A New Kind of Ethics – Concerning Privacy

June 26, 2007

I just read Is google Evil? in Popular Mechanics, March 2007, and the largest part of A Head for Detail in Popular Mechanics, May 2007. And I read The Light of Other Days a few days ago. So, put these together, and you’ll realize that we will have to develop a whole new way of thinking about ethics.

I’m using Engineering Ethics, and although published in 2005, this book is totally incapable of helping us sort out the ethical questions brought forth by these articles. Something like privacy has been a generally accepted norm for all of mankind. You had the right to have secrets. Yeah, we said that honesty should be a key moral value, but still, you had the power over what others know and do not know.

How would our ethics look if everyone can know everything that anyone has ever put on the internet about you? It was unacceptable to dig in someone else’s file cabinet. But is it unacceptable to run a google search about them, and gain the same information that way? All of us get the opportunity to start over, not because people give us the opportunity, but because we decide to take it. High School kids decide to go to far-off universities, so that no one will know them, so that they can start over. But for how long? People end of bad relationships, decide to start over. But who of us haven’t ran a search on people we love. Why, we do it just for the heck of it, not to catch them out or anything. But already you won’t only find your loved ones on a list showing all the names of people attended a conference, but how about on the blog of some x-boyfriend freak telling you about all the things she wished she could just forget about. I think I’m just scratching the surface here.

May we put together profiles of people, that will give us a better picture about all their dark secrets than we could have gotten by just getting to know them the “normal” way? Yes, you pastors. What if google leaked your search info. What if everyone would find out 10 years from now that at one stage in your life you ran searches for porn? Leak your surf history? No longer you that decide to store those nasty magazines (don’t get me wrong, I’m TOTALLY against porn) under your bed, with no one knowing about it. No way, someone else hold the key now.

What if, and in many churches this might even be worse, your church council would find out that you are thinking about theological questions which is “out of line”? They might find out that you’ve searched for that new book which is supposed to be herecy, or visited the website of that certain theological group which ask questions that’s not allowed. How will we develop an ethic which will give people the necessary categories (there must be a better word, please help me) which will guide them through this? And this is but the beginning! The challenge ying ahead of us might not be that our memories get erased, like in Men in Black or Heroes, but that what happened never get erased, that anyone can know!

We’ll be needing a whole new ethics in while. I realized that a few weeks ago at the synod. The question about homosexuality is just the beginning. I think we might get through the next synod (2010) without having some serous medical ethics question to worry about, but I believe that will be the last one for many decades. Genetic engineering is coming up. Will you “fix up” your “potentially incorrect” children?

3 Responses to “A New Kind of Ethics – Concerning Privacy”

  1. Johan Swarts Says:

    ek moet sê, jy maak ‘n baie relevante punt oor etiek.

  2. Kowie Says:

    Cobus – het nie ‘n antwoord nie. Ek was en is steeds een van die uitgesproke geeste teen die informasie oorheersing van Amerika en Engeland as deel van die anti – terroriste veldtog. Weet egter dat daar wel ‘n verskil sal wees tussen die politieke riglyne vir sulke etiek vraagstuk en die teologiese riglyne. Politiek sal dit wil gebruik vir mag en sogenaamde beskerming – sal die teolgie dit wil gebruik of teenstaan?

  3. cobus Says:

    Ek persoonlik het nie ‘n probleem met die oor-beskikbaarheid van inligting nie. Ons sal net moet leer om dit verantwoordelik te hanteer as ek skielik dinge van my werknemers kan weet wat voorheen nie moontlik sou gewees het nie. Ek dink egter ‘n groot probleem kan inkom wanneer die inligting net vir sekeres beskikbaar is. Ek dink dit sal ‘n begin wees vir ‘n etiek wat in die vervolg nodig sal wees, dat ons sal moet seker maak dat almal dieselfde toegang tot inligting kan hê


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