“I took a call at five o’clock this morning,” Supt Richard Cooper said. “A girl had texted her friend to say she’d taken an overdose. She couldn’t be found.”
It’s Cooper’s job to decide whether Gloucestershire police should ask telephone and internet companies for customer records that, in this case, could save a life. Requests from any officer in the force must be channelled through a small team at headquarters known as the single point of contact (Spoc). If a designated person, usually a superintendent, believes the interference with personal privacy is necessary and proportionate to the objective specified by the requesting officer, then the Spoc team will ask the communications company for so-called comms data – such as the location of a phone.
“It’s not like the movies,” a sergeant explained. “You don’t see a red dot flashing on a street map. We could be told that the phone is anywhere in an area measuring a kilometre or two across.” But it’s a start, especially if the location is anywhere near the Clifton suspension bridge.
Think: is there danger to the girl?
Is the benefit of finding the girl more that the intrusion into her life? On the other hand if it is a joke call then the girl has been the subject of a police search for no real reason. can cooper take the chance? Would you?
How much to code -- or compromise -- to prevent misuse
The original Apple Web camera came with a clever mechanical extra, a physical shutter that blocked the lens when it was off. The shutter and the switch were linked together; there was no way to use the camera without opening the shutter yourself.
Some of the newer webcams come with an LED that's supposed to be illuminated when the camera is activated. It usually works, but anyone who has programmed a computer knows there may be a place in the code where the camera and the LED can be decoupled. If that can be found, the camera can be turned into a spying device.
The challenge for the engineer is anticipating misuse and designing to prevent it. The Apple shutter is one of the obvious and effective examples of how it can be done elegantly. When I was working on a book about cheating on the SAT, I met one hacker who was adding networking software to his calculator.
Think: is a webcam safe when it is turned off and is it OK to cheat in exams?
How would you feel if your web cam was actually always on, even when your laptop is supposed to be off? What do you think about the people who code like this? What do you think about the engineers you try to protect you? is it ever "right" to cheat in examinations which is what the hacker was trying to do by turning his calculator into a network device?
How free does content really want to be?
A number of businesses depend on serving up content without paying those who create it. Some turn around and sell ads or even charge for access. These businesses often couldn't survive and couldn't price their material as attractively if they had to shoulder their fair share of the development costs. They develop elaborate rationalizations about "sharing" or "fair use" to cover up an ethically shaky decision.
Developers must ask themselves how their code will support everyone in the food chain, from creators to consumers. Do the people creating the content want their work to be distributed this way? Are they happy to work for exposure or attention alone? Are they given a fair share of the revenue?
Think: If the information is not mine is "FAIR USE" A REASONABLE EXCUSE TO CHARGE OTHER PEOPLE TO READ WHAT i HAVE NOT WRITTEN?
Not considering these questions amounts to turning a blind eye to piracy. After all, not all information just "wants to be free."
You are working for a company who are about to launch a new computer game. The adverts have gone out, the newspapers and TV are ready for the launch ... then the day before you are told that there is a bug, a mistake, in the software. It means players sometimes can't kill the dragon at the end of the game. If you hit the problem the only solution is to start the final level again. It can be fixed they think but it will take about a week or so to track it down. The computer code is hard to fix as it's been written by 10 different people and 5 of them have gone on a back-packing holiday so can't be contacted.
It is your call. What would you do?
- 1) Go ahead and launch, after all there are still plenty of parts to the game that do work and are fun, there will always be some errors, and for this game in particular thousands have been signing up for text alerts to tell them when it's launched.
- 2) Cancel the launch until the game is fixed properly, no one should have to buy a game that doesn't work 100%
- 3) Go ahead with this launch, after all it's almost totally working and the customers are looking forward to it. There will always be some errors in programs: it's part of the way complicated software is, and a delay to a game release would lead to disappointment.
Think: Is it right to release a product that is badly written?
What might the consequences be for the business and their customers? Can the business use you as a scapegoat if they are found out; after all you know about the bugs in the code?
The Internet runs everywhere, avoiding many of the traditional barriers at the borders. This can be a recipe for legal headaches when customers A and B are in different countries. That's only the beginning, because servers C and D are often in entirely different countries as well.
This leads to obvious ethical issues. Europe, for instance, has strict laws about retaining personal information and views privacy breaches as ethical failures. Other countries insist on companies keeping copious records on dealings. Whose laws should a company follow when customers are in different countries? When data is in different counties? When data is transferred across international lines?
Think: even IF THE LAW IS UNCERTAIN, ETHICALLY i MUST BEHAVE CORRECTLY AS A SERVICE PROVIDER OR E-COMMERCE STORE?
Keeping up with every legal contingency can be Herculean, leaving many organizations surely tempted to bury their heads in the sand. On the other hand should I adopt the more stringent codes of practice?