Whatever Happened to Information Systems Ethics?

Caught between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
  • Frances Bell
  • Alison Adam
Part of the IFIP International Federation for Information Processing book series (IFIPAICT, volume 143)


This paper explores the development of information systems and computer ethics along separate trajectories over the 20 years since the first Manchester Conference, and ponders how things might have been and could be different. Along each trajectory, the challenge of aligning theory and practice has stimulated much research. We evaluate some of this research with respect to this alignment, discuss ethical theories and behavior, and explore the role of education in the development of practitioners who can and do behave ethically. We recommend the inclusion of the ethics of care, and more research into the teaching and learning of ethics as part of the personal journey of students, teachers, and practitioners.


Computer ethics information systems information systems development methodologies education 


  1. Adam, A. “Computer Ethics in a Different Voice,” Information and Organization (11:4), 2001a, pp. 235–261.Google Scholar
  2. Adam, A. “Gender and Computer Ethics,” in R. Spinello and H. Tavani (Eds.), Readings in Cyberethics, Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2001b, pp. 63–76.Google Scholar
  3. Adam, A., and Bell, F. “Critical Information Systems Ethics,” in C. H. C. Gilson, I. Grugulis, and H. Willmott (Eds.), Proceedings of the CMS3—Third International Critical Management Studies Conference, Lancaster University Management School, Bailrigg, Lancaster, UK, 2003 (available online at
  4. Alavi, M., and Leidner, D. E. “Research Commentary: Technology-Mediated Learning—A Call for Greater Depth and Breadth of Research,” Information Systems Research (12:1), 2001, pp. 1–10.Google Scholar
  5. Anderson, R. E.; Engel, G.; Gotterbarn, D.; Hertlein, G. C.; Hoffman, A.; Jawer, B.; Johnson, D. G.; Lidtke, D. K.; Little, J. C.; Martin, D.; Parker, D. B.; Perrolle, J. A.; and Rosenberg, R. S. “ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct,” Communications of the ACM (35:5), 1992, pp. 94–99.Google Scholar
  6. Anderson, R. E.; Johnson, D. G.; Gotterbarn, D.; and Perrolle, J. “Using the New ACM Code of Ethics in Decision-Making,” Communications of the ACM (36:2), 1993, pp. 98–107.Google Scholar
  7. Archer, M., and Tritter, J. Rational Choice Theory, London: Routledge, 2000.Google Scholar
  8. Ba, S. L.; Stallaert, J.; and Whinston, A. B. “Research Commentary: Introducing a Third Dimension in Information Systems Ddesign the Case for Incentive Alignment,” Information Systems Research (12:3), 2001, pp. 225–239.Google Scholar
  9. Basu, A., and Kumar, A. “Research Commentary: Workflow Management Issues in EBusiness,” Information Systems Research (13:1), 2002, pp. 1–14.Google Scholar
  10. Benbasat, I., and Weber, R. “Research Commentary: Rethinking ‘Diversity’ in Information Systems Research,” Information Systems Research (7:4), 1996, pp. 389–399.Google Scholar
  11. Benhabib, S. Situating the Self, Gender, Community and Postmodern Contemporary Ethics, Cambridge, MA: Polity, 1992.Google Scholar
  12. Berdichevsky, D., and Neunschwander, E. “Toward an Ethics of Persuasive Technology: Ask Yourself Whether Your Technology Persuades Users to Do Something You Wouldn’t Want to Be Persuaded to Do Yourself,” Communications of the ACM (42:5), 1999, Pp. 51–58.Google Scholar
  13. Bowen, J. “The Ethics of Safety-Critical Systems,” Communications of the ACM (43:4), 2000, pp. 91–97.Google Scholar
  14. Chatzoglou, P. D. “Use of Methodologies: An Empirical Analysis of Their Impact on the Economics of the Development Process,” European Journal of Information Systems (6:4), 1997, pp. 256–270.Google Scholar
  15. Checkland, P., and Scholes, J. Soft Systems Methodology in Action, Chichester, England: Wiley, 1990.Google Scholar
  16. Collins, W. R.; Miller, K. W.; Spielman, B. J.; and Wherry, P. “How Good Is Good Enough?,” Communications of the ACM (37:1), 1994, pp. 81–91.Google Scholar
  17. Denning, P. J. “Plagiarism in the Web,” Communications of the ACM (38:12), 1995, pp. 29–29.Google Scholar
  18. Duncan, G. T. “Is My Research Ethical?,” Communications of the ACM (39:12), 1996, pp. 67–68.Google Scholar
  19. Ehn, P., and Kyng, M. “The Collective Resource Approach to Systems Design,” in G. Bjerknes, P. Ehn, and M. Kyng (Eds.), Computers and Democracy: A Scandinavian Challenge, Aldershot, England: Avebury, 1987, pp. 17–57.Google Scholar
  20. Farber, D. J. “NSF Poses Code of Networking Ethics,” Communications of the ACM (32:6), 1989, pp. 688–688.Google Scholar
  21. Fitzgerald, B. “Formalized Systems Development Methodologies: A Critical Perspective,” The Information Systems Journal (6:1), 1996, pp. 3–23.Google Scholar
  22. Fitzgerald, B. “The Use of Systems Development Methodologies in Practice: A Field Study,” Information Systems Journal (7:3), 1997, pp. 201–212.Google Scholar
  23. Floridi, L. Philosophy and Computing: An Introduction, London: Routledge, 1999.Google Scholar
  24. Floyd, C. “Outline of a Paradigm Change in Software Engineering,” in G. Bjerknes, P. Ehn, and M. Kyng (Eds.), Computers and Democracy: A Scandinavian Challenge, Aldershot, England: Avebury 1987, pp. 191–210.Google Scholar
  25. Goodland, M., and Slater, C. SSADM Version 4: A Practical Approach, New York: McGraw Hill, 1995.Google Scholar
  26. Gotterbarn, D. “Software Engineering: A New Professionalism,” in C. Myers, T. Hall, and D. Pitt (Ed.), The Responsible Software Engineer: Selected Readings in IT Professionalism, London: Springer-Verlag, 1997, pp. 21–31.Google Scholar
  27. Gotterbarn, D.; Miller, K.; and Rogerson, S. “Software Engineering Code of Ethics,” Communications of the ACM (40:11), 1997, pp. 110–116.Google Scholar
  28. Gotterbarn, D.; Miller, K.; and Rogerson, S. “Software Engineering Code of Ethics is Approved,” Communications of the ACM (42:10), 1999, pp. 102–107.Google Scholar
  29. Hirschheim, R., and Klein, H. K. “Four Paradigms of Information Systems Development,” Communications of the ACM (32:10), 1989, pp. 1199–1216.Google Scholar
  30. Hirschheim, R., and Klein, H. K. Information System Development and Data Modeling. Conceptual & Philosophical Foundations, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.Google Scholar
  31. Hirschheim, R., and Klein, H. K. “Realizing Emancipatory Principles in Information-Systems Development: The Case For Ethics,” MIS Quarterly (18:1), 1994, pp. 83–109.Google Scholar
  32. Huff, C., and Martin, C. D. “Computing Consequences: A Framework for Teaching Ethical Computing,” Communications of the ACM (38:12), 1995, pp. 75–84.Google Scholar
  33. Iivari, J.; Hirschheim, R.; and Klein, H. K. “A Paradigmatic Analysis Contrasting Information Systems Development Approaches and Methodologies,” Information Systems Research (9:2), 1998, pp. 164–193.Google Scholar
  34. Johnson, D. Computer Ethics, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1994.Google Scholar
  35. Johnson, D. G. “Ethics Online,” Communications of the ACM (40:1), 1997, pp. 60–65.Google Scholar
  36. Jonsson, S. “Action Research,” in H.-E. Nissen, H. K. Klein, and R. Hirschheim (Eds.), Information Systems Research: Contemporary Approaches and Emergent Traditions, Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1991, pp. 371–396.Google Scholar
  37. Khazanchi, D. “Unethical Behavior in Information Systems: The Gender Factor,” Journal of Business Ethics (14), 1995, pp. 741–749.Google Scholar
  38. Klein, H. K., and Hirschheim, R. “Choosing between Competing Design Ideals in Information Systems Development,” Information Systems Frontiers (3:1), 2001, pp. 75–90.Google Scholar
  39. Kreie, J., and Cronan, T. “How Men and Women View Ethics,” Communications of the ACM (41:9), 1998, pp. 70–76.Google Scholar
  40. Kreie, J., and Cronan, P. “Making Ethical Decisions,” Communications of the ACM (43:12), 2000, pp. 66–71.Google Scholar
  41. Kruchten, P. The Rational Unified Process: An Introduction, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 2000.Google Scholar
  42. Lee, D. M. “The Place of Wisdom in Teaching,” Learning and Individual Differences (5:4), 1993, pp. 301–317.Google Scholar
  43. Loch, K. D., and Conger, S. “Evaluating Ethical Decision Making and Computer Use,” Communications of the ACM (39:7), 1996, pp. 74–83.Google Scholar
  44. Lyytinen, K., and Yoo, Y. “Research Commentary: The Next Wave of Nomadic Computing,” Information Systems Research (13:4), 2002, pp. 377–388.Google Scholar
  45. March, S.; Hevner, A.; and Ram, S. “Research Commentary: An Agenda for Information Technology Research in Heterogeneous and Distributed Environments,” Information Systems Research (11:4), 2000, pp. 327–341.Google Scholar
  46. Mason, R. O. “Applying Ethics to Information Technology Issues,” Communications of the ACM (38:12), 1995, pp. 55–57.Google Scholar
  47. Mason, R. O., Mason, F. M., and Culnan, M. J. Ethics of Information Management, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1995.Google Scholar
  48. Moores, T., and Dhillon, G. “Software Piracy: A View from Hong Kong,” Communications of the ACM (43:12), 2000, pp. 88–93.Google Scholar
  49. Mumford, E. Systems Design: Ethical Tools for Ethical Change, London: Macmillan, 1996.Google Scholar
  50. Mumford, E., Hirschheim, R., Fitzgerald, G., and Wood-Harper, A. T. Research Methods in Information Systems, Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1985.Google Scholar
  51. Orlikowski, W. J., and Baroudi, J. J. “The Information Systems Profession: Myth or Reality,” Office, Technology and People (4), 1989, pp. 13–30.Google Scholar
  52. Orlikowski, W. J., and Iacono, C. S. “Research Commentary: Desperately Seeking the ‘IT’ in IT Research—A Call to Theorizing the IT Artifact,” Information Systems Research (12:2), 2001, pp. 121–134.Google Scholar
  53. Pearson, J. M.; Crosby, L.; and Shim, J. P. “Measuring the Importance of Ethical Behavior Criteria,” Communications of the ACM (40:9), 1997, pp. 94–100.Google Scholar
  54. Peppas, S. C., and Diskin, B. A. “College Courses in Ethics: Do They Really Make a Difference?,” International Journal of Education Management (15:7), 2001, pp. 347–353.Google Scholar
  55. Robinson, F. Globalizing Care: Ethics, Feminist Theory, and International Relations, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999.Google Scholar
  56. Rogerson, S.; Weckert, J.; and Simpson, C. “An Ethical Review of Information Systems Development,” Information Technology & People (13:2), 2000, pp. 121–136.Google Scholar
  57. Sambamurthy, V., and Zmud, R. W. “Research Commentary: The Organizing Logic for an Enterprise’s IT Activities in the Digital Era—A Prognosis of Practice and a Call for Research,” Information Systems Research (11:2), 2000, pp. 105–114.Google Scholar
  58. Simon, H. A. Administrative Behavior, New York: The Free Press, 1976.Google Scholar
  59. Sipior, J. C., and Ward, B. T. “The Ethical and Legal Quandary of Email Privacy,” Communications of the ACM (38:12), 1995, pp. 48–54.Google Scholar
  60. Straub, D. W., and Watson, R. T. “Research Commentary: Transformational Issues in Researching IS and Net-Enabled Organizations,” Information Systems Research (12:4), 2001, pp. 337–345.Google Scholar
  61. Tavani, H. Ethics and Technology: Ethical Issues in Information and Communication Technology, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2004.Google Scholar
  62. Tong, R. Feminine and Feminist Ethics, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1993.Google Scholar
  63. Wagner, I. “A Web of Fuzzy Problems: Confronting the Ethical Issues,” Communications of the ACM (36:6), 1993, pp. 94–101.Google Scholar
  64. Walsham, G. “Ethical Issues in Information Systems Development: The Analyst as Moral Agent,” in D. Avison, J. E. Kendall, and J. I. DeGross (Eds.), Human, Organizational, and Social Dimensions of Information Systems Development, Amsterdam: North-Holland, 1993, pp. 281–294.Google Scholar
  65. Walsham, G. “Ethical Theory, Codes of Ethics and IS Practice,” Information Systems Journal (6:1), 1996, pp. 69–81.Google Scholar
  66. Wand, Y., and Weber, R. “Research Commentary: Information Systems and Conceptual Modeling—A Research Agenda,” Information Systems Research (13:4), 2002, pp. 363–376.Google Scholar
  67. Wastell, D. “The Fetish of Technique: Methodology as a Social Defense,” Information Systems Journal (6), 1996, pp. 25–40.Google Scholar
  68. Weiss, E. A. “A Self-Assessment Procedure Dealing with Ethics in Computing,” Communications of the ACM (25:3), 1982, pp. 181–195.Google Scholar
  69. Weiss, E. A.; Parker, D. B.; Swope, S.; and Baker, B. N. “Self-Assessment Procedure 22: The Ethics of Computing,” Communications of the ACM (33:11), 1990, pp. 110–132.Google Scholar
  70. Wood-Harper, A. T.; Avison, D. E.; and Antill, L. Information Systems Definition: The Multiview Approach, Oxford: Blackwell Scientific, 1985.Google Scholar
  71. Wood-Harper, A. T.; Corder, S.; Wood, J. R. G.; and Watson, H. “How We Profess: The Ethical Systems Analyst,” Communications of the ACM (39:3), 1996, pp. 69.Google Scholar
  72. Wright, M. “Can Moral Judgement and Ethical Behavior Be Learned? A Review of the Literature,” Management Decision (33:10), 1995, pp. 17–28.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frances Bell
    • 1
  • Alison Adam
    • 1
  1. 1.Information Systems InstituteUniversity of SalfordUK

Personalised recommendations