Professional Ethics

Section Editors: Robert Davison and Ned Kock

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[New Resources on the Professional Ethics Page] [Introduction to the Professional Ethics Page] [What is Professional Ethics?] [Issues] [Advantages & Disadvantages] [Mailing Lists and Debates] [Codes of Professional Ethics] [Ethics Education] [Ethics Resources] [Reference Materials] [Ethics Centres, Institutions and Organisations] [Ethics Conferences and Events] [Cultural Perspectives] [Your Views]

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New Resources on the Professional Ethics Page

»Association for Information Systems (AIS) Code of Research Conduct; Guidelines for a Victim: Dealing with Plagiarism; Process Guidelines

Introduction to the Professional Ethics Page

It is the intention of the page editors that this page will provide a forum for discussing issues concerning the practice of ethics in the Information Systems profession.

The real challenge for an international discussion regarding ethics in the IS profession is not to indulge in a never-ending debate on the feasibility or necessity of having a code of ethics, but rather, to be able to capture and share the essence of our profession so that it can provide a guiding light to the many more people who are already or who will one day be part of this profession.

We intend to introduce progressively new features to this page and earnestly solicit your feedback. In particular, we would like these pages to be not only a source of information, but also a focus of debate - again, not so much on the feasibility or necessity of a code of ethics, but on ethical and professional issues that are critical to all of us in the IS community. While codes of conduct and practice are perhaps the most well-known characteristics of the debate on ethics, there is much that cannot be codified or prescribed that is worthy of discussion, including the way in which ethics is taught in the Information Systems curriculum.

If you have ideas to share, comments to make or criticisms to help us make these pages more useful, please email them to the page co-editors, Robert Davison and Ned Kock.

What is Professional Ethics?

Professional Ethics concerns one's conduct of behaviour and practice when carrying out professional work. Such work may include consulting, researching, teaching and writing. The institutionalisation of Codes of Conduct and Codes of Practice is common with many professional bodies for their members to observe.

Any code may be considered to be a formalisation of experience into a set of rules. A code is adopted by a community because its members accept the adherence to these rules, including the restrictions that apply.

It must be noted that there is a distinction between a profession such as Information Systems, and controlled professions such as Medicine and Law, where the loss of membership may also imply the loss of the right to practice.

Apart from codes of ethics, professional ethics also concerns matters such as professional indemnity. Furthermore, as will readily be appreciated, no two codes of ethics are identical. They vary by cultural group, by profession and by discipline. The former of these three variations is one of the most interesting, as well as controversial, since it challenges the assumption that universal ethical principles exist. In some cultures, certain behaviours are certainly frowned upon, but in other cultures the opposite may be true. Software piracy is a good case in point, in that attitudes towards software piracy vary from strong opposition to strong support - attitudes that are supportable within a particular culture. At the end of these pages is a section called Cultural Perspectives, where we hope to point you to alternative perspectives of ethical standards, attitudes and behaviours..


Codes of Ethics are concerned with a range of issues, including:

»Academic honesty
»Adherence to confidentiality agreements
»Data privacy
»Handling of human subjects
»Impartiality in data analysis and professional consulting
»Professional accountability
»Resolution of conflicts of interest
»Software piracy

The Advantages and Disadvantages of a Code of Ethics

A Code of Ethics enables us to:

»Set out the ideals and responsibilities of the profession
»Exert a de facto regulatory effect, protecting both clients and professionals
»Improve the profile of the profession
»Motivate and inspire practitioners, by attempting to define their raison d'ętre
»Provide guidance on acceptable conduct
»Raise awareness and consciousness of issues
»Improve quality and consistency

On the other hand, we must also consider:

»Whether the so-called standards are obligatory, or are merely an aspiration
»Whether such a code is desirable or feasible
»Whether ethical values are universal or culturally relativistic
»The difficulty of providing universal guidance given the heterogeneous nature of the profession
»What the point is of specifying responsibilities, given the limited regulatory function of a code.

Mailing Lists and Debates

A simple "list global ethics" query to a L-soft server reveals a range of Ethics-related mailing lists. Of these, the following are likely to be of interest to the Information Systems professional. Be sure to send your initial subscription to the list by emailing the listserv@list, e.g., not to the list itself (i.e. not to

»COMPUTER-ETHICS@JISCMAIL.AC.UK can be accessed here 
» is a general list for the discussion of ethics in computing.
» hosts the discussion of ethical issues in software engineering.
»The Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics has a list - Contact Ari Santas for details.
»The Computer Ethics Institute has a list -
»There is also an Electronic Roundtable Discussion on Ethics and Security at
»The Society of Professional Journalists maintains a list for the discussion of ethics in journalism.
»EthicNet is a databank for European codes of Journalistic ethics.
»Panel on IS Research Ethics at ICIS 2000
»Panel on Information Privacy in a Globally Networked Society: Implications for IS Research at ICIS2002  

Codes of Professional Ethics

This section contains links to institutions and organisations (primarily in the IS domain) with a Code of Professional Ethics:

»American Medical Association Principles of Medical Ethics
»American Psychological Association's ethics documents
»Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)
»Association for Information Systems (AIS) Code of Research Conduct; Guidelines for a Victim: Dealing with Plagiarism; Process Guidelines
»The Australian Computer Society  Code of Ethics
»The British Computer Society (BCS)  Code of Conduct  Code of Practice
»Canadian Information Processing Society - Professionalism  
»Computer Society of South Africa
»The Hong Kong Computer Society's  Code of Ethics
»IEEE Code of Ethics
»The Institute for the Management of Information Systems Code of Professional Conduct
»Librarian and Information Manager Associations Ethics Web Pages
»Singapore Computer Society Professional Code of Conduct
»Codes of conduct from around the world

Ethics Education

This section contains links to sites with information on ethics in education and the teaching of ethics.

»Information Systems Ethics (Cyberethics)
»Ethical Principles in University Teaching
»Business Ethics Certificate Programme

Ethics Resources on line

Links to resources on subjects related to Professional Ethics:

»Donald Gotterbarn's "Ethics Articles" page
»Ethical Issues in the Preparation and Submission of Research Papers
»Global Ethics University Articles
»Hoaxes and viruses
»Is IT Ethical: 1998 Ethicomp survey of professional practice
»Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics (JSCOPE)
»Legal ethics and reform
»Librarian and Information Manager Associations - Ethics Links
»Professional indemnity insurance - an introduction
»Professional indemnity insurance from the ACM
»European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies

Reference Materials on Ethics

»Books and Book Chapters
»Articles in Journals
»Articles from Conference Proceedings
»Web Pages

Ethics Centres, Institutions and Organisations

This section contains links to centres, institutions and organisations which are specifically set up to deal with the subject of Professional Ethics:

»Association for Practical and Professional Ethics
»Australian Institute of Computer Ethics
»Business Software Alliance
»Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility
»Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics
»Electronic Privacy Information Centre
»Global Ethics University
»Göteborg University Centre for Research Ethics
»Institute for Business & Professional Ethics
»International Intellectual Property Offices
»Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science
»Software Information Industry Association
»Swedish Research Council's Rules and Guidelines for Research - CODEX (English Version)
»Web Clearing House for Engineering and Computing Ethics
»The World Intellectual Property Association

Ethics Conferences and Events

»Events, Calendars and Conferences list (managed by the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility)
»Research Ethics in Information Systems, at the 21st International Conference on Information Systems.

Cultural Perspectives

»Software Piracy in Hong Kong and China - A Study
»Valuing Creativity in the 21st Century

Your Views

The Obligations of Journals and their Editorial Board Members

In April 2000, we posted two questions to ISWORLD about the policies that journals and their editors have (or should have) with regard to subscriptions. The questions are followed by comments from Journal Editors and then comments from many other respondents. Since some of you might feel that responses could be culturally loaded - or influenced -   the country where the respondent is located is also included (taken from the email address). Several respondents requested anonymity, but their location is still included.


1) Do the journals on whose editorial boards we sit have any professional obligation to "reward" or "thank" us for our contributions by sending us a complementary copy of each issue of the journal (or perhaps by giving us free access to a web page where the issues are archived)?
2) Do we as editorial board members have any professional obligation to support the journal on whose editorial board we sit by taking out a personal subscription to that journal, perhaps thereby helping to ensure its financial security?
Responses to these questions can be found by clicking here

E-Mailing Lists and Subscriptions

In August, 2000, we posted a single scenario-based question to ISWORLD about e-mailing lists and subscription policies, specifically: "we would like you to react to the practice of creating a mailing list by adding names and addresses without the consent (informed or assumed) of the 'subscribers' ".

Responses to this question can be found by clicking here.

Ethics Committees

In December, 2001, we asked the ISWORLD community if IS researchers need an ethics committee to oversee IS Research. The detailed version of the question, and the responses that we received, can be found by clicking here.

Last updated September 23rd, 2004.