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Computer Science Syllabus - Professional Practice and Ethics (50% option only)
Computer Laboratory > Computer Science Syllabus - Professional Practice and Ethics (50% option only)

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Professional Practice and Ethics (50% option only)

Lecturer: Dr R.C. Jennings

No. of lectures: 8


This course will develop the ethical foundations of good professional practice in computing. It will provide a basic survey of ethical theories and discuss the role of professional organisations in maintaining good practice, both in general and then specifically in the computing industry. It will then consider legislation that applies in the computing industry, including three major areas of ethical concern in computing: computer cracking, data privacy and software ownership.


  • Ethical theory. Basic questions in ethics. Survey of ethical theories: authoritarian, intuitionist, egoist, utilitarian, deontologist. Advantages and disadvantages of the two main theories: utilitarian and deontological. [1.5 lectures]

  • Professions and professional ethics. Origin and purpose of professions. Internal regulation versus external regulation. Dimensions of professional responsibility. Professional organisations: ethics and codes of conduct. [1.5 lectures]

  • Relevant legislation: Health and Safety. Potential problems in the use of VDUs, keyboards and workspaces. [0.3 lectures]

  • Relevant legislation: Disability Discrimination Act. Ensuring accessibility of Webpages. [0.2 lectures]

  • Relevant legislation: Computer misuse. Computer hacking, computer cracking: when does the fun become crime? Computer Misuse Act 1990. Difficulties with traditional legal concepts. [1.5 lectures]

  • Relevant legislation: Privacy and data protection. What is Privacy? Computer data and human dignity. The problematic status of information stored on computers. The Data Protection Act 1998. [1.5 lectures]

  • Relevant legislation: Property ownership. Theories of property and ownership: Patent, Copyright, and trade secrets. Ownership of computer software: a new problem in intellectual property rights. [1.5 lectures]


At the end of the course students should

  • be able to recognise and distinguish different kinds of ethical arguments

  • know why professions have codes of conduct, and what is included in the British Computer Society code of conduct

  • recognize potential health and safety issues in computing

  • understand the need for making webpages accessible

  • appreciate the dangers in computer cracking and know the contents of the Computer Misuse Act of 1990

  • be able to explain the nature of privacy and how it is protected by the Data Protection Act of 1998

  • be able to justify the existence of property laws and explain the legal mechanisms which protect software as property

  • know the disadvantages of private ownership of software and the legal mechanisms by which private ownership can be blocked

Recommended reading

* Kling, R. (1991). Computerization and controversy: value conflicts and social choices. London: Academic Press (2nd ed.).
Forester, T. & Morrison, P. (1990). Computer ethics: cautionary tales and ethical dilemmas in computing. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Johnson, D.G. (1985). Computer ethics. Englewood, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Johnson, D.G. & Snapper, J.W. (1985). Ethical issues in the use of computers. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

WWW pages:

Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility (CCSR):

Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR):

next up previous contents
Next: Preparing to Study Computer Up: Easter Term 2006: Part Previous: Computer Perspectives (50% option   Contents
Christine Northeast
Sun Sep 11 15:46:50 BST 2005