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What Are the Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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The Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics are a series of rules created by the Computer Ethics Institute in the style of the Bible's Ten Commandments. They are meant as guidelines for ethical computer use, indicating modes of behavior for computer users that do not harm others or the work of other people who use computers. Some of the rules are created as exact mirrors of the biblical Ten Commandments, while others are more specific to computer use and deal with issues that were non-existent in the ancient world. The Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics have come under criticism by some individuals, however, for being overly vague or simplistic in nature.

In structure and tone, the Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics were created to mimic the biblical Ten Commandments, using the “Thou shalt not” language found in the King James version of the Bible. The first of the commandments is, perhaps, among its most important and indicates that a computer should not be used to cause harm to other people. This is followed by several rules that establish ethical behavior in using a computer with reference to other people’s work, specifically indicating that a computer should not be used to interfere with someone else’s work and should not be used to look at the computer files of someone else.

Following these, there are several rules that are nearly identical to some of the biblical commandments. These indicate that a computer should not be used to steal or to lie or falsify information about someone else. The remaining rules are a bit more specific in dealing with computer issues. These include rules against someone using software that he or she has not paid for and using someone else’s computer resources in a way that is unauthorized.

The final rules within the Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics involve the products and software that people should create. This includes a rule against a software developer using someone else’s intellectual property in their own creations. Though most of the rules indicate behavior a person should not engage in, the last two rules are meant to demonstrate behavior a person should display and utilize. These include considerations about the consequences that a program someone is developing may have on society and other people, as well as calling for computer use in a way that is responsible and demonstrates considerations for other computer users.

Those who defend the Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics point to them as general guidelines for human behavior in using computers and developing new software. Opponents or critics of these commandments, often state that they are too vague or general, and do not properly reflect the complex nature of computer use and software development. Proponents argue against these criticisms by stating that these rules are meant as general guidelines and can be used as a “jumping off point” for more specific rules and personal consideration regarding computer use.

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Discussion Comments
By pastanaga — On Mar 07, 2014

@Mor - Well, legally it is stealing though. And that's one of the reasons that we need to ensure that there are real legal protections around computer use. Because it's easy to say, well, this isn't really harming anyone. Or maybe you even think you're helping people. Like that guy a while ago that was designing viruses to infect the computers of child pornographers so he could report them to the police.

Even I think that guy is awesome, but at the same time I know why he had to be stopped by the authorities. Because the next guy might do the same thing against his ex-girlfriend for revenge and they need to be able to say the whole practice is illegal.

By Mor — On Mar 06, 2014

@MrsPramm - It's not always that simple in reality though. If you use your computer to download music illegally online, are you really hurting anyone? If you would never have bought the music anyway, then you aren't taking a sale away from the artist. If anything, you might end up promoting their music to your friends and helping the artist. You might argue that people who download music illegally add to its legitimacy and cause harm because they inspire others to do the same thing indiscriminately.

But you can't live life always thinking about the wider consequences of every action. You can only be responsible for yourself.

Now, the thing is, I actually do think that downloading music illegally is wrong, because I think that people deserve to be paid for their work. But I don't think of it as stealing, so much as just not contributing to the global community in a fair way.

By MrsPramm — On Mar 05, 2014

I would have thought that the only real rule that needed to be stated would be that you shouldn't use computers (or anything really) to cause harm to anyone else. I mean, every other thing that is prohibited is prohibited because it could cause harm. If you use a computer to commit theft, for example, you are harming the person you steal from.

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