Saturday, June 4, 2011

Ethics, Law and Motivation

In order to discuss the differences between an unethical act and an illegal act, and motivation for these acts, we need to understand the definition of the words themselves. (n.d.) defines ethical as “in accordance with principles of conduct that are considered correct, especially those of a given profession or group” while the term legal is defined as “established by or founded upon law; lawful” (n.d.). Finally, motivation is defined as “desire to do; interest or drive; incentive or inducement” (n.d.).
From the definitions given above, it is clear that in order for an act or action to be considered unethical, it has to contradict the personal judgement of what is considered to be correct. Whereas illegal act is an act violating an official law or regulation. For example, in software development domain, when an employer forces employees (software developers) to develop only a partially functioning software in order to increase profitability of the company, while not illegal it could be considered as unethical act. On the other hand, when an European Union (EU) based hosting company stores personal records of its clients on servers in North America, as a backup or disaster recovery site, with the same or stricter security controls in place, although it does not violate any ethical principals it is forbidden by official EU rules (European Commission of Justice, 2009). In practice data transfer to non-EU entities is possible if the same core principals of data protection are provided to the personal records of the individuals. Furthermore, EU and the Department of Commerce (DoC) have developed a framework – Safe Harbor, to bridge between privacy approaches and streamline the trade between the EU and US (, 2011).
Moreover, when discussing motivations to conduct an illegal act and unethical act, there is a clear distinction between the two. Since ethical behaviour is dictated by personal principals, an individual would have no desire to conduct an unethical act. On the other hand, illegal acts as shown in the example above, not always contradict personal ethical principals, therefore an incentive or gain (financial, personal, etc.) could be a driver for an illegal act.
As a continuation of this topic, it would be beneficial to examine the potential conflict between corporate policies, as oppose to provincial or federal laws which were discussed above, and personal ethical principals. As highlighted by Verizon Business 2008 data breach investigations report, in finance and tech industries, 39 and 39 percent respectively of breaches originated from internal sources – internal employees (Wade H. Baker at al, 2008).


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