ACM Code Of Ethics and Professional Conduct

When you talk about the term ’ethics’ in generalized fashion, it’s simple meaning is principles or moral beliefs. So Code of Ethics is the principles or beliefs but which can differ from individual to individual. Even then certain ethics are applicable to every person, organization, state and nation and which have to be strictly followed to maintain the balance of right and wrong in the society.

What is the need for code of ethics?

These principles or moral values have to be introduced as the avarice of human nature has no limitations. Money is the most tempting Lollypop which attracts everyone. In the pursuit of green pastures all the moral values and decency level are broken. Moreover expectations from life are always on the high. These too are instrumental in making people bend the general ethics.  And hence a check in the form of Code of Ethics or moral rules in an organization or for a profession is essential.

Although, the criminal minds still find courage to go against the rules, all the practices and working in the world are going on mostly peacefully owing to these small sets of ethical principles.

There is a long tradition of binding members of professions like medicine and law to a code of professional conduct. Our own profession is in comparison to such classical professions extremely young and immature, and the basic conditions for working as a computer professional are somewhat different from those of doctors and lawyers. Despite these differences, there have been several attempts to establish codes of ethics and professional conduct within computing.

In the United States, ACM has had its official code of professional conduct since 1972; IEEE has adopted a code of ethics; and the Data Processing Management Association also has a code of ethics. The British Computer society agreed upon codes of practice and conduct in 1983, while the Australian Computer Society adopted a code of ethics in 1987. ACM’s recently adopted Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, quoted below from Anderson et al. (1993) are as following:

  • It has four sections …

– Section 1: General moral imperatives.

-Section 2: More specific professional responsibilities.

-Section 3: Organizational Leadership Imperatives.

-Section 4: Compilance with the code

1.     General moral imperatives:

As an ACM member I will….

1.1  Contribute to society and human well-being.

  •   Obligation to protect fundamental human rights and to respect the diversity of all cultures.
  •   Minimize negative consequences of computing systems
  •   Must attempt to ensure that the products of their efforts will be used in socially responsible ways
  •   Avoid harmful effects to health and welfare.
  •   Avoid potential damage to the local or global environment.

1.2  Avoid harm to others.

  • Harm means injury or negative consequences
  • Example: loss of information, property, property/environmental damage, etc.  Strive to include features which discourage abuse in the investment  world.
  • Design systems so that time & effort is not wasted on overhead items such as the time it takes to purge viruses.
  • Sometimes well intended actions may lead to harmful results.

1.3  Be honest and trustworthy.

  • Honesty is an essential component of trust. Without trust an organization cannot function effectively.
  • Do not make deceptive or false claims about the system.
  • Full discloser limitation and problems with the system!… no sins of omission!
  • Sometimes following this one could get you not promoted or even fired , but you must be able to live with yourself.
  • A computer professional has a duty to be honest about his or her own qualifications, and about any circumstances that might lead to conflicts of interest.

1.4  Be fair and take action not to discriminate.

  • No discrimination based on race, sex, religion, disability, etc.
  • Although this seems obvious, violations may be inadvertent, and there may be tradeoffs with cost and performance aspects of the system.
  • Inequities between different groups of people may result from the use or misuse of information and technology.

1.5  Honor property rights including copyrights and patent.

  • Violation of copyrights, patents, trade secrets and the terms of license agreements is prohibited by law in most circumstances. Even when software is not so protected, such violations are contrary to professional behavior. Copies of software should be made only with proper authorization. Unauthorized duplication of materials must not be condoned.
  • Also protect intellectual property and “secrets” owned by your company even if you came up with them and they are not patented or copyrighted as yet – your ideas could end up in a competitor’s system.

1.6  Give proper credit for intellectual property.

  • Computing professionals are obligated to protect the integrity of intellectual property.
  • One must not take credit for other’s ideas or work, even in cases where the work has not been explicitly protected by copyright, patent, etc.    

1.7  Respect the privacy of others.

  • Because of the awesome power computers have in gathering, storing, and processing data – including personal data, this principle has immense social consequences.
  • Professionals must ensure:
  1. integrity and accuracy of personal data
  2. take precautions to prevent unauthorized access – even accidental disclosures
  3. Allow individuals whose information is stored to access and check records or correctness.
  • Example: Someone was once issued a credit card from a local bank with another person’s account number encoded on the magnetic strip.  A technical slip up, but it made that guy nervous!

1.8  Honor confidentiality.

  • A client may reveal confidential information to you that you may need in designing some aspect of a system
  • A bit of “lawyer/client”, “doctor/patient”, or “confessor/penitent” constraints are needed.
  • The only exceptions may be when something like a court order is issued.

 2.     More Specific Professional Responsibilities:

               As an ACM computing professional I will ….

2.1  Strive to achieve the highest quality, effectiveness and dignity in both the process and products of professional work.

  • Excellence is perhaps the most important obligation of a professional. The computing professional must strive to achieve quality and to be cognizant of the serious negative consequences that may result from poor quality in a system.

2.2  Acquire and maintain professional competence.

  • Excellence depends on individuals who take responsibility for acquiring and maintaining professional competence.
  • Upgrading technical knowledge and competence can be achieved in several ways:doing independent study; attending seminars, conferences, or courses; and being involved in professional organizations.

2.3 Know and respect existing laws pertaining to professional work.

  • ACM members must obey existing local, state,province, national, and international laws unless there is a compelling ethical basis not to do so. Policies and procedures of the organizations in which one participates must also be obeyed.
  • If one decides to violate a law or rule because it is viewed as unethical, or for any other reason, one must fully accept responsibility for one’s actions and for the consequences.

2.4 Accept and provide appropriate professional review.

  • Quality professional work, especially in the computing profession, depends on professional reviewing and critiquing. Whenever appropriate, individual members should seek and utilize peer review as well as provide critical review of the work of others.

2.5  Give comprehensive and thorough evaluations of computer systems and their impacts, including analysis of possible risks.

  • Computer professionals must strive to be perceptive, thorough, and objective when evaluating, recommending, and presenting system descriptions and alternatives.
  • Computer professionals are in a position of special trust, and therefore have a special responsibility to provide objective, credible evaluations to employers, clients, users, and the public. When providing evaluations the professional must also identify any relevant conflicts of interest, as stated in imperative 1.3.

2.6  Honor contracts, agreements, and assigned responsibilities.

  • Honoring one’s commitments is a matter of integrity and honesty. When one contracts for work with another party, one has an obligation to keep that party properly informed about progress toward completing that work.
  • A computing professional has a responsibility to request a change in any assignment that he or she feels cannot be completed as defined.
  • The major underlying principle here is the obligation to accept personal accountability for professional work.
  • However, performing assignments “against one’s own judgment” does not relieve the professional of responsibility for any negative consequences.

2.7  Improve public understanding of computing and its consequences.

  • If professionals are having technical knowledge then they have responsibility to share with public by encouraging understanding of computations.
  • This imperative implies an obligation to counter any false views related to computing.

2.8  Access computing and communication resources only when authorized to do so.

  • Trespassing and unauthorized use of a computer or communication system is addressed by this imperative.
  • Individuals and organizations have the right to restrict access to their systems so long as they do not violate the discrimination principle (see 1.4)

 3.     Organizational Leadership Imperatives:

                  As an ACM member and an organizational leader, I will ….

3.1  Articulate social responsibilities of members of an organizational unit and encourage full acceptance of those responsibilities.

  • Because organizations of all kinds have impacts on the public, they must accept responsibilities to society.
  • Organizational leaders must encourage full participation in meeting social responsibilities as well as quality performance.

3.2  Manage personnel and resources to design and build information systems that enhance the quality of working life.

  • Organizational leaders are responsible for ensuring that computer systems enhance, not degrade, the quality of working life. When implementing a computer system, organizations must consider the personal and professional development, physical safety, and human dignity of all workers.

3.3  Acknowledge and support proper and authorized uses of an organization’s computing and communication resources.

  • Because computer systems can become tools to harm as well as to benefit an organization, the leadership has the responsibility to clearly define appropriate and inappropriate uses of organizational computing resources

3.4  Ensure that users and those who will be affected by a system have their needs clearly articulated during the assessment and design of requirements; later the system must be validated to meet requirements.

  • Current system users, potential users and other persons whose lives may be affected by a system must have their needs assessed and incorporated in the statement of requirements.
  • System validation should ensure compliance with those requirements.

3.5  Articulate and support policies that protect the dignity of users and others affected by a computing system.

  • Designing or implementing systems that deliberately or inadvertently demean individuals or groups is ethically unacceptable.
  • Computer professionals who are in decision making positions should verify that systems are designed and implemented to protect personal privacy and enhance personal dignity.

3.6  Create opportunities for members of the organization to learn the principles and limitations of computer systems.

  • This complements the imperative on public understanding (2.7). Educational opportunities are essential to facilitate optimal participation of all organizational members.
  • Opportunities must be available to all members to help them improve their knowledge and skills in computing, including courses that familiarize them with the consequences and limitations of particular types of systems.

4.     Compilance with code:

                As an ACM member I will ….

4.1 Uphold and promote the principles of this Code.

  • The future of the computing profession depends on both technical and ethical excellence. Not only is it important for ACM computing professionals to adhere to the principles expressed in this Code, each member should encourage and support adherence by other members.

4.2 Treat violations of this code as inconsistent with membership in the ACM.

  • Adherence of professionals to a code of ethics is largely a voluntary matter. However, if a member does not follow this code by engaging in gross misconduct, membership in ACM may be terminated.

                      According to Anderson et al. (1993) the 1972 ACM code was established together with a review board as instruments to deter ACM members from unethical behavior. The aim was to introduce means to regulate membership and thereby convince the public that the profession deserved to be self regulating. The code emphasized possible violations and threatened sanctions for such violations.


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