The widespread use of IT raises questions about social and ethical issues that shape the world today.
Students should become familiar with all the social and ethical issues described in this section.
Teachers should introduce the social and ethical issues as appropriate using the integrated approach
illustrated in the diagram at the beginning of the syllabus details. In this way students can examine
social and ethical issues that are raised when IT systems are used in a range of areas. The use of IT is
likely to bring both advantages and disadvantages, both costs and benefits, and students should study
the impact of IT in a critical way. It is important that examples are drawn from the local, national and
global level.

1.1 Reliability

Reliability refers to the operation of hardware, the design of software, the accuracy of data or the correspondence of data with the real world. Data may be unreliable if it is entered incorrectly or if it becomes outdated. For example, a medical record that becomes dissociated from the patient it refers to becomes unreliable. The reliability of machines, software and data determines our confidence in their value.

1.2 Integrity

Integrity refers to correspondence of data with itself, at its creation. Data lacks integrity when it has been changed accidentally or tampered with. For example, a hacker might change driver licence data resulting in arrests of innocent people.

1.3 Security

Security refers to the protection of hardware, software, machines and networks from unauthorized access, alteration or destruction. Security measures include restricted access to machines and networks and encryption of information. The degree of security ofinformation systems determines society’s confidence in the information contained in the systems.

1.4 Privacy and anonymity

Privacy is the ability of individuals and groups to determine for themselves when, how and to what extent information about themselves is shared with others. At its extreme, privacy becomes anonymity, which might be called for in some contexts but is dangerous in others. For example, discussion of a delicate subject might require anonymity, or at least privacy. On the other hand, anonymity could also conceal the perpetrators of criminal, terrorist or computer hacking acts.

1.5 Authenticity

Authenticity means establishing the user’s identity beyond reasonable doubt. Authenticating the user is crucial in many situations, particularly in business and legal matters. A simple example of authentication is user login onto a network. A more advanced example would be the use of encrypted digital signatures in a business transaction

1.6 Intellectual property

Intellectual property includes ideas, discoveries, writings, works of art, software, collections and presentations of data. Copyrights, trademarks and patents legally protect intellectual property, but easy and accurate duplication methods made available by IT can undermine such protections. On the other hand, the same methods create opportunity for inexpensive dissemination of information.

1.7 Equality of access

IT has the potential to offer universal access to information, regardless of distance, age, race, gender or other personal characteristics. However, the above characteristics, and cost, can also bar individuals or groups from access. For example, while telelearning brings previously unavailable opportunities to everyone’s doorstep, the cost of hardware, software or course fees might place the learning beyond the reach of an average person.

1.8 Control

As an instrument of control, IT improves reliability, accuracy and speed of systems. However, it can also be used to control people. An automatic aircraft landing system provides an example of increased reliability resulting from IT control. Employer surveillance of employees represents a new kind of control imposed on people.

1.9 Globalization and cultural diversity

Globalization means the diminishing importance of geographic, political, economic and cultural boundaries. IT has played a major role in reducing these boundaries. For example, any dramatic event anywhere in the world can be broadcast almost instantly by television or on the Internet. However, there is a fear that easier communication can become a source of cultural homogeneity. The new global village provides a worldwide cultural awareness, but may lead to less diversity.

1.10 Policies and standards

Policies are enforceable measures intended to promote appropriate use. They can be developed by governments, businesses, and private groups or individuals. They normally consist of rules governing access to, or use of, information, hardware and software. For example, a national policy on IT security would need to define what constitutes unlawful access to networks and how to treat transgression. Policies also affect the exchange of information, for example, by making it subject to copyright laws. In general, policies can promote or restrict access, modify behaviour or require the fulfillment of certain conditions prior to or during use.
Standards are social or technical rules and conventions that enable compatibility and therefore facilitate communication or interoperability between different IT systems and their components. They might govern the design and use of hardware, software and information. For example, communication protocols used on the Internet, the ASCII representation for characters, or the design of the printer port on a personal computer are all governed by standards.

1.11 People and machines

The interaction of humans with IT hardware raises all the issues encountered in this section, as well as additional ones such as the following.
• Who controls the design of technology and the pace of its introduction?
• How safe and effective is the design?
• Is technology going to extend human faculties and make work easier and more pleasant, or are machines going to displace humans and lead to mass unemployment?
• Is technology used appropriately, or should a better, possibly non-technological alternative be found?
• Which areas of human endeavour are best served by IT systems?
• Which social and ethical issues arise from a comparison of people and machines in the following areas: stamina, memory, accuracy, speed, analysis, synthesis, judgment, innovation, creativity


Taken directly from the ITGS Syllabus document Produced by IBO