Dissertation Proposal: An Examination of Legal, Ethical and Social Issues on Information Systems
The Provisional Title of the Dissertation is as follows: “An Examination of Legal, Ethical and Social Issues on Information Systems”.
Brief Review of the Related Literature
We will begin our review of the related literature with a close examination of the literature concerning the definition of Information Systems. A clear definition of the concept of Information Systems is vital, because as Currie shows there is a great disparity between the extents to which clear concepts apply in a field such as chemistry compared with the academic discipline of management. “For example, physical chemists know exactly what they mean by ‘entropy’. Would-be scholars in the management field, on the other hand, have no shared precise meaning for many of their relevant concepts, for example ‘role’, ‘norm’, ‘culture’ or ‘information system’ all these terms are often fuzzy as a result of their unreflective use in everyday chat” (Currie 1999: pp.46). In this passage Currie eloquently sums up the task before us when we attempt to define the concept of Information Systems. The conceptual haziness and lazy use of concepts such as Information Systems in everyday usage as well as in academic circles has led to a situation in which providing a clear definition of the concept of Information Systems is a highly complex undertaking. For this reason it is probably not possible to provide a rigid and narrow definition of the concept of Information Systems, because any such definition will be criticised for its inability to incorporate the broad spectrum of features that management scholars understand by the term Information Systems. Many management scholars prefer this approach to the concept of Information Systems and the approach of Rainer is a clear example of this. She understands the concept of Information Systems to be a broad concept incorporating any number of activities that include the use of information technology to support management operations. “It has been said that the purpose of information systems is to get the right information to the right people at the right time in the right amount and in the right format” (Rainer 2009: pp.10). She looks closely at a range of concepts that full under the umbrella term of Information Systems and argues that “one of the primary goals of information systems is to economically process data into information and knowledge” (Rainer 2009: pp.10).
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The UK Academy for Information Systems agrees with the type of broad definition offered by Rainer and defines Information Systems as “the means by which people and organisations, utilising technologies, gather, process, store, use and disseminate information” (UK Academy for Information Systems 1999: pp.1). It is clear, therefore, that the term information Systems can be used and applied to a wide variety of activities.
Information Systems can denote the interaction between people, data, technology and knowledge and as a result Buckland also argues that a broad definition of the concept is desirable. As he explains, “information systems deal with data, texts and objects, with millions of these objects on endless miles of shelving, in untold filing cabinets, and on innumerable magnetic and optical devices with enormous data storage capacities” (Buckland 1991: pp.69). Buckland goes on to specify one of the most important reasons why a clear and concise definition of Information Systems is so difficult to attain. He argues that “any significant change in the nature or characteristics of the technology for handling the representations of knowledge, facts and beliefs could have profound effects on information systems and information services” (Buckland 1991: pp.69). In other words, Information Systems are likely to be affected by such an enormous variety of factors that a concise definition of the concept will probably always fail to include some important elements of the concept. It is for this reason that it is advisable for the purposes of this investigation to proceed in the same manner as the vast majority of the literature and therefore operate with a very broad and inclusive definition of the concept of Information Systems.
The next challenge that lies before us is to illustrate some of the most salient and prominent legal issues associated with Information Systems. Sacca defines one of the major challenges in the relationship between Information Systems and legal issues when he states that “first of all, the Rule of Law is based on these unavoidable elements, among others: equality and freedom of citizens. How can the legal system put this element into effect in a highly technological society?” (Sacca 2009: pp.29). Sacca argues that legislation governing the use of Information Systems has existed for a long time, stretching back as far as the 1970s, but that such legislation must constantly be updated in order to be able to keep up with the pace of innovation. He therefore proposes, for example, a “dialogue between institutions and citizens based upon a ‘digital citizenship’” in order to fully exploit the relationship between Information Systems, the government and people and set up an e-government in which everybody who has access to a computer and Internet can participate.
As Sacca states, “democratic legal systems have to foster and promote civil and political rights also with reference to the use of ICT, against digital divide” (Sacca 2009: pp.29). However, the issue of electronic democracy is only one of many legal issues that has been raised by the development of Information Systems. Pollack argues that “we are living in an era in which we routinely deal with issues such as privacy, digital security, identity theft, spyware, phishing, Internet pornography and spam. These costly and time consuming concerns were completely foreign to the American public only a few years ago” (Pollack 2006: pp.172). It is clear, therefore, that there are a multitude of legal issues surrounding Information Systems and Adamski argues that how we deal with information and data is a critical part of how we function as a modern liberal democracy and that the legal system must reflect this emphasis upon freedom of information. “Information, being an intangible and an entity that can be possessed, shared and reproduced by many, is not capable of being property as most corporeal objects do. Unlike corporeal objects, which are more exclusively attributed to certain persons, information is rather a public good. As such it must principally flow freely in a free society” (Adamski 2007: pp.1). It is clear, therefore, that legal issues are of vital importance with regard to Information Systems and that a multitude of issues must be examined in order to fully understand the relationship between Information Systems and the Rule of Law.
In the next section we will examine the extent to which ethical issues impact upon Information Systems. A study on the relationship between ethics and Information Systems has defined ethics as “the principles of right and wrong that individuals, acting as free moral agents, use to make choices that guide their behaviours” (Ethical and Social Issues 2010: pp.128). The study argues that the development of Information Systems has fundamentally transformed the relationship between management and ethics because new Information Systems give rise to a series of new ethical dilemmas. The study argues that “information systems raise new ethical questions for both individuals and societies because they create opportunities for intense social change, and thus threaten existing distributions of power, money, rights, and obligations” (Ethical and Social Issues 2010: pp.128).
Many of the ethical problems of Information Systems were foreseen by Mason in a famous study conducted in 1986 entitled ‘Four Ethical Issues of the Information Age’. In this study Mason argues that there will be above all four ethical issues that will dominate the era in which information Systems will dominate. He defined four ethical issues, namely “privacy, accuracy, property and accessibility” (Mason 1986: pp.5). Mason raised a number of pertinent questions that are indeed still relevant today and help us greatly in our quest to fully understand the relationship between legal, ethical and social issues and Information Systems. For example, with regard to privacy Mason asked, “What information about one’s self or one’s associations must a person reveal to others, under what conditions and with what safeguards? What things can people keep to themselves and not be forced to reveal to others?” (Mason 1986: pp.5). At this point it is important to point out that whilst such questions are clearly ethical questions in nature, the answers that society provides to such questions have clear and profound social dimensions and therefore the relationship between ethical and social issues is inextricably linked with regard to Information Systems. As the study on Ethical and Social Issues points out, “like other technologies, such as steam engines, electricity, the telephone, and the radio, information technology can be used to achieve social progress, but it can also be used to commit crimes and threaten cherished social values. The development of information technology will produce benefits for many and costs for others” (Ethical and Social Issues 2010: pp.128).
Despite the fact that ethical and social issues are inextricably intertwined, it is important that we delineate between the two concepts and in the final section of this dissertation we will focus upon the social issues relating to Information Systems. Here we will examine some of the most prominent social issues that arise when dealing with Information Systems. Some of the social questions we will examine concern the extent to which society is affected by a move toward computer-based systems. What costs do societies incur by doing so and what benefits do they accrue as a result? Do increased levels of automation affect employment patterns and cause people in lower social classes to lose employment opportunities? Will the rise of Information Systems serve to strengthen or dilute class divisions? It is possible to argue that Information Systems serve only to expand the power of the rich, because they re-enforce existing prejudices against the poor. As Wilson argues, “the economic climate and the differential stratification of resources will define some work environments as ‘information-poor’ and others as ‘information-rich’, with consequent effects upon the probability of information-seeking behaviour and the choice of channel of communication (Wilson 2006: pp.665). Another important social concerns the extent to which Information Systems will give rise to greater Identity Theft in which ordinary citizens are the victims and the great rise in the numbers of Identity Theft victims shows that there are a large number of negative social issues that have occurred since the birth of Information Systems.
Aims and objectives of the research
The aim of this dissertation is to encompass a broad spectrum of academic research in order to fully examine the legal, ethical and social issues on Information Systems. In order to be able to complete this task competently, we must first of all begin by outlining a clear structure of how this dissertation will be completed. We will conduct this investigation in five distinct sections. In the first section we will seek to define the concept of Information Systems. This is a vital task in this dissertation because in order to be able to fully and adequately analyse the legal, ethical and social issues on Information Systems we must first of all clearly define the concept of Information Systems in order to be able to proceed any further. In the next three sections we will focus upon the legal, ethical and social issues on Information Systems. We will examine each one of these issues in turn and begin by defining some of the most important issues that are relevant to Information Systems in each field. Once we have defined the relevant concepts in this dissertation we will move on to apply the concepts to an organisation that clearly reflects a number of pertinent issues raised by the literature review.
We have chosen to focus upon the firm Panasonic, because it is an example of an organisation that has been greatly affected by the developments of Information Systems over the last few decades and will allow us to fully explore the social, ethical and legal issues that arise when dealing with Information Systems.
Statement of the Design and Methodology
This investigation will allow us to critically evaluate the impact of legal, social and ethical issues upon Information Systems, focusing particularly on the organisation of Panasonic. It is likely that this dissertation will take a considerable amount of time and we will need to ensure that we have access to the relevant data and statistics that will be necessary in order to support and justify our findings. The aim of this dissertation is to clearly present a theoretical framework from which we can critically examine and evaluate the most important concepts within the title of this investigation. Once the internal theoretical framework has been established we will move on to apply the theoretical framework to the external world in order to analyse the extent to which this theoretical framework is supported by the realities of running a modern organisation in the real world. This will allow us to transfer the internal theoretical framework to the external world where such theoretical concepts operate.
Sources and Acquisition of Data
Throughout this dissertation we will focus primarily upon primary and secondary academic literature in order to establish the theoretical framework upon which this investigation will be based. If possible, it would also be useful to conduct some first-hand interviews with employees and manager of Panasonic in order to ascertain the impact that our theoretical framework has upon the company.
Method of Data Analysis
Throughout this dissertation we will employ both deductive and quantitative techniques as well as inductive and qualitative techniques. The literature review will be primarily based upon qualitative techniques, but we will also focus upon quantitative techniques in order to be able to compare the data and statistics that we found in our literature review with the evidence we will assemble from the firm Panasonic. We will also use both deductive and inductive techniques throughout this investigation and allow for the fact that the conclusions we reach may be false in nature. This type of hypothetical reasoning will strengthen our ultimate conclusions and findings.
Form of Presentation
The dissertation will be presented in written form, but where necessary relevant graphs, tables, charts and illustrations will be included in order to provide statistical data that support and justify the conclusions reached in this investigation.
References and Bibliography
Adamski, A., 2007. Information Management: Legal and Security Issues, pp.1-17
Buckland, M., 1991. Information and Information Systems. London: Greenwood Publishing
Currie, W., 1999. rethinking Management Information Systems. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Ethical and Social Issues in Information Systems, 2010, pp.124-165. http://www.prenhall.com/behindthebook/0132304619/pdf/laudon%20MIS10_CH-04%20FINAL.pdf Accessed 26/07/2010
Mason, R., 1986. Four Ethical Issues of the Information Age. Management Information Systems Quarterly, 10 (1), pp.5-12
Pollack, T., 2006. Ethical and Legal Issues for the Information Systems Professional. Proceedings of the 2006 ASCUE Conference, pp.172-180
Rainer, K., 2009. Introduction to Information Systems: Enabling and Transforming Business. London: Wiley Publishing
Sacca, D., 2009. Information Systems: People, Organisations, Institutions and Technologies. New York: Springer Publishing
UK Academy for Information Systems, 1999. The Definition of Information Systems, pp.1-6
Wilson, T., 2006. On User Studies and Information Needs. Journal of Documentation 62 (6), pp.658-670
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