Philosophy Meets Internet Engineering: Ethics in Networked Systems Research. (GTC Workshop Outcomes Paper)
37 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2015
Date Written: September 29, 2015
Internet engineering and networked systems research improves our understanding of the underlying technical processes of the Internet. Internet engineers therefore analyse data transfers on the Internet, typically by collecting data from devices of large groups of individuals as well as organisations. The designs of Internet engineering and research projects reflect human decisions and therefore may create new moral systems. This interplay of technology and society creates new practices that can impact the lives of individuals in many ways. These actions can raise new ethical dilemmas, or challenge existing ethics methodologies within the new and complex information environment presented by the Internet.
To further the discussion on Internet research and engineering ethics, the Ethics in Networked System Research (“ESRN”) project hosted a workshop at Green Templeton College, University of Oxford, on 13 March 2015. The aim of the workshop was to understand how different disciplines involved in Internet research approach ethical dilemmas and justify their reasoning. To this end, a group of 25 researchers and practitioners from two distinct groups of researchers attended the workshop: (1) Computer scientists, network engineers and other technical researchers who have faced ethical and legal dilemmas in their work, and (2) philosophers, practical ethicists, legal philosophers, and related disciplines who are interested in Internet engineering and the ethical dilemmas posed by the Internet, but may not be aware of the details, subtleties, and dilemmas of the field. Several computer scientists gave short presentations about their projects, which were then discussed in-depth by the workshop participants. The inter-disciplinary discussions led to some interesting confrontations of cross-disciplinary reasoning.
This is a perspectives paper, in which we present several of the cases discussed, as well as the reasoning applied by the different groups. The arguments made during the workshop reveal some underlying assumptions and values, which lead to some emerging themes that in turn uncover particular conceptual gaps between the disciplines. This paper is by no means intended to be a comprehensive overview of computer ethics or Internet research ethics, but merely an exploration of the themes that emerged during the workshop.
Keywords: Practical ethics, computer ethics, technology law, Internet engineering
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