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The Importance of Ethics and Professionalism in the IT Industry

Discuss about the Professional Conduct NSA Intelligence Professional.

Can you Imagine living in a country with no ethics and professional practice standards and regulations? Obviously, chaos and confusion would probably be the order of the day for so the professions in the country. Ethics and code of conduct play a very critical role in guiding professionals in their various day to day activities. Give a general framework and a decision-making process that the professionals should follow whenever they are faced with a dilemma in their line of duty. Therefore, ethics helps IT professionals and other professionals in making the right decisions as expected of them. Professionalism entails doing the right thing at all times including the situation where one is faced with tough decisions to make in their line of duty. Such a decision may have very adverse impacts on various stakeholders and therefore ethics and the code of conduct should be the basis of such critical decisions that may endanger public life or even damage the reputation of a brand and a given profession at large.

Ethic and code of professional conduct do not merely constrain professionals in their practice but provide standards that have to be met to promote the professionalism of any given field. The code of conduct and ethics outline the professional attributes and quality that have to be met at all time. Such professional attributes required for a professional regardless of their field include respect, honesty, fairness and many more. There are several organizations that have been put in place to regulate and govern the practitioners of the various professionals with the IT sector included. The Code of Ethics and Professional Practice (Code) of the Association for Institutional Research is one of such organizations and it was established to provide its members with guides for their professional life and the relevant considerations to consider in case of any ethical uncertainties. The code provides a process in which new individuals in a given professional can learn about the ethical standards and principles that professional institutional researchers should adhere to in their duties.

The ASC Code of Ethics is part of the Australian Computer Society and it outlines the various codes of ethics that all the members of this association must adhere to. The ASC code outlines the six important ethical values that professionals under ASC have to exhibit and we are going to use the given case study to see how any of these ethical values might have been violated by Snowden as an IT practitioner in Australia. The members of the ACS associations include all the practitioners in information and technology (ICT) sector.

Codes of Ethics for IT Practitioners

The case study involving Snowden, who was working as an IT practitioner, giving confidential information raises several ethical issues and we are going to use the Doing Ethics Technique to analyze this case. This technique has a framework that is subdivided into several sections to help in analyzing ethical issues.

The Doing Ethics technique is a procedure used to analyze all ethical scenarios that may arise in the line of duty of a professionally especially situations of an ethical dilemma. This technique does not necessarily guarantee the professional will come up with the best solution in a given situation but it ensures that the professional is thinking ethically. The technique is sometimes associated with lack of clear guidance and being a little bit vague, however, the series of questions followed in this technique help in understanding ethical analysis.

In this case study, Edward Snowden is an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton who is a defense contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA). Edward Snowden agreed that he revealed NSA Surveillance details to reporters at The Washington Post and The Guardian. He gave the reporters confidential documents that showed how NSA is doing data mining on Internet traffic records and collecting data from hundreds of millions of phones in the US to identify any potential terrorist links. In order to avoid federal charges, Snowden escaped from the country. This case created divided opinions among the public with other viewing him as a traitor while others see him as a whistleblower.

Snowden leaked documents to the reporters and these documents showed how the NSA was tracking the Internet traffic in the U.S as well as so many phones in the country. Snowden must have known what he was doing is illegal in the country that is why he fled to avoid facing federal charges. Snowden is an IT practitioner and therefore must have known all the ethical values expected of him thus whatever he did was a violation of the ethical and code of conduct practice.

 Edward Snowden is one of the most consequential whistleblowers in the history of United States of America. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world's most secretive organizations, the National Security Agency (NSA). In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: "I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," but "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant…. I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing."

The Case Study of Edward Snowden

He disclosed the documents to the journalists and knew very well that he was going to face federal charges for disclosing the confidential documents but insisted that he was aware of his actions. He had made a decision to sacrifice his salary of about $200000 and living comfortably with his family for his conscious could not allow him to work knowing that the US government was violating the internet and private rights of citizens. He was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity; he said "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong”. Snowden then flew to Moscow and the Russian government granted him asylum after they realized his US passport has been cancelled.

There are several ethical and professional issues that arise from Edward Snowden case study. The issues that come out are as shown below.

  • Violation of civil rights. The documents Edward gave the reporters confirmed how the NSA was doing a surveillance of hundreds of millions of phones in the U.S. This is a deliberate violation of the right of privacy of the citizens. This means the NSA was handling personal and confidential messages of the U.S citizens without their will.
  • Violation of ethics and code of professional conduct. Edward was obliged to think ethically in this situation and use appropriate channels instead of exposing confidential documents. He was faced with making the decision of choosing between doing the right thing as a person and following the professional code of conduct and this dilemma requires critical thinking before making any decision.
  • The issue of being honest comes out in this case study. Edward was being honest to the public although he knew this was a compromise of the codes of professional conduct for him as an IT professional under ACS. There is certain information that does not have to be shared with the public since it may have a hostile impact especially if it is related to their security.
  • The issue of the government responsibility in responsibility and accountability. Some people have raised concerns that the NSA should have asked for the consent of the citizens before proceeding to track the Internet traffic and collecting information from their phones. However, the issue of security is a very delicate concern and doing this would have completely changed the dynamics of the NSA investigations and this would have possibly affected the end results.
  • The issues of being a good citizen versus being a professional also come out in this case study. This is the main basis that makes the public to have divided opinions concerning Edward Snowden case study. Although he violated ethical values and the code of professional conduct, some think he did what was best for the public by letting them know that the NSA was doing a surveillance of their phones without their consent.

There are several stakeholders that are affected by Snowden actions. Below is the list of those stakeholders and how Snowden actions in the case study affect them either directly or indirectly.

  • The public is a stakeholder in this case study. The information revealed by Snowden shows how the NSA was violating the civil rights of the US citizens by obtaining personal information from their phones without their consent. This is going to have a negative response from the public who will think the government does not respect their civil rights and thus destroying the reputation of the government of the day.
  • The government is a major stakeholder in this case. The government is given the responsibility of safeguarding the rights of its citizens and act as an example. The government is also mandated to ensure that its citizens are safe thus eliminating terrorism is an important responsibility. This is why the government had to allow the NSA to do their investigation with the aim of preventing any possible terrorist attacks in the US.
  • The NSA is another stakeholder in the case. The NSA are the ones involved with doing the surveillance of phones of the US citizens and tracking the Internet traffic to help them identify any connection with terrorists. The NSA was doing this surveillance without the consent of the citizens for confidentiality reasons and ensure that their surveillance will have the desired outcomes of eliminating terrorism.
  • The media is involved in revealing the documents Snowden gave them. The reporters shared this information so that the citizens can know the truth about what was happening at NSA, The media was doing its main role of informing the public about issues that are directly affecting them.
  • Civil rights organizations are also stakeholders in this case. This is because they are concerned with the enforcing of civil rights in the US. Snowden actions revealed how the NSA was violating civil rights of US citizens hence civil rights will have to ensure these rights are respected now that the issue had been brought to the spotlight.
  • Honesty is the ethical issue taking the center stage in this case study. By sharing the confidential reports to the reporters, Edward was being honest to the public by letting them know what exactly the NSA was doing. This had the implication of him going against ethics and the professional code of conduct as an IT practitioner.
  • Respect as an ethical issue is also evident in this case study. The NSA as a government department is mandated to respect the civil rights of the citizens but their act of doing surveillance without their consent is against this ethical value. As a government department, they are expected to be at the forefront in exhibiting the highest ethical standards.
  • Responsibility is also an ethical issue coming out in the case study. All professionals should be responsible for their actions and the impact it has on other stakeholders, either direct or indirect. Snowden should have been responsible for his actions but instead, he fled the country to avoid federal charges.
  • The issue of competence also comes in as an ethical issue in this case study. Snowden’s actions did not display the professional competence expected of him as an IT expert working for the DNA. The information he revealed was very critical to the public and this raised so many questions to be asked about his competency.
  • The ethical issue of fairness is also evident in the case study. The public feels that the government is not fair for charging Snowden since whatever documents he shared were authentic. Some people think that he should be acknowledged for acting in favor of public interest.

In such a situation, Edward is expected to think ethically and at the same time consider the codes of professional conduct expected of him. Principles of ethical decision-making outline the procedure of how professionals should make decisions when faced with an ethical dilemma like the one he was facing at the moment. Snowden was faced with a situation which required him to make a decision on whether to follow what his conscience was telling him or follow the rules and regulations of the organization he was working for.

A good professional should use balance ethics and the code of professional conduct in decision making. The code of professional conduct outlines the various values and attributes that professionals should always demonstrate regardless of the situation they find themselves in. The values of honesty, respect and fairness are some of the professional values that are expected of all professionals. A good professional should be an ethical thinker and apply critical thinking skills in decision making.

Edward Snowden as an IT practitioner was expected to follow several guidelines outlined in the ASC code. The primacy of Public Interest, the Enhancement of quality of Life, Professional Development, competence and honesty are among the factors Snowden should have considered before making any decision in this situation. He was expected to follow the decision-making guideline which would have helped him find the most appropriate decision to make from the alternatives that were available to him.

Stakeholder Impacts

The first option Edward hard is to ignore the personal and public interest. This had the advantage of him acting professionally and the disadvantage of hiding the truth from the public. The second is the one he took of going to the media as much as this option has the advantage of displaying honesty it also comes with the advantage of violating professionalism. The third option would be to approach the relevant authorities in the organization and explain his point of view. This third option has the advantage of demonstrating professionalism as well as ethical value.

The third option of approaching the relevant authorities and explaining his point of view on the situation is the best option he could have taken. This is because this how ethics and the code of professional conduct principles would have expected him to do so. Public security is a crucial government obligation and confidentiality is very critical in this sector hence sharing such confidential information about an NSA program is not a good decision to make.

The primacy of public interest is the first and most important component of the ASC code of ethics. The ASC Code of Ethics requires that all the ICT professionals should always put public interests above personal, sectional and business interests. Snowden in this case study considered public interests and believed that the public deserved to know the truth about what was going on at NSA.

In whatever activity IT practitioners get involved in must always put public interest as the first priority. Edward as a practitioner as much as much as declaring to the public what the National Security Agency was doing is a matter of public interest, there security and safety have more priority. The NSA program of surveillance on the internet traffic and telephone conversations was aimed mainly to protect the public from potential terrorist attacks.

IT practitioners are expected by the code not to involve in activities or projects that will interfere with public safety and interests. The public should always be the priority whenever they make decisions during their day to day professional activities. Every professional IT practitioner who is a member of the ASC is expected to observe this code and ensure that public interests are given the deserved priority.

An ICT professional under ASC is expected by the ASC code to always endeavour to promote the quality of life of all those who are affected by their work. Security is a more critical aspect of promoting the quality of life of the citizens compared to the students knowing what NSA was doing with the data they obtain from their phones. Therefore his action does not really promote the quality of life of the citizens.

The Decision-Making Process for Professionals

The quality of life of the citizens in terms of the various aspects affecting both personal and social lifestyles should be considered when making an ethical decision. The security of the citizens is a very critical issue affecting the life quality of the US citizens. Terrorism which is the main reason behind the NSA surveillance has claimed so many lives in the country and therefore the program is trying to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks.

It projects and activities should do with the main aim of improving the quality of life. They should identify the problems people face in their day to day life activities and come up with solutions to these problems. IT professionals should be driven with finding easy ways to handle the life challenges so that life can be made easier. Using technology to solve life challenges is one way of ensuring that the quality of life is enhanced. Therefore, Edward Snowden was expected to consider whether his actions are going to enhance the life of US citizens before making any decision.

An ICT professional practitioner is expected to be honest in the representation of their knowledge, services, skills and products. In his actions, Snowden was honest since the information he shared with the reporters was authentic. Honesty is a person that is expected to be demonstrated by all the ASC members in the IT sector as they practice their duties. Honesty is a virtue that is expected in almost all professions and it is among the fundamental principles of professionalism.

Honesty does not simply lying or using treacherous means for personal gain but it may entail speaking out what some other people may not want to hear. Honesty is the cornerstone for being a trustworthy professional who can be trusted with very critical duties. Professionals are expected to be honest the public, their employee, customers and all the stakeholders that are involved in their projects and should make genuine decisions that honestly consider all the stakeholders.

Honesty is very important among all professionals not only for the sake of individual benefits but also for the sake of maintaining a good reputation of the given professional. IT professionals should observe honesty when they are bidding for projects, disclosing a conflict of interests, talking about their qualifications and interests, answering the request and when disclosing sensitive personal issues. Observing the honesty virtue is something expected of all IT practitioners who are ASC members.

Competence is a term that is used to refer to doing something accurately and effectively. Ethical competence refers to the ability to make ethical decisions and it is something expected of all the IT professionals under ASC. An ICT professional is expected to work diligently and competently for their stakeholders. Edward did not put this aspect into consideration since his actions did not consider all the stakeholders he was working for.

Competence entails having the ability to fulfill all the duties an IT professional may be expected to perform. IT professionals should have certain basic skills and knowledge that is going to facilitate how they are going to carry out their duties. A competent IT practitioner is one with the ability of effectively performing their duties and at the same time observes all the ethical principles expected of them.

Experience and knowledge increase the competence of the professionals by learning how to do something over and over again. Repeating certain tasks makes people become more skilled and efficient. There are several professional bodies that have put guidelines in place to taste the competence of new entrants into a certain field so that they ensure they are competent before they can be allowed to practice.

An ICT professional is expected to enhance their professional in deliberating their duties. Edward’s actions are totally contradicting this expectation hence he does not observe the ASC code. Every profession has outlined several regulatory mechanisms that are enhancing the development of that particular profession. The ASC for instance is one of such body and it is mandated to regulate the information technology profession in the country and ensure certain standards are met.

Professional development also includes personal achievement in a given profession. Every profession has various levels of hierarchy in terms of duties and responsibilities. For instance, in the information technology sector, we might have the technicians and engineers. Technicians may practice for a period of time and when they have gained sufficient skills and knowledge on the field they can seek for industrial testing to be upgraded as engineers. Therefore one can continuously develop their career level with time.

Professional development entails so many factors that have to be considered. The reputation of a given professional is important to the development of that profession; therefore, regulatory bodies work hard to ensure the public reputation is always protected. For a given career to develop there are several stands that have to be put in place and ensure the rules governing these standards are properly implemented to promote the development of the profession.

Professionalism refers to the skills or practicing of a certain activity with the required efficiency and competence. An ICT professional is expected to improve the integrity of the society and the respect of its members for each other.  Snowden’s actions in this case study are disregarding this aspect since he acted contrarily to what was expected of him as an ICT professional.

Apart from competence, a professional is also expected to demonstrate other valuable attributes such as appearance, responsibility, demeanor, ethics, etiquette, organizational skills, and accountability among many others. An IT professional is expected to be responsible for their action something that Edward Snowden did not demonstrate as a professional when he fled to Moscow to avoid federal charges. As a professional, he was expected to face the charges and defend himself in accordance with the constitution.

Professionalism is something that all professionals in the IT sector should observe and it provides the framework to carry out their duties accordingly. It professionals are expected to be accountable and also be cautious of their appearance. Professionals entail following all the requirements put in place in by the regulatory bodies and have positive personal qualities. Every practitioner is expected to have mastered all the professionalism principles and their actions should always demonstrate this.


The Snowden case study has raised so many ethical and professional codes of conduct concerns. Even though there are some ethical factors behind his action, considering both the analysis we realize that he did not act according to the professional expectations. He should have used ethics and code of professional conduct as the basis to make a decision in the situation he encountered.

Ethics and code of conduct play a very critical role in guiding professionals in their various day to day activities. Ethics give a general framework and a decision-making process that the professionals should follow whenever they are faced with a dilemma in their line of duty. Therefore, ethics helps IT professionals and other professionals in making the right decisions as expected of them

A good professional should balance ethics and the code of professional conduct in decision making. The code of professional conduct outlines the various values and attributes that professionals should always demonstrate regardless of the situation they find themselves in. It is normal for professional practitioners, to be specific IT practitioners, to find themselves in an ethical dilemma where they are required to make decisions. In such moments they should consider different ethical issues before settling down to a decision.


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