Category Archives: Professionalism

Ethics in ICT Professionalism

(This paper was compiled by Moira for IP3 (www.ipthree.org) , with significant input from Donna Lindskrog, CIPS. It was edited by IP3 Directors  from Brenda Aynsley & Stephen Ibaraki).

The purpose of this paper is to explore the genealogy of ethics in professionalism generally, how they apply to ICT and how they are enforced, and why ethics in ICT is important to society.

1.     Introduction

Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behaviour. This may involve articulating the good habits that we should acquire, the duties that we should follow, or the consequences of our behaviour on others

Society has attached a special meaning to the term Professional. A professional is expected to conduct his or herself at a higher level than most other members of society[1]

We might at first consider Professional Ethics to simply be moral conduct, which is the case for society as a whole. However, Professional ethics is related to any work that a person does for an occupation and his concern towards the society. Professional ethics carries additional moral responsibilities. Professionals have distinctive qualifications which make them unique in a society. [2].

Professions often enshrine these responsibilities within a Code of Ethics or Code of Good Practice.  ‘Profession’ means a type of job that requires special training and that brings a fairly high status, for example – work connected with medicine, law, education, and engineering. Professional ethics are the rules governing the conduct, transactions and relationships within a profession. It’s important to note that Professional Ethics have a mechanism where non-compliance can be disciplined. [3]

Simply put, a Professional is a person who:

  • Demonstrates competence, and strives for excellence
  • Is committed to a code of conduct
  • Takes personal responsibility
  • Shows public accountability
  • Shares a common Body of Knowledge
  • Commits to Continuous Professional Development (CPD)

Where a Profession is mandated by legislation of some kind, there is also a registration process required to keep a record of the Professionals.

2.     ICT as a Profession

The aforementioned Professions are regulated by  statute in almost every country, mainly because of the potential for harm to be caused to society by unethical practice. With few exceptions the ICT Profession has not been legislated, and it has been left to Professional Bodies to mandate a Code of Ethics, and offer a disciplinary process for non-compliance.

However, the model used to develop the ICT profession in the latter half of the 20th Century is no longer fit for purpose. The drivers for change include:

  • ICT touches on every other profession and industry
  • Criticality of ICT and forces of globalisation
  • Governance and security requirements
  • Maturation of IT industry
  • Increasing importance of Information as an asset
  • The need to assure competence and integrity

Because ICT is truly a global profession, with its practice being largely the same anywhere in the world, coupled with the lack of appropriate registration in many countries, IFIP IP3 was formed. It is global programme promoting professionalism; led by the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP); defining global standards and creating international infrastructure; recognising and certifying professionalism delivered through member societies.

IFIP IP3 is a vigorous program to promote professionalism in IT with the vision of a truly global and international ICT profession, equal in prestige and structure to other established professions.  Furthermore, IFIP IP3 envisages the creation of a worldwide set of professional certification schemes.  Given the global nature of the partnership, IP3 will also have the effect of facilitating  ICT capability in developing countries.

The goals of IFIP IP3 were ratified at the World Computer Congress in Milan in 2008, where the “WCC 2008 Declaration on ICT Professionalism and Competences” was signed by several ICT Organizations. In summary:

  • An International ICT Profession should be founded on essential elements of professionalism
  • Assessment of competence should include technical and non-technical competences, and should take into account international ICT certifications; vendor neutral, industry certifications and formal qualifications
  • Purpose of an international profession is equally to recognize professionalism itself, and to support those that develop professionalism
  • The structure of the international profession must be “multi-layered”.

3.    Ethics in ICT

In the case of Information & Communications Technology, or ICT Ethics, this falls as a subset of that definition as “the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc”[4]

In trying to determine if people have good ethics, we believe we need a definition of a line that should not be crossed.  “Good habits”, “duties” and “rules of conduct” do not seem as black and white as would be useful.  ICT is just beginning to describe “best practices” and the various roles in the industry and what their duties should be.  Whilst all the changes that are happening and how much progress is being made is encouraging, it is also difficult to get consensus on a set of duties or habits.  “Rules of conduct” imply that there has been discussion and agreement about a set of rules.

Everyone in the computing community understands the importance of recognizing and promoting ethical behaviour in the profession. Instruction in ethics is rapidly becoming a part of most computing-related curricula, whether as a stand-alone course or infused into existing courses. In 2009, seventeen faculty members and industry representatives from a wide range of institutions began to address this open problem by forming The Pledge of the Computing Professional. This initiative was spearheaded by the ACM SIGCAS (Special interest group on Computers and Society). The Pledge exists to promote and recognize the ethical and moral behaviour and responsibilities in graduates of computing-related degree programs as they transition to careers of service to society. The Pledge does not seek to define or enforce ethics – this is the role of other organizations. The Pledge, which follows below really encapsulates what is expected of ICT Professionals by the communities and the professional bodies they will be members of going forward.

The Pledge “I am a Computing Professional. My work as a Computing Professional affects people’s lives, both now and into the future. As a result, I bear moral and ethical responsibilities to society. As a Computing Professional, I pledge to practice my profession with the highest level of integrity and competence. I shall always use my skills for the public good. I shall be honest about my limitations, continuously seeking to improve my skills through life-long learning. I shall engage only in honourable and upstanding endeavours. By my actions, I pledge to honour my chosen profession.” [5]

CIPS (an IP3 member) has defined a set of ethics rules [6] for IT and they are summarized quite succinctly in 5 principles or imperatives:

  1. Protecting the Public Interest and Maintaining Integrity;
  2. Demonstrating Competence and Quality of Service;
  3. Maintaining Confidential Information and Privacy;
  4. Avoiding Conflict of Interest; and
  5. Upholding Responsibility to the IT Profession.

Apart from the strictures that are or should be placed on an ICT Professional, there are additional special responsibilities facing computer professionals – even those who are not considered Professionals in the strictest meaning of the word – which include:

  • Maintaining relationships with and responsibilities toward customers, clients, co-workers, employees, and employers.
  • Making critical decisions that have significant consequences for many people.
  • Determining how to manage, select, or use computers in a professional setting.

Additional guidelines for ICT Professionals, which are not necessarily written into Professional Codes, but are nonetheless important include:

  • Understand Success as more than just making something work
  • Design for real users and test for real users
  • Conduct thorough planning and scheduling, and pay attention to details

4.     Impact of Ethics on Society

We would live in a wonderful world if everyone could be held to ethical standards. Unfortunately though, there are different interpretations of what ethical values are. Unless there is a clear Code of Ethics, and sanctions that can be imposed for breach of Ethical standards, this will remain a Utopian dream.

Society therefore relies on the Codes of Ethics and Good Practices set up and policed by Professional Bodies. These Codes must not violate any civil law or institutional policy, and must be able to be enforced.

Possibly the most important value of Codes of  Ethics is the level of trust you can bestow on the individual professional.  If, for example, you need help from a medical professional, you trust him to know what he is doing (Education and CPD); to be honest with you in his assessment of your condition and the treatment thereof (conduct and personal responsibility); and is accountable to the Council that oversees the Medical Profession (Public accountability).

An excellent example of a Professional  is that of the Australian Computer Society  (see ACS Code of Ethics).

This code is exemplary because it emphasizes the impact of the Professional’s behaviour on society at large, rather than just the work of the professional per se.  Many Professional Codes also include that of Service – the duty to “give back” to the community and society by doing voluntary “good works”. This could include volunteering for their own Professional Society.

5.     Conclusion

It is clear that Professional Codes of Ethics are essential to assure Society that the Professionals they deal with will not cause harm.

Because ICT practitioners are employed in all industries, and the impact of their work can be detrimental as well as beneficial, as the profession continues to mature, it is vital that these impacts are recognised and risks managed.  Professional Competence in practice and Codes of Ethics and Good Behaviour should be certified, as is being done by IFIP IP3, then in future work performed by certified ICT Professionals around the world can be trusted by anyone and everywhere that has subscribed to this certification process.


[4]              Baase, Sara , A Gift of Fire:Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues for Computing and the Internet (Third edition),Prentice Hall,  Page 30

[5]              SIGCAS Newsletter (August 2012) http://tinyurl.com/pledge-sigcas

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