Cyber Ethics: Behaviour in Cyberspace – are you breaking the law?
Rules and regulations pertaining to computers and the cyber environment is not a topic that usually comes up in daily conversation, unless you are in a class for work, at school or in a lawyer’s office. However, it is a very important factor when communicating via the internet, whether you are using your computer or another web-based device for work, personal use or as a gaming platform.
Cyber ethics is a philosophical study of ethics that is pertinent to computers regarding the behaviour of the user and what computers are tasked to do and these effects on individuals and society. Manners, good judgment and being aware and knowledgeable about what you are doing are as pertinent in the cyber world as they are anywhere else that you deal with people.
Some ethics violations can be considered criminal behaviour. Knowing what you can and cannot do when it comes to ethics is to use your best judgment when dealing in the cyber realm. Best practices will give you the knowledge you need to maintain ethical behaviour while in cyber space and will give you the added knowledge of knowing when your rights have been infringed. Ethics can be confusing but what it comes down to is, that what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong.
Many ethics issues that come up in the real world can also come up in cyberspace. When you buy a CD of your favourite band and then copy and give it away or sell it, you have committed a copy right violation against the band. This type of behaviour can be criminal, as can the misuse of digital media if copied and then distributed without permission. When dealing with digital media you need to consider your role in keeping practices ethical and legal. Issues that are a breach of ethics when using electronic media include:
- Have your own passwords. These should neither be borrowed nor shared. When a person logs in with a password, it leaves a specific fingerprint, and if someone is using your password, then whatever they do while on your computer, could reflect on you.
- Do not break into someone else’s computer. This should be common sense, but it can also be a crime in the right situation.
- When downloading material from the internet including movies, music, games, or software, adhere to the copyright restrictions.
- Do not sabotage someone else’s computer.
- Do not copy information that you take from the internet and claim it as yours. This is plagiarism, theft of another’s words.
- Do not call other people names, curse them, lie about them or do anything else that can be construed as trying to hurt or bully them. Bullying can be criminal in some locales and can be subject to federal civil rights laws as well.
- When downloading software, be sure to adhere to the copyright restrictions.
- Do not attempt to make infect someone else’s computer or in any way try to make it inoperable.
When interacting in the cyber world, we are cyber citizens and can be referred to as netizens. A netizen is a person who actively uses the Internet, especially in a proper and responsible way. (Merriam-webster.com 2014) As cyber citizens, we have the same responsibility of maintaining civil behaviour as we do when we are face to face with others in public. People depend on their electronic communication abilities in business, at school or at home so keeping our cyber citizen neighbors happy, is not only the right thing to do, it is beneficial for relationships, because our online relationships are as integral to our lives, as our neighbours next door.
The FBI has entire department that is dedicated to cyber-crime. They investigate computer and network intrusions, identity theft auction fraud, credit card fraud, debt elimination schemes, counterfeit cashier’s check schemes, employment/business opportunities, escrow services fraud, internet extortion, and several other areas of internet crime. The areas of investigation that is conducted by the FBI are listed on their website. You can go there to see how big a deal cyber-crime is in the U.S. and worldwide.
There is no federal law against bullying; however, there are local and state laws that can consider some forms of bullying type behaviour as criminal even when conducted online. The Civil Rights act of 1964 protects individuals from discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex, age, national origin, and disability. There are cases where bullying has crossed over into these areas of protection and prosecution has followed. Schools and universities, as well as the workplace, have become more sensitive to these issues in recent years, due to the exponential expansion of computers in all facets of our daily lives. Due to the world of Facebook, Twitter and other forms of instant communication the issue had to be addressed.
Responsibilities of a cyber-citizen
By adhering to the ethics that pertain to our cyber world, you will make your electronic world safer for you and your family. If you have children, there are applications that give you a high level of control over their level of access to online websites and web content. It is for their safety and your peace of mind. These applications can help you monitor their activity on the internet, and shut their pc browser down at a predetermined time. This will give you the ability to rest easy, knowing that your family and children are protected from the cyber criminals that haunt the halls of cyberspace