Recommendations to the
International Federation for Information Processing
REGARDING CODES OF CONDUCT FOR COMPUTER SOCIETIES


by the IFIP Ethics Task Group

1. Why Codes of Ethics or of Conduct / or Guidelines?

"Why do we need Codes of ethics or Codes of conduct today?" IFIP member Societies, and other organizations like the Council of Europe, or distinguished experts, have already explained it sufficiently. Their reasons, as well as the process of reflection inside IFIP are reviewed in the Preface, and in the Executive Summary of the analysis of the existing Codes, here in this book.

We gather here some recommendations which have emerged from several discussions and proposals . We know that these recommendations may have to be refined after they have been considered by IFIP Technical Assembly and Council.

2. IFIP's role: What can IFIP do?

IFIP should not provide the IFIP National Societies with specific Guidelines for Codes, but should advise them to consider the recommendations outlined below. We cannot actually state what "ethics" the national Societies should espouse. We can, however, outline that there are certain principles that all might want to consider and account for in their codes.

In accordance with the diversity of histories, cultures, social and political backgrounds of IFIP member Societies, IFIP regards it as essential that, when wanted or needed, Codes of ethics or of conduct (or Guidelines) should always be developed and adopted within the member Societies themselves. IFIP offers its expertise in assisting such developments, collecting and disseminating material about established codes, and organizing international discourses on further developments.

3. How to approach?

The analysis of existing codes shows that we have to be aware of a distinction to be made between "codes of ethics" and "codes of conduct". The first expression could be favoured when the national Societies' main idea is to envisage what would be called a "mission statement", giving visions and objectives. Some commentators consider that this title is related to codes which are more oriented toward the public, or society as a whole. The second expression seems to be related more to the "computing profession". This distinction has to be treated with care.

We then suggest that, as a first step, the IFIP national Societies examine a generic framework, as developed, for instance, by the so-called "Toronto Resolution". A more specific approach could then be considered, based essentially on the analysis of the IFIP member Societies existing codes which constitutes the core of this book. The book outlines the content of these codes, as well as some procedural approaches. Other contributions to this book emphasize certain important features like the ethical traditions and schools, some computer-specific ethical issues, the meaning of "professionalism" and its weaknesses.

3. 1. A generic framework

As a generic framework of problems to be met when considering the possibility of a code, IFIP should recommend to its national Societies the examination of a framework like the "Toronto Resolution" (dated April 2, 1992), included in the Annex to these Recommendations.

The Toronto Resolution is not foreseen specifically for the computer field. Its advantage is that it outlines a more general set of resolutions. Its orientations provide a pattern which could create some kind of jurisprudence in the fields of Science and Technology development. The "Toronto Group" is still at work, and gathering Codes for analysis.

3. 2. The content for the National Codes

As far as the content of codes is concerned, many authors insist on the necessity of considering computer-specific ethical issues, since, in their view, most of the available codes are deficient in that respect (see 3. 2.1). Others think it would be good to include at least what is already existing in the national Societies' codes or what has been suggested by international experts (see 3. 2. 2. & 3. 2. 3). According to the reflection proposed in the Executive Summary and developed in the papers themselves, IFIP and computer scientists could provide their expertise to anticipate what appears in specialized fields (see 3. 2. 4). Finally, the suggestion is made to start from the identification of specific fields where ethical problems are raised (see 3. 2. 5).

3. 2. 1. Computer-specific ethical issues

Computer-specific ethical issues arise as the result of the roles of computers such as:

3. 2. 2. Content of the IFIP national Societies existing codes

It could be suggested to examine the main fields of responsibility as they appear from the analysis of the 28 Codes of Computer societies :

3. 2. 3. Suggestion made by the Council of Europe

Along the same lines, the material envisaged by the Committee of Experts of the Council of Europe, in more general terms, could be updated:

3. 2. 4. Challenges for computer specialists

Some authors suggest starting the analysis from the development of the technologies themselves:

3. 2. 5. Where are ethical problems?

Finally, some authors try to explore the major fields where, in their opinion, ethical problems are raised. They mention :

3. 3. Procedures to be looked at

As mentioned in the accompanying letter sent to all IFIP national Societies, TCs and WGs, in December 1992, it is suggested that any national Society considering writing a code has to examine carefully the procedures used to develop Codes of conduct . Questions must be raised, such as :

The question of enforcement seems to be rather important and delicate, since, as shown in the analysis of existing Codes, it varies from society to society. The degree of enforcement is sometimes very weak.

4. Create "spaces for discussion"

One of the main tasks for IFIP would be to create spaces for discussions, as suggested in Part II of our analysis. This could be done through:

Thus, IFIP's role could be to collect, compare and help disseminate knowledge on developments in the national Societies, as well as, in the case of controversies, advise in resolving problems in projects with professionals from countries with diverse codes.

5. Conclusion

The work undertaken by the IFIP Ethics Task Group, established at the Toledo General Assembly, has been experienced as a stimulating, creative and collaborative task by its members.

We believe that our report can act as an analytical framework and foundation for future work IFIP may consider in developing its role in the field of computing and ethics.

While we consider that -- with the submission of this report and recommendations -- we have now completed our specific mandate, we are willing to continue to offer our services to IFIP.

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Prof. Jacques BERLEUR, Chair, IFIP Task Force
Institut d'Informatique
Facultes Universitaires Notre-Dame de la Paix
21, rue Grandgagnage    Phone: +32-81-72 49 76    
5000 NAMUR      Fax:   +32-81-72 49 67
BELGIUM Email: jberleur@info.fundp.ac.be
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Last updated 95/08/11


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