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Ethical, legal, cultural and environmental concerns


Computer scientists are members of society and have duties and responsibilities to the other people living around them. Computer science has led to great and profound changes to all aspects of people's lives, including communication, medicine, education, work, leisure, shopping, commerce and transport.

The new technologies have led to new legislation to control these developments, and in particular to address concerns about privacy. The Data Protection Act provides essential safeguards when personal data is collected and stored online, and the Computer Misuse Act provides sanctions against criminals who try to gain unauthorised access to computer systems. Trying to log in by guessing someone's password without authorisation is a criminal offence.

In addition to legal aspects, computer scientists and society in general must also consider their ethical responsibilities. Behaving ethically means doing things that society recognises as being good, or acting in ways that individuals and societies think of as reflecting good values.

Protecting the environment is considered to be ethical, but the manufacture, use and disposal of devices such as computers, mobile phones and tablets often causes environmental harm. To be ethical, these effects must be minimised.

Care for others is also considered ethical. If a computer scientist is designing software for medical apparatus, they must ensure that it is thoroughly tested so that harm is not caused to patients.

Is it ethical for a society to constantly spy on its citizens using surveillance cameras? It provides many benefits, but it also infringes people's right to privacy. Computer scientists design guidance systems that are essential for air and sea transport (and soon for road transport as well), but they are also used to guide drones, from the comfort of an office, in attacks thousands of miles away. Is it ethical to sit in a comfy chair, sipping coffee, while firing missiles at people without risk to yourself?

So widespread are the effects of computer science that everyone in the world is, or should be, a stakeholder in technological developments. But for many reasons they are not, and they miss out on the benefits. Find out about the digital divide. Is that ethical?
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