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
• 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
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
Some actions are unethical only
• 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
• 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.