Army warns on revealing location in social networking status updates
In a report presented by Philp (2010), it states the following: “The US military has issued a warning that social networking sites could endanger the lives of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan because of new features that reveal the user’s location”. The main social networking website to which the report is referring is that of Facebook. Facebook is a sophisticated social networking web application in which there are a multitude of “Apps” which can add extra functionality to a user’s profile (Facebook, n.d.); moreover, the App with which this report is concerned is that of “Places.” (Facebook, n.d.). Geolocation applications such as “Places” are a potential security threat—particularly in the military—primarily because it is believed that it could expose the location of a soldier (the Facebook user) to the “enemy”. Therefore, the careless use of this application, by troops, is ill advised by senior military officers.
Doing Ethics Technique
Simpson, Nevile & Burmeister (2003, p.1) present an interesting ethics technique; the “Doing Ethics Technique” is described by the authors as a “technique that people can follow easily, that helps them value ethical behaviour is needed.” The authors provide brief expositions regarding moral philosophy and indeed how such concepts can be utilised whilst engaging in the ethical analysis of any given situation. In order to engage in the thorough ethical analysis whilst utilising this technique, there are six main questions that must be answered; these are as follows:
- What are the facts?
- What are the issues?
- Who is affected?
- What are the ethical issues and implications?
- What can be done about it? / What options are there?
- Which option is best?
- What are the facts?
- a) Facebook allows users to install a geolocation application entitled “Places”.
- b) The application allows a user to share their current location.
- c) Military personnel are utilising this application on a recreational level.
- What are the Issues?
- a) Senior military officers are concerned that such use of Facebook Places may pose a security risk; the enemy may utilise Facebook Places to locate the soldiers.
- b) The soldiers are not engaging in due diligence whilst using Facebook places which constitutes naive/careless behaviour.
- Who is affected?
- a) Potentially all troops in Iraq and Afghanistan who are utilising the Facebook Place App; their safety may be is serious danger from an enemy attack.
- b) The senior officers may face serious repercussions from their seniors.
- What are the ethical issues and implications?
Although the privates / soldiers are probably not consciously engaging in unethical behaviour, they’re suffering from a lack of education in the area of social networking and information technology. Rather than being an ethical issue, it is more a case of naivety on the part of the privates who are engaging in these actions.
- What can be done about it?
- a) Senior officers could temporarily suspend all troop access to Facebook until briefing and education is delivered to the troops (in relation to the security risks that may arise from such usage of geolocation applications).
- b) Punish all troops who are responsible for running Apps such as Facebook Places.
- c) Deliver comprehensive education to all troops concerning social networking privacy and security issues; IT and technical education in the area of privacy, security and social networking should be provide to all troops. This way, troops can continue to use Facebook in a safe manner, and they’ll be able stay in touch with their family and friends.
- What is the best option?
Logic dictates that troops of the United States military would not intentionally compromise the safety of their compatriots; for instance, the United States Army has declared that safety is of paramount importance “24/7/365” (Pasierb, 2009). Also, it is important to take into consideration the fact that these privates who are utilising geolocation technology are very likely to be unaware of the potential dangers associated with its usage, which constitutes a level of naivety of their part. Therefore, the most sensible option would be “5c”; to provide comprehensive education to all troops, during which they will receive detailed explanations on how to use Facebook safely. Although it would take planning and co-ordination, it would be a worthwhile exercise to educate the troops about this technology, primarily because of its ubiquity in contemporary IT usage.
ICT Professional – ACS Code of Ethics
According to the Australian Computer Society’s Code of Ethics (Australian Computer Society, n.d., p.1.), an individual ICT professional of the society must: “uphold and advance the honour, dignity and effectiveness of being a professional“. It also states that the aforementioned member must abide by the following values:
- The Primacy of the Public Interest
- The Enhancement of Quality of Life
- Professional Development
I am going to apply the ACS Code of Ethics to the chosen topic; in terms of the primacy of public interest, all troops whilst being in the United States Military must adhere to a professional code of ethics also known as the “Military Code of Ethics” (United States Army, 2009). Military personnel (troops) undergo an indoctrination process during military training (Udall, 1961) and this includes serving the public interest (preserving democracy and the U.S. Constitution). Troops must also maintain a high level of competence, integrity and professionalism throughout their career in the military; the code of ethics as outlined at ACS mirrors that of military code of ethics in a general sense. Therefore, it is my contention that the somewhat naive utilisation of Facebook applications does not contravene the aforementioned code of ethics per se (as they’re not deliberately disclosing their location to potential enemies), but rather—as stated in the previous section—indicates that there is a distinct lack of education within the area of information technology and social networking websites (on the part of the troops).
Classical Ethical Theories
According to Princeton University (n.d.), moral philosophy / ethics is defined as “the philosophical study of moral values and rules”. There are a number of classical ethical theories; for the purposes of this section, I am going to concentrate on normative ethics and utilitarianism. Normative ethics is an umbrella term which comprises of constituent ethical theories such as consequentialism, hedonism, intellectualism and egoism. Utilitarianism is my personal favourite ethical theory; an individual who subscribes to the utilitarian philosophy follows “the greatest happiness or greatest felicity principle”, Bentham (1789). Another great feature of utilitarianism is that of consequence analysis; every moral action is defined based on the consequences that will derive from such (Velasquez et al, n.d.).
Applying classical ethical theories to the chosen topic is somewhat inappropriate in my view, primarily because the troops are already indoctrinated (through military training) into a moral code that is universal throughout the military. This moral code cannot be compromised and is a central component of the military indoctrination process. Furthermore, the universal military moral code presumably will not have been contravened purposefully (by the troops) through the utilisation of Facebook applications (in relation to privacy and security issues).
With the chosen scenario, I believe that the Doing Ethics Technique is the best suited analysis methodology because of its comprehensive nature; going through the six phases of analysis allows for an individual to acquire thorough expositions of any given situation, from which detailed information can be derived and solutions can be identified. In my view, the other methodologies are limited in scope (particularly the ACS Code of Ethics section) because the values presented are rather simplistic in nature, primarily because they’re not conducive to the comprehensive ethical analysis of a situation. The analysis of classical moral philosophy is helpful; unfortunately, however, the application of such is not always relevant in typical ICT based scenarios.
It is my contention that contemporary ICT issues require thorough analysis in order to provide comprehensive analysis in order to establish to best course of action, from an ethical standpoint. The Doing Ethics Technique is an excellent method that can be utilised in numerous situations, whether or not the issue is related to ICT issues. The authors of this technique have clearly engaged in extensive research within the area of ethical analysis, and I firmly believe that the scope for Doing Ethics Technique is limitless as it can be utilised for almost any professional situation, regardless of the vocational field.
In conclusion and to reiterate, it is important to critically analyse all aspects of an issue—which generally equates to going beyond an ethical analysis of a problematic situation. Although moral philosophy plays a very important role in all aspects of society, it is my contention that it is simply not enough to rely on classical ethical theories in order to establish what the best course of action may be (to resolve an issue). In many instances within the globalised information society, a pragmatic approach is required; the main reason why such an approach is required is because many issues that require reform are vastly complex and therefore a moral / ethical approach to the situation is generally, as it were, “only a small part of the jigsaw” in terms of applying a proposed resolution to the issue in question.
Australian Computer Society (n.d.). Code of Ethics. Retrieved January 3, 2011, from http://www.acs.org.au/attachments/Code_of_Ethics.pdf, p.1.
Bentham, J. (1789). An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. Retrieved January 3, 2011, from http://www.econlib.org/library/Bentham/bnthPML.html
Facebook (n.d.). Facebook App Directory. Retrieved January 3, 2011, from http://www.facebook.com/apps/directory.php
Facebook (n.d.). Facebook Places. Retrieved January 3, 2011, from http://www.facebook.com/places/
Pasierb, J. (2009). Army Supports National Safety Month. Retrieved January 3, 2011, from http://www.smdc.army.mil/2008/Safety/Articles/NationalSafetyMonth.pdf
Philp, C. (2010). Army warns on revealing location in social networking status updates. Retrieved January 3, 2011, from http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/army-warns-on-revealing-location-in-social-networking-status-updates/story-e6frg6so-1225956327358, no page number.
Princeton University (n.d.). moral philosophy. Retrieved January 3, 2011, from http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=moral%20philosophy
Simpson C.R., Nevile, L. & Burmeister, O.K. (2003). DOING ETHICS: A UNIVERSAL TECHNIQUE IN AN ACCESSIBILITY CONTEXT. Retrieved January 3, 2011, from https://www.acs.org.au/, p.1.
Udall, M.K. (1961). THE DISMISSAL OF MAJ. GEN. EDWIN A. WALKER. Retrieved January 3, 2011, from http://www.library.arizona.edu/exhibits/udall/special/walker.html
Velasquez, M et al. (n.d.). Calculating Consequences: The Utilitarian Approach to Ethics. Retrieved January 3, 2011, from http://www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/decision/calculating.html