Legal, Ethical And Social Issues In Management Information Systems



Ethics refer to the principles of right and wrong that individuals who act as free moral agents use to make choices that will guide their behavior.

Although protecting personal privacy and intellectual property are on the spotlight, there are other pressing ethical issues brought about the widespread use of information systems. This is because ICT can be used to commit crime or to threaten social values.


The information age is the era where all communication is digital oriented. The major ethical, social and legal issues placed the information systems are addressed with reference to the following moral dimensions.

1. Information Rights And Obligations
This dimension addresses the rights of individuals and organizations with reference to the information that belongs to them. It also looks at the obligations that individuals and organizations have concerning this information.
2. Property Rights
This dimension deals with how the traditional intellectual property rights will be protected in a digital society where claiming for ownership and accounting for it is difficult.
3. Accountability and Control
This dimension deals with the definition of who will be held accountable for the damage done to individual and collective information and property rights.
4. System Quality
This dimension defines the standards of data and system quality that should be demanded to protect individual rights and to ensure the safety of the societies ICT assets.
5. Quality of Life
This dimension evaluates the values that should be preserved in an information and knowledge based society. It defines the institutions that should be protected from violation and the cultural values and practices that are supported the new information technology

• These basic concepts form the underpinning of an ethical analysis of information systems and those who manage them.
• Information technologies are filtered through social institutions, organizations, and individuals. Systems do not have impacts themselves.
• Responsibility for the consequences of technology falls clearly on the institutions, organizations, and individual managers who choose to use the technology. Using information technology in a socially responsible manner means that you can and will be held accountable for the consequences of your actions.
• In an ethical, political society, individuals and others can recover damages done to them through a set of laws characterized due process.

This is a key element of ethical actions which means accepting potential costs, duties and obligations for the decisions made.

This is a feature or concept of social based systems which means that mechanisms must be put in place to determine who took responsibility for a particular action. Systems and institutions in which it is impossible to find out who took what action are inherently incapable of ethical analysis or ethical action

This is the feature of political systems in which a body of laws are in place that permit individuals to recover the damages done to them other actors, systems or organizations.



Ethical issues have preceded information technology and are the abiding concerns of free societies everywhere in the world. However, information communication technology has heightened ethical issues, put pressure or stress on existing social arrangements and made existing laws to be obsolete or severely crippled.
There are key technological trends that are responsible for these ethical stresses namely, doubling of computing power, advances in data storage techniques, improved data analysis techniques and advances in networking.

1. Increase in computing power
The increase in computing power has made it possible for most organizations to use information systems for their core production processes. As a result of the dependence on systems, our vulnerability to system errors and poor data quality have increased. Social rules and laws have not yet adjusted to this dependence. Standards for ensuring the accuracy and reliability of information systems are not universally accepted or enforced.

2. Advances in data storage techniques
Advances in data storage techniques and rapidly declining storage costs have been responsible for the multiple databases on individuals that are maintained private and public organizations. These advances in data storage have made the routine violation of individual privacy both cheap and effective. Already massive data storage systems are cheap enough for regional and even local retailing firms to use in identifying customers.

3. Advances in data analysis techniques
Advances in data analysis techniques for large pools of data heightens ethical concerns because companies and government agencies are able to find out much detailed personal information about individuals. With contemporary data management tools companies can assemble and combine the myriad pieces of information about an individual stored on computers much more easily than in the past.

4. Advances in Networking
Many organizations are installing computer networks such as the internet which reduce the cost of moving and accessing large volumes of data. This has caused ethical concerns because it has opened up the possibility of accessing data remotely, which permits the invasion of privacy.


When confronted with a situation that seems to present ethical issues, how should you analyze it? The following five-step process should help.

1. Identify and describe clearly the facts.
Find out who did what to whom, and where, when, and how. In many instances, you will be surprised at the errors in the initially reported facts, and often you will find that simply getting the facts straight helps define the solution. It also helps to get the opposing parties involved in an ethical dilemma to agree on the facts.

2. Define the conflict or dilemma and identify the higher-order values involved.
Ethical, social, and political issues always reference higher values. The parties to a dispute all claim to be pursuing higher values (e.g., freedom, privacy, protection of property and the free enterprise system). Typically, an ethical issue involves a dilemma: two diametrically opposed courses of action that support worthwhile values.

3. Identify the stakeholders.
Every ethical, social, and political issue has stakeholders: players in the game who have an interest in the outcome, who have invested in the situation, and usually who have vocal opinions. Find out the identity of these groups and what they want. This will be useful later when designing a solution.

4. Identify the options that you can reasonably take.
You may find that none of the options satisfy all the interests involved, but that some options do a better job than others. Sometimes arriving at a good or ethical solution may not always be a balancing of consequences to stakeholders.

5. Identify the potential consequences of your options.
Some options may be ethically correct but disastrous from other points of view. Other options may work in one instance but not in other similar instances. Always ask yourself, “What if I
choose this option consistently over time?”


It is the branch of ethics that seeks to understand the nature of ethical properties, statements, attitudes, and judgments. Meta-ethics studies the meaning of moral language and the metaphysics of moral facts

Normative ethics

It is the study of ethical action. It is the branch of philosophical ethics that investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how one ought to act, morally speaking. It examines standards for the rightness and wrongness of actions.

Descriptive ethics
Also known as comparative ethics, is the study of people’s beliefs about morality Applied ethics
It is the branch of ethics concerned with the analysis of particular moral issues in private and public life.

The following are questions might be considered in each field illustrate the differences between the ethics.

1. Descriptive ethics: What do people think is right?
2. Meta-ethics: What does “right” even mean?
3. Normative (prescriptive) ethics: How should people act?
4. Applied ethics: How do we take moral knowledge and put it into practice?

• Internet technology has brought new challenges to the protection of individual privacy. Information sent over this network may pass through many different computer systems before it reaches its final destination. Each of these systems is capable of monitoring, storing and capturing the information.
• Two issues describe how the internet has challenged data privacy namely cookies and web bugs Cookies

 They are tiny files that are deposited onto a computer hard drive when users visit certain websites
 Cookies will identify the visitor’s web browser and will record the visitor’s activities when they are accessing the web.
 When the visitor returns to the website that deposited the cookie, the website software will search the visitors computer, find the cookie and identify what the visitor has done in the past
 Web sites using cookie technology cannot directly obtain visitors’ names and addresses. However, if a person has registered at a site, that information can be combined with cookie data to identify the visitor. Web site owners can also combine the data they have gathered from cookies and other Web site monitoring tools with personal data from other sources such as offline data collected from surveys or paper catalog purchases to develop very detailed profiles of their visitors.
Web bugs
 They are tiny graphics files that are embedded onto email messages or web pages and are designed to monitor those who are accessing the web pages or reading the email messages.
 They will then transmit information about the user and the page that is being viewed to a monitoring computer.

Contemporary information systems have severely challenged existing law and social practices that protect private intellectual property. Intellectual property is considered to be intangible property created individuals or corporations including trademarks, patents, trade secrets and copyright. Information technology has made it difficult to protect intellectual property because computerized information can be so easily copied or distributed on networks. Intellectual property is subject to a variety of protections under three different legal traditions namely trade secrets, copyright, and patent law.

Trade Secret Law
• Trade secret refers to an intellectual work or product used business organizations to achieve their goals and classified as belonging to that business.
• The trade secret law states that an organization will not only have a monopoly on the information or product but also on the ideas behind that product.
• To make this claim, the creator or owner must take care to bind employees and customers with nondisclosure agreements and to prevent the secret from falling into the public domain.
• The limitation of trade secret protection is that, although virtually all software programs of any complexity contain unique elements of some sort, it is difficult to prevent the ideas in the work from falling into the public domain when the software is widely distributed.

Copyright Law
• Copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work during their entire life plus additional 70years after their death.
• The drawback to copyright protection is that the underlying ideas behind a work are not protected, only their manifestation in a work. A competitor can use your software, understand how it works, and build new software that follows the same concepts without infringing on a copyright.

Patent law
It is a form of intellectual property law that protects novel, useful and non-obvious inventions or processes. It provides ownership rights and protection for unique processes, procedures, methods, inventions, and discoveries for a limited period of time.


A code of ethics is a guide of principles designed to help professionals conduct business honestly and with integrity. A code of ethics document may outline the mission and values of the business or organization, how professionals are supposed to approach problems, the ethical principles based on the organization’s core values and the standards to which the professional is held. A code of ethics, also referred to as an “ethical code” may encompass areas such as business ethics, a code of professional practice and an employee code of conduct

Regardless of whether your organization is legally mandated to have a code of conduct (as public companies are), every organization should have one. A code has value as both an internal guideline and an external statement of corporate values and commitments.

A well-written code of conduct clarifies an organization’s mission, values and principles, linking them with standards of professional conduct. The code articulates the values the organization wishes to foster in leaders and employees and, in doing so, defines desired behavior. As a result, written codes of conduct or ethics can become benchmarks against which individual and organizational performance can be measured.

Additionally, a code is a central guide and reference for employees to support day-to-day decision making. A code encourages discussions of ethics and compliance, empowering employees to handle ethical dilemmas they encounter in everyday work. It can also serve as a valuable reference, helping employees locate relevant documents, services and other resources related to ethics within the organization.


1. Compliance
Legislation requires individuals serving on boards and organizational leaders of public companies to implement codes or clearly explain why they have not.

2. Marketing
A code serves as a public statement of what the company stands for and its commitment to high standards and right conduct.

3. Risk Mitigation
Organizations with codes of ethics, and who follow other defined steps can reduce the financial risks associated with government fines for ethical misconduct demonstrating they have made a “good faith effort” to prevent illegal acts.

An ethical principle is a rule of ethics.

  1. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (the Golden Rule).
    Putting yourself into the place of others, and thinking of yourself as the object of the decision, can help you think about fairness in decision making.
  2. 2If an action is not right for everyone to take, it is not right for anyone (Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative). Ask yourself, “If everyone did this, could the organization, or society, survive?”
  3. If an action cannot be taken repeatedly, it is not right to take at all (Descartes’ rule of change). This is the slippery-slope rule: An action may bring about a small change now that is acceptable, but if it is repeated, it would bring unacceptable changes in the long run.
  4. 4Take the action that achieves the higher or greater value (Utilitarian Principle). This rule assumes you can prioritize values in a rank order and understand the consequences of various courses of action.
  5. 5Take the action that produces the least harm or the least potential cost (Risk Aversion Principle). Some actions have extremely high failure costs of very low probability (e.g., building a nuclear generating facility in an urban area) or extremely high failure costs of moderate probability (speeding and automobile accidents).
  6. 6Assume that virtually all tangible and intangible objects are owned someone else unless there is a specific declaration otherwise. (No free lunch rule.) If something someone else has created is useful to you, it has value, and you should assume the creator wants compensation for this work.


1. HONESTY. Ethical executives are honest and truthful in all their dealings and they do not deliberately mislead or deceive others misrepresentations, overstatements, partial truths, selective omissions, or any other means.

2. INTEGRITY. Ethical executives demonstrate personal integrity and the courage of their convictions doing what they think is right even when there is great pressure to do otherwise; they are principled, honorable and upright; they will fight for their beliefs. They will not sacrifice principle for expediency, be hypocritical, or unscrupulous.

3. PROMISE-KEEPING & TRUSTWORTHINESS. Ethical executives are worthy of trust. They are candid and forthcoming in supplying relevant information and correcting misapprehensions of fact, and they make every reasonable effort to fulfill the letter and spirit of their promises and commitments. They do not interpret agreements in an unreasonably technical or legalistic manner in order to rationalize non-compliance or create justifications for escaping their commitments.

4. LOYALTY. Ethical executives are worthy of trust, demonstrate fidelity and loyalty to persons and institutions friendship in adversity, support and devotion to duty; they do not use or disclose information learned in confidence for personal advantage. They safeguard the ability to make independent professional judgments scrupulously avoiding undue influences and conflicts of interest. They are loyal to their companies and colleagues and if they decide to accept other employment, they provide reasonable notice, respect the proprietary information of their former employer, and refuse to engage in any activities that take undue advantage of their previous positions.

5. FAIRNESS. Ethical executives and fair and just in all dealings; they do not exercise power arbitrarily, and do not use overreaching nor indecent means to gain or maintain any advantage nor take undue advantage of another’s mistakes or difficulties. Fair persons manifest a commitment to justice, the equal treatment of individuals, tolerance for and acceptance of diversity, the they are open-minded; they are willing to admit they are wrong and, where appropriate, change their positions and beliefs.

6. CONCERN FOR OTHERS. Ethical executives are caring, compassionate, benevolent and kind; they like the Golden Rule, help those in need, and seek to accomplish their business objectives in a manner that causes the least harm and the greatest positive good.

7. RESPECT FOR OTHERS. Ethical executives demonstrate respect for the human dignity, autonomy, privacy, rights, and interests of all those who have a stake in their decisions; they are courteous and treat all people with equal respect and dignity regardless of sex, race or national origin.

8. LAW ABIDING. Ethical executives abide laws, rules and regulations relating to their business activities.

9. COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE. Ethical executives pursue excellence in performing their duties, are well informed and prepared, and constantly endeavor to increase their proficiency in all areas of responsibility.

10. LEADERSHIP. Ethical executives are conscious of the responsibilities and opportunities of their position of leadership and seek to be positive ethical role models their own conduct and helping to create an environment in which principled reasoning and ethical decision making are highly prized.

11. REPUTATION AND MORALE. Ethical executives seek to protect and build the company’s good reputation and the morale of its employees engaging in no conduct that might undermine respect and taking whatever actions are necessary to correct or prevent inappropriate conduct of others.

12. ACCOUNTABILITY. Ethical executives acknowledge and accept personal accountability for the ethical quality of their decisions and omissions to themselves, their colleagues, their companies, and their communities.

May 2018 Q6a
Dec 2017 Q6b (iii), Q7b May 2017 Q4a
Nov 2016 Q4a
May 2016 Q1c
Sept 2015 Q1c
May 2015 Q2b, Q6b Dec 2014 Q2d, Q5b

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