There are a range of computer ethics issues that have arisen as computers have become more prevalent, accessible and advanced. Ease of access for many people has led to issues relating to moral usage and the social ramifications of actions taken online. The methods many institutions employ, often requiring the use of computers in the storage and processing of records, has sparked ethical issues relating to privacy and equal access. Governments that rely on computers, sometimes centralizing databases and utility processes, have to deal with computer ethics issues as they relate to defense and law enforcement versus public privacy. There also are legal issues dealing with the possibility of operating from a computer as an unknown, anonymous user and then potentially committing a crime that cannot be traced.
By far, privacy is one of the most debated of the computer ethics issues. On one side of the argument, users do not want information that can be readily obtained from the available technology to be accessible to servers or websites that are visited. At the same time, this type of information can be invaluable for law enforcement when tracking a criminal who is operating through the Internet. While the issue can be debated from different angles, one reality is that the way global networking protocols operate means identifying information about a computer user is almost always available, breaking any chance for true anonymity online.
The issue of privacy also arises from the way many corporations and retailers do business. In a computerized marketplace that allows instant access to funds and instant purchases, large databases need to be maintained with very sensitive information about consumers. This information can be combined with other compiled databases that track the browsing habits of users and create a very detailed digital profile of a single person. The collection and storage of the information is one of the computer ethics issues that have been hard to resolve. One argument is that, without this information, the cost of using the Internet could go up and the convenience of purchasing through a point of sale terminal, or online, could become obsolete; detractors feel this information should not be culled, compiled or kept on file after a purchase is made.
The Internet is a single global data network, so a unique set of computer ethics issues comes up. The digital data on the Internet does not naturally follow the political boundaries of countries around the world. When one country decides that parts of the Internet are in violation of their local laws, then that country can attempt to regulate Internet traffic in and out of the borders to prevent users from accessing information available online. The real ethical issue is that this is often ineffective when done solely by the government of a country, and can often require the cooperation of software developers and server operators located in other parts of the world. In countries that have free speech laws, the ethical dilemma could come down to whether to be complicit in helping enforce the restrictions with the services and software created or to actively defy the wishes of a sovereign nation and remove any benefit that the software or service might have had even in a restricted form.
Within certain industries, there are computer ethics issues that stem from the fact that a computer can perform certain tasks more efficiently and less expensively than a human. This could lead to the replacement of human staff with computers and software. The ethical problem here is that, as technology progresses, it might become more and more profitable to use computers for tasks and not offer those jobs to human employees at all, reducing the amount of available jobs.