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Key Facts of the Case

Doing Ethics Technique – Hints and Tips

The 'Doing Ethics' technique is a process for analysing ethical issues in any scenario. It doesn't guarantee that what you come up with will be the best solution, but it does help you to think ethically. The technique may seem a little vague and perhaps lacking guidance, however the following might help you to understand how to apply the technique in order to better understand ethical analysis.

Q1. What's going on?
This is a synopsis of what the case is all about. It can be taken from a variety of perspectives, for example, from the perspective of a person raising a complaint, in which case, it is a synopsis of the complaint. It can be taken from the perspective of an involved observer, in which case, it is an outline of what was observed, without going into too much detail. Where you see multiple perspectives, you should describe them here.

Q2. What are the facts?
This is a descriptive list of the facts of the case. This doesn't just describe the case; it lists the facts as they are known (from all sources and perspectives), and also what one might reasonably consider to be possibilities. For example, if a person was raising a complaint, Question 1 would outline their complaint, and Question 2 would provide the evidence to both support and refute that argument. All such facts must be demonstrable or supportable. It would be worthwhile to assign a credibility weighting to each fact, to help with later analysis.

Q3. What are the issues?
This is a list of ALL the issues that are involved in the case. In Question 5 we can extract only the ethical issues for further analysis, but for now, simply extract and describe every relevant issue you can think of.

Q4. Who is affected?
This is a list of all the stakeholders involved in the case. This need not be restricted to the ones specifically mentioned in the case; you should consider who/what else might be affected by the issues listed at Question 3, regardless of the degree to which they are affected. In this question, you should describe how each stakeholder is affected, both positively and negatively, and perhaps comment on the degree of effect.

Q5. What are the ethical issues and implications?
For this question, you need to extract only the ethical issues identified at Question 3. List the ethical issues, discuss them in terms of classical ethical theory (as best you can), and discuss their implications - on the stakeholders and on the community in general.

Q6. What can be done about it?
This question elicits a general idea of what can be done to resolve the case, whether those ideas are practical, possible, or not. Generally what kind of resolutions might there be? You need not go into great detail to answer this question, as its purpose is to provide a basis for answering Question 7, but you do need to think broadly and laterally to come up with several alternatives.

Q7. What are the options?
This question requires that you list and describe (in detail) all the possible options that might be available to resolve the case. Be creative here; the most obvious options are not always the best. It's possible that not all options will result in a positive outcome for all stakeholders. List and describe at least three different options, and discuss the benefits and detriments of each.

Q8. Which option is best - and why?
In answering this question, you need to assess which of the options described in Question 7 is the best. You are recommending one of several options here, so you need to argue for your recommendation, providing a solid basis in fact and reasonable (and supportable) conjecture. You should add some of your own intellectual property, as an ICT professional, into answering this question. Supporting your argument based on classical ethical theory is not a requirement at this point, but it is what would be expected if you were a professional Ethicist.

Key Facts of the Case

With the growing popularity of technology, the role of information ethics has grown substantially. It is a central part of ethics which focus on establishing a positive relationship between maintaining, allocating, creating and using of information and the moral and ethical policies that applied over the actions of people (Stichler and Hauptman, 2009). It assists people and organisations in effectively dealing with ethical issues that are linked to privacy, issues, and ownership of information (Fleischmann et al., 2009). This report will focus on analysing the ethical issues in the case of ‘Edward Snowden’. The “Doing Ethics Technique (DET)” is used in this report to evaluate its ethical issues; the theory focuses on the evaluation of the case rather than providing the best solutions for the issues. The report will also include ACS Code of Ethics which are given by Australian Computer Society which is necessary to be followed by each ICT professional in order to resolve ethical dilemmas. The report structure will include an examination of the case facts and implementation of ethical theories that assist in determining the ethical problems in the case. Further, various recommendations and alternative solutions will be discussed in the report that can assist in ethically resolving the issues.

What’s going on?

Edward Snowden is a former CIA system administrator and an ex-employee of Booz Allen Hamilton where he worked as a defence contractor. In 2013, while working for NSA, Edward leaked confidential data regarding a program of NSA through which the agency collects and mine the information about US citizens (Szoldra, 2016). The program collected information through phone calls and internet traffic data of the people in order to find any potential terrorist activities or plans. Edward leaked the data in ‘The Guardian’ and ‘The Washington Post’ causing it to become one of the biggest data leaks at the time. The US government charged Edward under the Espionage Act 1917 which states that leaking confidential data of the government is considered as an act of betrayal. On the charges, Edward stated that he leaked the data to protect the privacy of people and to let them know about the immoral actions of NSA. After the leaking of data, Edward flew out of the country, and the government cancelled his passport (MacAskill, 2016). Many people consider the actions of Edward as moral since it results in shutting down the program of NSA, whereas, many consider it as an illegal act which risks national security of the country.

Ethical Issues in the Case


What are the facts?

Following are the key facts of this case.

  • Edward Snowden, ex-CIA agent, leaked the confidential data of NSA regarding their program through which it collected and mined the information about people through internet traffic data and phone calls (The New York Times, 2014).
  • Edward’s action was considered as betrayal, and the US government charged him under the Espionage Act.
  • Edward admitted that he accepted the job at Booz Allen Hamilton to gather all the information about their surveillance program.
  • After the leak, Edward quickly ran away from the country (Walker, 2017).
  • People have mixed opinions about his actions since many considered it a moral act whereas others consider his actions as serious threat to the nation security.
What are the issues?

Following are various issues which rose after the leaking of confidential data by Edward Snowden.

  • First issue is illegal collection of people’s data by NSA without prior permission of the court and without their knowledge.
  • Another issue is the leak of the data by Edward by breaching his professional duties towards the government.
  • The US government considered the action of Edward as betrayal as per Espionage Act, and the officials are angry at his action since it risked national security of the US (Lucas, 2014).
  • Edward quickly ran out the country after the incident which many people consider as an act of cowardliness, and they become suspicious about his actions.
  • People were also angry at the government for collecting and mining their private data without prior court’s approval.
Who is affected?

Edward Snowden

The incident has a crucial impact on Edward’s life since he ran out the country by leaving everything behind. His passport got revoked, and he was banned from the country as per the Whistle-blower Protection Act’s policies since he had a contractual relationship with the US government. The whole incident negatively affected his life and career (Scheuerman, 2014).

United States Government

  • The incident reduces people trust in the government, and they started suspecting its operations. The NSA program was cancelled after the changes that were brought by ‘Obama Administration’ which provided that NSA cannot collect people’s data without prior permission of the court (Berenson, 2015).
  • The foreign relations of the US were also negatively affected by the incident. Many countries such as Brazil, Germany, and Russia reduce the number of commercial treaties with the US after the incident. Brazil’s President cancelled his trip to the country, and German government asked for further investigation into the matter. Russian government stated that the incident provides evidence that the US government is two-faced (Bryant, 2013).

Terrorists

After the incident, NSA had to shut down its operations for collecting people data which makes it difficult for the government to track any potential terrorist activities. Lack of precautionary security measures can result in increasing terrorist activities in the US which can negatively affect nation’s security. Terrorist groups can capture Edward and force him to leak confidential information about NSA which can be detrimental to the country (Sledge, 2014).

Cloud Service Provider Firms

After the incident, the business of US-based CSP corporations was affected because foreign companies were afraid that the government can collect their data as well. The profits of CSP enterprises reduced after the incident which had a negative impact on national income as well (Darrow, 2017).

People

A large number of people were affected by the incident since they found out that the government is collecting their private data without their knowledge due to which people lose their faith in the government. Many individuals supported the actions of Edward whereas others opposed him.

Following are the ethical issues in the case based on different ethical theories and principles.

  • Consequence base (Utilitarianism theory)– This theory focuses on morality of the consequences that caused due to an action rather than the act itself. In this case, people are happy with the actions of Edward since it resulted in shutting down the NSA program which addressed the issue of lack of privacy in the US.
  • Duty base (Deontology theory) – Edward breached his duties in order to leak confidential data against NSA which makes the government angry at his actions, and they charged him under Espionage Act. Based on this theory, Edward breached his duties which make him actions ethically wrong (Branum and Charteris-Black, 2015).
  • Contract base (Contractarianism theory)– As per this theory, the actions of Edward are wrong legally. He breached his legal duties towards NSA by leaking its confidential data. On the moral side, the actions of Edward are ethical since he protected the privacy of people.
  • Character-Based (Virtues)– According to this theory, the actions of Edward provide that he is a good, honest and loyal person towards the citizens of the US. His actions resulted in securing the privacy of millions of people.
What can be done about it?

Various alternative solutions can be implemented in this case to address its issues. For example, Edward should come back to the US, and people’s votes should judge his actions. The government can establish a legal committee for hiring the matter and make a judgement based on ethical principles. NSA is required to change its policies and ensure that they will not collect private data of people without prior permission of the court. It will assist the US government in regaining the trust of people and improve their relationship with foreign nations (Verble, 2014). The government should ensure that Edward comes back to the country to ensure that he did not reveal any of the confidential information to the terrorist groups which can be dangerous for national security. Terrorists can forcefully collect information from Edward and use it to plan their next attack on the US.

What are the options?
  1. One option is that Edward never comes back to the US which will make the government very unhappy since he is a potential threat to the country. Terrorists can torture and collect confidential information from him which can be detrimental to the nation’s security. On the other hand, it will make Edward happy since he did not have to face any legal charges.
  2. The government can change its policies regarding collecting of people’s private data. New policies can ensure that the government authorities did not collect people’s private data without prior permission of the court. It will make the government unhappy since it increases the risk of terrorist attacks. On the other hand, people will be happy since it will protect their privacy.
  • Edward can come back to the country which will make the government happy since they can take legal actions against him and charge him for his actions. It will also reduce the threat of terrorists collecting confidential data of the US government. However, it will make Edward unhappy since the government will punish him for his moral actions.
Which option is the best?

Alternative Solutions

The best option is that the government should change their policies regarding the collection of people’s private data without the prior permission of the court. This option is the best because it is based on ethical policies which will increase people’s faith in the government and also result in improving foreign relationships.

Following are six core value of ACS Code of ethics which are mandatory to be followed by ICT professionals while performing their duties to ensure that their actions are ethical.

According to the ACS code of ethics, ICT professionals should prioritise public interest while performing their duties (ACS, 2014). The public interest should be prioritised before personal or organisational interest. In this case, Edward prioritises public interest above all since he breached his duties to reveal the information that NSA was collecting people data without their knowledge which is a breach of their privacy. Edward prioritise people’s interest over NSA’s which prove that he prioritise with ACS values.

As per this principle, the actions of an ICT professional should focus on enhancing the lives of public and especially those who are influenced by their work (Burmeister, 2013). The advancement of technology should focus on improving people’s lives rather than negatively affecting them. In this case, Edward leaked the confidential data about NSA’s program through which they were collecting people’s private data without their knowledge. This program was a significant threat to people’s privacy, and leaking of data resulted in improving their lives. Therefore, Edward fulfils this principle of ACS code of ethics as well.

An ICT professional should ensure that his/her actions are taken with complete honesty and integrity. ICT professional should reject bribery, and did not mislead his client (Glosoff and Matrone, 2010). He/she should distinguish between professional and personal advice and provide realistic estimates. In this case, Edward leaked the confidential data of NSA in public, but he failed to perform his actions with honesty towards NSA. His actions were dishonest towards the organisational interest. He disrupts his work’s integrity and honesty to leak the confidential data of NSA which proves that he did not comply with honesty principle of ACS code of ethics.

An ICT professional should work competently and diligently for the interest of his/her stakeholders. The ICT professional should accept the work which he/she is compatible with performing adequately, and he/she should ask other professionals in case of an issue (Clarke, 2016). ICT professional should ensure that he/she learn and understand new advancements in the ACS code of ethics and technology industry to ensure that his/her is able to provide high-quality service to its clients. In this case, Edward was aware of the code of ethics, standards, and regulations. He knew that the data mining program of NSA is illegal since it collects private data of people without their knowledge.

ACS Code of Ethics

An ICT professional should enhance his/her professional development and make sure his knowledge is up to date as per marketing standards. He/she should be aware of the issues that affect his/her professionalism and encourage others to improve there as well (Goldweber et al., 2011). In this case, Edward was aware of his work, and he was able to collect the confidential data of NSA without their knowledge which provide that he was highly qualified in his work. Edward keeps his knowledge up to date with new technological advancement to ensure that he is able to improve his work accordingly. Due to his capabilities and professional knowledge, Edward was able to collect and leak the data of NSA in the newspaper which protect the privacy of millions of people.

An ICT professional should ensure that each action performed by him is with professionalism. The professional should maintain a high level of professional standards while performing his duties which also assist in maintaining integrity in work (Thomas and Ahyick, 2010). The code of ethics provided by ACS assists in increasing people’s trust in the ICT professionals and their actions. These principles ensure that professionals take corrective actions during ethically complicated situations which result in improving their integrity and knowledge. In this case, Edward did not comply with his duties, and he breached them in order to leak confidential data about NSA data mining program. Edward provided that his actions protect him under the providing of Whistle-blower Protection Act, but the US government charged him under Espionage Act and declared him a criminal. Therefore, Edward failed to comply with the provision of professionalism.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Edward Snowden leaked the data regarding a program of NSA in 2013 through which the agency collected private data of people to find any potential terrorist activity. The case was analysed by the DET to find different ethical issues. The US government charged Edward under Espionage Act, and his actions were not protected under Whistle-blower Protection Act. Various parties were affected by the incident including people, CSP companies, terrorist, and the US government. Various options are analysed in the report that can assist in ethically addressing the issue. The ACS code of ethics is also applied in the case to analyse the issue from a perspective of ICT professional. Edward complies with several ACS codes of ethics such as prioritising people’s interest, enhancing their quality of life, competency, and professional development. He failed to comply with honesty and professionalism values. It can be concluded that many people consider Edward as a hero whereas others consider him as a national threat.

Conclusion

Following recommendation assist in resolving the issue with ethical policies.

  • The government should change its policies regarding collecting of people’s private data without prior court’s approval.
  • Edward should be bringing back to the country to avoid any potential terrorist attack.
  • The government should implement different programs for assessing terrorist activities without disrupting people’s privacy.

References

ACS. (2014) ACS Code of Professional Conduct. [PDF] ACS. Available from: https://www.acs.org.au/content/dam/acs/rules-and-regulations/Code-of-Professional-Conduct_v2.1.pdf [Accessed 6 February 2018].

Berenson, T. (2015) New Snowden Documents Reveal Obama Administration Expanded NSA Spying. [Online] Time. Available from: https://time.com/3909293/edward-snowden-obama-nsa-spying/ [Accessed 6 February 2018].

Branum, J. and Charteris-Black, J. (2015) The Edward Snowden affair: A corpus study of the British press. Discourse & Communication, 9(2), pp.199-220.

Bryant, N. (2013) The Snowden effect on US diplomacy. [Online] BBC. Available from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-24664045 [Accessed 6 February 2018].

Burmeister, O.K. (2013) Achieving the goal of a global computing code of ethics through an international-localisation hybrid. Ethical Space, 10(4), pp.25-32.

Clarke, R. (2016) Big data, big risks. Information Systems Journal, 26(1), pp.77-90.

Darrow, B. (2017) Edward Snowden Says Use Cloud Services at Your Own Peril. [Online] Fortune. Available from: https://fortune.com/2017/05/09/snowden-danger-of-cloud/ [Accessed 6 February 2018].

Fleischmann, K.R., Oard, D.W., Cheng, A.S., Wang, P. and Ishita, E. (2009) Automatic classification of human values: Applying computational thinking to information ethics. Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 46(1), pp.1-4.

Glosoff, H.L. and Matrone, K.F. (2010) Ethical issues in rehabilitation counselor supervision and the new 2010 code of ethics. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 53(4), pp.249-254.

Goldweber, M., Davoli, R., Little, J.C., Riedesel, C., Walker, H., Cross, G. and Von Konsky, B.R. (2011) Enhancing the social issues components in our computing curriculum: computing for the social good. ACM Inroads, 2(1), pp.64-82.

Lucas, G.R. (2014) NSA management directive# 424: Secrecy and privacy in the aftermath of Edward Snowden. Ethics & International Affairs, 28(1), pp.29-38.

MacAskill, E. (2016) Edward Snowden makes 'moral' case for presidential pardon. [Online] The Guardian. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/13/edward-snowden-why-barack-obama-should-grant-me-a-pardon [Accessed 6 February 2018].

Scheuerman, W.E. (2014) Whistleblowing as civil disobedience: The case of Edward Snowden. Philosophy & Social Criticism, 40(7), pp.609-628.

Sledge, M. (2014) The Snowden Effect: 8 Things That Happened Only Because Of The NSA Leaks. [Online] The Huffington Post. Available from: https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/edward-snowden-nsa-effect_n_5447431 [Accessed 6 February 2018].

Stichler, R.N. and Hauptman, R. (2009) Ethics, information and technology: readings. McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers.

Szoldra, P. (2016) This is everything Edward Snowden revealed in one year of unprecedented top-secret leaks. [Online] Business Insider. Available from: https://www.businessinsider.in/This-is-everything-Edward-Snowden-revealed-in-one-year-of-unprecedented-top-secret-leaks/articleshow/54367926.cms [Accessed 6 February 2018].

The New York Times. (2014) Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower. [Online] The New York Times. Available from: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/02/opinion/edward-snowden-whistle-blower.html [Accessed 6 February 2018].

Thomas, T. and Ahyick, M. (2010) Can we help information systems students improve their ethical decision making?. Interdisciplinary Journal of Information, Knowledge & Management, 5.

Verble, J. (2014) The NSA and Edward Snowden: surveillance in the 21st century. ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society, 44(3), pp.14-20.

Walker, S. (2017) Edward Snowden's leave to remain in Russia extended for three years. [Online] The Guardian. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/18/edward-snowden-allowed-to-stay-in-russia-for-a-couple-of-years [Accessed 6 February 2018].

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