennium Copyright Act: Safe Harbor 204 4.2.4 Evolving Business Models 206

4.3 Search Engines and Online Libraries 208 4.4 Free Software 211

4.4.1 What Is Free Software? 211 4.4.2 Should All Software Be Free? 213

4.5 Patents for Inventions in Software 214 4.5.1 Patent Decisions, Confusion, and Consequences 215 4.5.2 To Patent or Not? 218 Exercises 220

5 CRIME 229

5.1 Introduction 230 5.2 Hacking 230

5.2.1 What is “Hacking”? 230 5.2.2 Hacktivism, or Political Hacking 236 5.2.3 Hackers as Security Researchers 237 5.2.4 Hacking as Foreign Policy 239 5.2.5 Security 241 5.2.6 The Law: Catching and Punishing Hackers 245

5.3 Identity Theft and Credit Card Fraud 250 5.3.1 Stealing Identities 251 5.3.2 Responses to Identity Theft 253 5.3.3 Biometrics 257

5.4 Whose Laws Rule the Web? 258 5.4.1 When Digital Actions Cross Borders 258 5.4.2 Libel, Speech, and Commercial Law 262 5.4.3 Culture, Law, and Ethics 265 5.4.4 Potential Solutions 266 Exercises 267

6 WORK 275

6.1 Changes, Fears, and Questions 276 6.2 Impacts on Employment 277

6.2.1 Job Destruction and Creation 277 6.2.2 Changing Skills and Skill Levels 282 6.2.3 Telecommuting 284 6.2.4 A Global Workforce 287

x Contents

6.3 Employee Communication and Monitoring 293 6.3.1 Learning About Job Applicants 293 6.3.2 Risks and Rules for Work and Personal Communications 296 Exercises 304


7.1 Evaluating Information 312 7.1.1 The Need for Responsible Judgment 312 7.1.2 Computer Models 321

7.2 The “Digital Divide” 329 7.2.1 Trends in Computer Access 329 7.2.2 The Global Divide and the Next Billion Users 331

7.3 Neo-Luddite Views of Computers, Technology, and Quality of Life 332 7.3.1 Criticisms of Computing Technologies 333 7.3.2 Views of Economics, Nature, and Human Needs 336

7.4 Making Decisions About Technology 342 7.4.1 Questions 343 7.4.2 The Difficulty of Prediction 344 7.4.3 Intelligent Machines and Superintelligent Humans—Or the End of the

Human Race? 347 7.4.4 A Few Observations 350 Exercises 350


8.1 Failures and Errors in Computer Systems 362 8.1.1 An Overview 362 8.1.2 Problems for Individuals 364 8.1.3 System Failures 367 8.1.4 What Goes Wrong? 375

8.2 Case Study: The Therac-25 377 8.2.1 Therac-25 Radiation Overdoses 377 8.2.2 Software and Design Problems 378 8.2.3 Why So Many Incidents? 380 8.2.4 Observations and Perspective 382

8.3 Increasing Reliability and Safety 383 8.3.1 Professional Techniques 383 8.3.2 Trust the Human or the Computer System? 388 8.3.3 Law, Regulation, and Markets 389

8.4 Dependence, Risk, and Progress 392 8.4.1 Are We Too Dependent on Computers? 392 8.4.2 Risk and Progress 393 Exercises 395

Contents xi


9.1 What Is “Professional Ethics”? 404 9.2 Ethical Guidelines for Computer Professionals 405

9.2.1 Special Aspects of Professional Ethics 405 9.2.2 Professional Codes of Ethics 406 9.2.3 Guidelines and Professional Responsibilities 407

9.3 Scenarios 410 9.3.1 Introduction and Methodology 410 9.3.2 Protecting Personal Data 412 9.3.3 Designing an Email System With Targeted Ads 414 9.3.4 Webcams in School Laptops1 415 9.3.5 Publishing Security Vulnerabilities 416 9.3.6 Specifications 417 9.3.7 Schedule Pressures 418 9.3.8 Software License Violation 421 9.3.9 Going Public 422 9.3.10 Release of Personal Information 423 9.3.11 Conflict of Interest 424 9.3.12 Kickbacks and Disclosure 426 9.3.13 A Test Plan 427 9.3.14 Artificial Intelligence and Sentencing Criminals 427 9.3.15 A Gracious Host 430 Exercises 430

Epilogue 437


A.1 Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice 439 A.2 ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct 447

Index 455

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This book has two intended audiences: students preparing for careers in computer science (and related fields) and students in other fields who want to learn about issues that arise from computing technology, the Internet, and other aspects of cyberspace. The book has no technical prerequisites. Instructors can use it at various levels, in both introductory and advanced courses about computing or technology.

Scope of This Book

Many universities offer courses with titles such as “Ethical Issues in Computing” or “Computers and Society.” Some focus primarily on professional ethics for computer professionals. Others address a wide range of social issues. The bulky subtitle and the table of contents of this book indicate its scope. I also include historical background to put some of today’s issues in context and perspective. I believe it is important for students (in computer and information technology majors and in other majors) to see and understand the implications and impacts of the technology. Students will face a wide variety of issues in this book as members of a complex technological society, in both their professional and personal lives.

The last chapter focuses on ethical issues for computer professionals. The basic ethical principles are not different from ethical principles in other professions or other aspects of life: honesty, responsibility, and fairness. However, within any one profession, special kinds of problems arise. Thus, we discuss professional ethical guidelines and case scenarios specific to computing professions. I include two of the main codes of ethics and professional practices for computer professionals in an Appendix. I placed the professional ethics chapter last because I believe students will find it more interesting and useful after they have as background the incidents, issues, and controversies in the earlier chapters.

Each of the chapters in this book could easily be expanded to a whole book. I had to leave out many interesting topics and examples. In some cases, I mention an issue, example, or position with little or no discussion. I hope some of these will spark further reading and debate.

Changes for the Fourth Edition

For this fourth edition, I updated the whole book, removed outdated material, added many new topics and examples, and reorganized several topics. New material appears throughout. I mention here some major changes, completely new sections and topics, and some that I extensively revised.

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