Information ethics has been defined as "the branch of ethics that focuses on the relationship between the creation, organization, dissemination, and use of information, and the ethical standards and moral codes governing human conduct in society". The term information ethics was first coined by Robert Hauptman and used in the book Ethical challenges in librarianship. It examines the morality that comes from information as a resource, a product, or as a target. It provides a critical framework for considering moral issues concerning informational privacy, moral agency (e.g. whether artificial agents may be moral), new environmental issues (especially how agents should behave in the infosphere), problems arising from the life-cycle (creation, collection, recording, distribution, processing, etc.) of information (especially ownership and copyright, digital divide, and digital rights). It is very vital to understand that librarians, archivists, information professionals among others, really understand the importance of knowing how to disseminate proper information as well as being responsible with their actions when addressing information.
Dilemmas regarding the life of information are becoming increasingly important in a society that is defined as "the information society". The explosion of so much technology has brought information ethics to a forefront in ethical considerations. Information transmission and literacy are essential concerns in establishing an ethical foundation that promotes fair, equitable, and responsible practices. Information ethics broadly examines issues related to ownership, access, privacy, security, and community. It is also concerned with relational issues such as "the relationship between information and the good of society, the relationship between information providers and the consumers of information".
Information technology affects common issues such as copyright protection, intellectual freedom, accountability, privacy, and security. Many of these issues are difficult or impossible to resolve due to fundamental tensions between Western moral philosophies (based on rules, democracy, individual rights, and personal freedoms) and the traditional Eastern cultures (based on relationships, hierarchy, collective responsibilities, and social harmony). The multi-faceted dispute between Google and the government of the People's Republic of China reflects some of these fundamental tensions.
Professional codes offer a basis for making ethical decisions and applying ethical solutions to situations involving information provision and use which reflect an organization's commitment to responsible information service. Evolving information formats and needs require continual reconsideration of ethical principles and how these codes are applied. Considerations regarding information ethics influence "personal decisions, professional practice, and public policy". Therefore, ethical analysis must provide a framework to take into consideration "many, diverse domains" (ibid.) regarding how information is distributed.
The main, peer-reviewed, academic journals reporting on information ethics are the Journal of the Association for Information Systems, the flagship publication of the Association for Information Systems, and Ethics and Information Technology, published by Springer.
The field of information ethics has a relatively short but progressive history having been recognized in the United States for nearly 20 years. The origins of the field are in librarianship though it has now expanded to the consideration of ethical issues in other domains including computer science, the internet, media, journalism, management information systems, and business.
Evidence of scholarly work on this subject can be traced to the 1980s, when an article authored by Barbara J. Kostrewski and Charles Oppenheim and published in the Journal of Information Science, discussed issues relating to the field including confidentiality, information biases, and quality control. Another scholar, Robert Hauptman, has also written extensively about information ethics in the library field and founded the Journal of Information Ethics in 1992.
- Library ethics
- Information ecology
- Media ethics
- Bioinformation ethics
- Business information ethics
- Computer ethics
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