What responsibilities do we as computing professionals have in our industry? Do we have a responsibility solely to follow the goals and policies of our company?
Computer professionals, in my opinion, have ethical responsibilities but I do believe that in some circumstances these responsibilities are unattainable due to external circumstance.
In general, I believe a computer professional should be able to grasp and understand the goal of the intended system or systems they are working on. Not only to make ethical judgement but to perform their role in the development of such system from an informed point of view. If the professional is aware of the overall goal that the system is being developed for and the implications of such a system, he or she should be able to make judgement whether they approve or disapprove of the ethics behind such a system.
The problem with ethics is that different people, cultures etc. have different beliefs in right and wrong. So in this scenario a code of ethics for the organisation should be established to avoid any blurred interpretation, also so that the perspective employees can review them before deciding to apply for a job at the organisation (Payne, 2003).
To directly answer the question of what computing professionals responsibility to society at large are, I would say, is to keep the views of the user and the law in mind, while adhering to their responsibility in their organisation. To look at it from a user’s perspective and think of the effects that the system may have, both positively and negatively on the general populous. As well, to not knowingly jeopardise a system by infringing on copyrights or patents (Adams & McCrindle, 2008, p.10).
That being said, I do not think it the blame should lie on the professional. Today with the cost of living, you cannot choose to leave your current employer (and salary) due to your beliefs that what they are doing is, perhaps, wrong in your definition.
I feel that the goal of such projects and the determining of right and wrong in the broader scheme should lie in the area of business ethics and would be aimed at the organisation and decision makers of the project more than the professionals involved in carrying out such tasks.
To summarise I would say the responsibility of the professional is to carry out their role in the project to their best ability and concentration, to ‘care’ about what they are doing with the bigger picture in mind, rather than just going through the motions. This will hopefully ensure a quality production. The business ethics of right and wrong is more the responsibility of the organisation.
Adams, A.A. & McCrindle, R.J. (2008) Pandora’s box: Social and professional issues of the information age. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Payne, D (2003) ‘Engineering ethics and business ethics: commonalities for a comprehensive code of ethics’, IEEE Region 5, 2003 Annual Technical Conference, pp.81-87, IEEE Xplore [Online]. DOI: 10.1109/REG5.2003.1199714 (Accessed: 7 November 2010).