Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 233–242 | Cite as

Delegating and Distributing Morality: Can We Inscribe Privacy Protection in a Machine?



This paper addresses the question of delegation of morality to a machine, through a consideration of whether or not non-humans can be considered to be moral. The aspect of morality under consideration here is protection of privacy. The topic is introduced through two cases where there was a failure in sharing and retaining personal data protected by UK data protection law, with tragic consequences. In some sense this can be regarded as a failure in the process of delegating morality to a computer database. In the UK, the issues that these cases raise have resulted in legislation designed to protect children which allows for the creation of a huge database for children. Paradoxically, we have the situation where we failed to use digital data in enforcing the law to protect children, yet we may now rely heavily on digital technologies to care for children. I draw on the work of Floridi, Sanders, Collins, Kusch, Latour and Akrich, a spectrum of work stretching from philosophy to sociology of technology and the “seamless web” or “actor–network” approach to studies of technology. Intentionality is considered, but not deemed necessary for meaningful moral behaviour. Floridi’s and Sanders’ concept of “distributed morality” accords with the network of agency characterized by actor–network approaches. The paper concludes that enfranchizing non-humans, in the shape of computer databases of personal data, as moral agents is not necessarily problematic but a balance of delegation of morality must be made between human and non-human actors.


actor–network theory artificial agents data protection law delegation distributed morality intentionality privacy 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adam, A. 2005Gender, Ethics and Information TechnologyPalgrave MacmillanHoundmills, BasingstokeGoogle Scholar
  2. Akrich, M. 1997

    The De-Scription of Technical Objects

    Bijker, W.E.Law, J. eds. Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical ChangeMIT PressCambridge, MA and London205224
    Google Scholar
  3. Allen, A.L. 1998


    Jaggar, A.M.Young, I.M. eds. A Companion to Feminist PhilosophyBlackwellMalden, MA and Oxford456465
    Google Scholar
  4. Collins, H.M. 1985Changing Order: Replication and Induction in Scientific PracticeSageLondon, Beverly Hills and New DelhiGoogle Scholar
  5. Collins, H.M. 1990Artificial Experts: Social Knowledge and␣Intelligent MachinesMIT PressCambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  6. Collins, H.M., Kusch, M. 1998The Shape of Actions: What Machines and Humans Can DoMIT PressCambridge, MA and LondonGoogle Scholar
  7. Collins, H.M., Yearley, S. 1992

    Epistemological Chicken

    Pickering, A. eds. Science as Practice and CultureUniversity of Chicago PressChicago and London301326
    Google Scholar
  8. Dennett, D.C. 1994

    The Myth of Original Intentionality

    Dietrich, E. eds. Thinking Computers and Virtual Persons: Essays on the Intentionality of MachinesAcademic PressSan Diego, CA and London91107
    Google Scholar
  9. Floridi, L., Sanders, J.W. 2004On the Morality of Artificial AgentsMinds and Machines14349379CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gips, J. 1995

    Towards the Ethical Robot

    Ford, K.M.Glymour, C.Hayes, P.J. eds. Android EpistemologyMIT PressCambridge, MA and London243252
    Google Scholar
  11. G. Kewney. No, Mrs Duval, You CANNOT Track a Mobile Human by Wireless Like a Car!, available online, accessed 23rd March, 2005, 2002
  12. Latour, B. 1997

    Where are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts

    Bijker, W.E.Law, J. eds. Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical ChangeMIT PressCambridge, MA and London225258
    Google Scholar
  13. S. Room. Meeting the Challenges of the Victoria Climbie & Soham Cases, available online, accessed 23rd March, 2005, 2004
  14. Searle, J.R. 1987

    Minds, Brains and Programs

    Born, R. eds. Artificial Intelligence: The Case AgainstCroom HelmLondon and Sydney1840
    Google Scholar
  15. Winner, L. 1993Upon Opening the Black Box and Finding it Empty: Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of TechnologyScience, Technology & Human Values18362378Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Information Systems, Organisations and Society Research CentreUniversity of SalfordSalfordUK

Personalised recommendations