Information Technology and Ethics

Abstract

             This paper analyses the issue of ethical privacy in information technology (IT). To achieve this, the paper identifies a working definition of the term ethics which it applies throughout the paper in relation to privacy issues. The paper relies on defining ethical privacy issues further by defining what IT is, identifying characteristics of IT as well as the ethical privacy responsibilities that arise from the use of IT. The paper is able to provide evidence that, there is an ethical privacy responsibility on both manufacturers and vendors on one hand, and other, the organization and users of any IT system. It is from the healthcare industry that the paper is able to provide evidence on the aforementioned ethical privacy responsibility.

Information Technology and Ethical Privacy Issues

Introduction

Derived from the Greek word Ethike, the ethic is a term that refers to character drives that make an individual to consistently behave in an accepted manner. This drive is guided by societal terms usually referred to as moral sanctions that are defined by society as to what is good or bad behavior. This differs from legal guidance’s of what is legal or illegal as dictated by laws since ethics is a guide on how behavior is either good or bad. As such, ethics precede law since it is ethics that pushes for the creation of laws towards viewing actions as guided by ethics and thus legally defining what good behavior is. From this, it is evident that morality, value, and ethics should be considered above character since all the elements guide considerations of how actions are understood. That is, ethical or unethical, right or wrong, whether something is valuable or not and whether organizations actions are justified (Schultz, 2005). It is from the aforementioned that the ethical privacy issues related to information technology can be analyzed. This paper will analyze characteristics of information technology (IT) and the ethical privacy issues that arise from these characteristics. In addition, the paper will also identify the challenges that exist as a result of the ethical issues that surround IT.

Characteristics of Information Technology

Rouse (2016) defines IT as both software and hardware used towards the innovation, processing and storage of data, security of the data and processes, and the capabilities of exchanging data. McAfee (2006) expands further on defining IT and categorizes it into function, network and enterprise categories. Under function, IT is considered as a capability that assists personnel to create efficiency in stand-alone tasks while network IT is defined by its capability to provide a channel where different people in different localities can communicate. Function and network IT differ from enterprise IT since the later is used in organizations as either applications and or processes that enable the organization to not only create an identity for itself but also enable the organization to carry out its primary activities effectively (McAfee, 2006).

From the  above, it is evident that IT is dynamic in nature because of the different forms  in which its applied. One factor that is inherent in IT is that regardless of its adaptability to different settings, it is expected to use innovation, processes, and storage of data in its various forms to produce truthful, accurate and trustworthy information  (George, 2008). These expectations are uniform in the function, network and enterprise categories of IT.

Ethical Privacy Issues in Information Technology

Ethical issues associated with IT occur due to the exponential growth in IT use and different forms. This is because the growth has lacked guidance on what is ethical or unethical and as such, developments and innovations in software and hardware have always occurred before the morality, values, and ethics associated with them have been considered (George, 2008). As discussed under the definition of IT, It is from the functional, network and enterprise capabilities, that evidence of IT touching both individuals and organizations is seen. As such, the innovations, processes and data storage associated with IT do consist of information that is meant to be kept secret. However, According to Relkin (2016), privacy and data storage align to security aspects associated with keeping them secret but these controls can be manipulated. Manipulation can take place through hacking, creation of malware and even from the people who have access to all the functions of IT. In addition, the growth of the internet as a part of IT infrastructure has seen innovations that can be manipulated and as such result in breaches in privacy. This includes innovations such as communication and interaction applications over the internet, Use of IT to control physical objects through the Internet of Things (IOT) all work towards breaching the privacy of individuals (Covert, Hamilton, Orebaugh, & Hamilton, 2014). These facts are echoed by Mason (n.d) who argues that IOT creates challenges in property and accessibility rights since they are central to the existence of IT.

Ethical responsibility in information technology

In IT, ethical privacy issues should be considered under two aspects. On one hand, ethics should be considered as hardware, software, and applications and on the other hand, the individuals and organizations that use the software. Under ethical privacy considerations of hardware, software, and application, it should be noted that these three aspects have no ethical responsibility. This is based on the fact that the aforementioned are thought of, created and implemented by individuals and/ or organizations. As such, where the cause of IT hardware, software, and applications emits from their creating and implementation the ethical responsibility should lie squarely with them. For example, where builders of IT hardware are found to have created hardware that inherently shares out private information, it is their sole responsibility to bear liability from any privacy concerns that arise from using their equipment. This principle of liability of unethical privacy behavior should be extended to vendors of software and applications. This is because, if their software systems and applications breach the privacy of users, it is not the software or applications that are in the wrong. It is the vendors who create, maintain and sell their products, which would otherwise be non-existent (George, 2008). This liability should be extended to IOT since creators know fully well the capabilities of their innovations.

The organization and individuals who use IT are also liable where their investments in IT hardware and software lead to unethical behavior. It is the sole liability of each individual who uses a system to ensure that their actions are unethical in light of privacy. For example, it would be the responsibility of an individual to ensure that they do not share data entrusted to them. This will ensure that items such as client or personal information remain private, and where actions are directed towards sharing such information, the liability should lie on the individual

In adding to the above, it is the organization’s obligation to ensure that its employees are trained as to how to use enterprise systems, ethically. This means that organizations should have policies, rules, and regulations that govern how privacy issues are protected. However, where an organization does not have policies, rules or regulations, where issues of ethical privacy issue exist, the responsibility will squarely lie on the organization.

Information Technology in Healthcare Industry

In healthcare settings, the use of IT is used as decision support systems, electronic records and order entries as means of ensuring high quality of healthcare are provided (Chaudhry, et al., 2006). It is evident that by using IT in healthcare, service delivery is efficient and cost effective. While decision support systems gather and interpret data to assist management in their decision-making role, electronic records are used to maintain patient data and their comprehensive heath history. Further, order entries supplement the work of healthcare workers by allowing for the ordering, dispensing and administration of medicine (Healthit.gov, 2014).

Where decision support systems, electronic records, and order entries are used, a number of benefits are identifiable. This includes an avenue where policies on the clinical support are analyzed. This is through clinical decisions support systems that allow for informed decisions to be made at the point of care in a timely manner (AHRQ, 2016). Further,the use of the systems will allow for decision makers to allocate resources and reduce costs while improving efficiency in healthcare delivery  (Devaraj & Kohli, 2000).

Electronic record systems are used to record of medical and clinical data thus acting as an avenue of maintaining comprehensive patient history which is shareable amongst all providers involved in the care provision of a patient (Healthit.gov, 2014). As such, healthcare organizations benefit from this system since it allows for tracking data, ease in the identification of patients revisiting the facility, monitoring patient responses to new medications and thus, improve the quality of care that the organization provides.

Lastly, order entries have the largest impact as regards the use of IT in healthcare. According to  (Bates, 2000), order entry systems improves safety by not only improving structures of medications by ensuring that medication orders include dosage, route and frequency instructions but also allow for the identification of the orderer as well as allow for information flow back to the orderer. As such. Order systems reduce the rates of medication errors that are evidenced where IT is not used.

Information Technology Ethical Privacy Issues in Healthcare Industry

In as much as the above discussion has reflected on the benefits of using IT in healthcare, it is imperative to note that decision support, electronic records and order entry systems all have a human element that is susceptible to either ethical and or unethical acts. The human element is not only visible in the creation of the systems, but also on the use and reliance of the systems. Thus, all the three divisions of IT in healthcare are faced with ethical issues.

Ethical privacy issues as identified above can arise in light of the creators of software and hardware as well as the organization. Sanou (2014) indicates that in regards of the creators or inventors of IT, decision support system ethical issues arise as a result of the systems being fault tolerant and actual system design. This is because there is a high reliance on their systems as regards clinical decisions as well as management issues. It is only ethical for creators to ensure that their systems contain updated knowledge base, that the employed hardware is capable of delivering expected results, and accuracy of reports that are generated from the system. Further, it is upon the organization’s management to ensure that the systems in use are used ethically. This is only reflected where the organization ensures that users especially physicians are qualified and trained in using the system without breaching the patient’s privacy. It also is the organization to ensure that it has policies in place that guide physicians in the delivery of service especially in areas that require the preference of patients to drive the service delivery  (Sanou, 2014).

The second ethical issue surrounds the electronic records systems where issues of privacy, data are at risk. The nature of this system relies on the collection of patient data in large amounts and is identified as a high-risk area in ethics in light of the above discussion. To this end, both the organization, creators of the system and those who have access, have to act in an ethical manner towards ensuring that records are appropriately disclosed to the relevant parties. Further, the designers of the system have to not only ensure that the data is secure from unauthorized use, but also allow for the relationship between the patient and physician not to be negatively affected (Cushmana, Froomkinb, Cavac, Abrilc, & Goodman, 2010)

The final ethical issue involves order entries systems. Although this system can be considered as part of the electronic system, this paper has provided for it independently due to specific ethical issues it faces. In as much as it is expected the institution will train its staff on how to use this specific IT, order entry systems can be easily manipulated by the user. As such, where the designer and organization have to meet ethical obligations, users have to follow the policies as well as show netiquette. It thus follows the user has does not share any information with unauthorized parties. This is because of the high dollar value given to medications that users of the system may be corrupted by.

Conclusion

The paper has offered an analysis into the ethical privacy values of IT in healthcare. It is evident that these ethical privacy issues are not only found in healthcare but in all industries that employ the use of IT. By comparing why ethics in IT and IT developments do not go hand in hand, the paper has identified that, due to the dynamic nature of IT, organizations have to ensure ethical practices regardless of the lack of laws and regulations that would otherwise offer guidance. In addition, the paper has been able to identify three IT areas in healthcare that face ethical privacy challenges. It is from these areas that it becomes evident that the issue of ethics in healthcare should be considered from the design stage of systems. This should be followed by organizational policies that ensure that the systems are used in an ethical manner by qualified and trained staff. Further, the users should also embrace ethical behavior since it is their input and actions that reflect whether systems are ethical or not.

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