Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 25-42

First online:

Accountability in a computerized society

  • Helen NissenbaumAffiliated withUniversity Center for Human Values, Princeton University

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


This essay warns of eroding accountability in computerized societies. It argues that assumptions about computing and features of situations in which computers are produced create barriers to accountability. Drawing on philosophical analyses of moral blame and responsibility, four barriers are identified: 1) the problem of many hands, 2) the problem of bugs, 3) blaming the computer, and 4) software ownership without liability. The paper concludes with ideas on how to reverse this trend.

Key Words

accountability bugs computer ethics liability moral responsibility standard of care