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EECS 690 February 1 Law as distinct from Ethics • DeGeorge contends that (especially in the business world) the MACIT takes the form of assuming that the ethics of Computing and IT design, use, and support is entirely determined by what is legal. • Each of the next several slides will briefly discuss a different reason why ethics and the law are not necessarily co-extensive. Law lags behind ethics • In general, criminal laws are drafted in order to add the sanction of the law to what society deems harmful or unethical. • Many laws in the C&IT area have been made without this pause for examination at the behest of businesses whose primary interests have been financial. These laws may or may not persist in the legal code. Any law can be evaluated from an ethical perspective • Some laws are perfectly good laws, some laws are themselves unethical. • Civil disobedience is generally the ethical way to deal with unjust or unethical laws. Civil disobedience has the following constraints: – must be public – must be non-destructive – must accept legal punishment – must make other reasonable attempts to change the law first. Not everything that is unethical can or should be made illegal. • Not all lies are policed by the legal system, rather, only lies in particular situations in which harm might be caused are illegal. • Trying to make the law apply too universally may have negative consequences to the integrity of the legal system. Some actions are unethical only because illegal • Which side of the road to drive on is a morally neutral topic. When there is a law in place demanding one or the other, it is no longer ethically neutral. Disentangling Ethical and Legal Obligations • In general, the presumption is to follow the law. • If the legislated action is not in itself unethical, the legal obligation should hold up. • For these morally neutral actions, whatever legal code holds is binding. When different legal jurisdictions have different laws, some compromise and negotiation is necessary. • A third level of obligation is in company policy, which is binding whenever such policy is not unethical or illegal.
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