This information, stored on a computer and used to correlate with other data could be considered invaluable by many researchers, but the patients have a right to keep certain information private, and to suggest anything else would be an ethical violation of the patient's privacy.
Because computer ethics is such a volatile issue, an entire branch of study has grown up around computer ethics, which proponents who believe the computer age caused these ethical issues, and others who believe these issues would have surfaced anyway. One of the proponents of computer ethics, who actually was the first to teach the concept, Walter Maner, from Old Dominion University, is a proponent of the computer creating brand new ethical issues. An expert quotes Maner, "For all of these issues, there was an essential involvement of computing technology. Except for this technology, these issues would not have arisen, or would not have arisen in their highly altered form" (Bynum, 2008). A colleague of Maner's, Deborah Johnson, disagreed with Maner, and the two began debating the issue. Author Bynum (2008) continues, "Johnson granted that computers did indeed transform old ethics problems in interesting and important ways -- that is, 'give them a new twist' -- but she did not agree that computers generated ethically unique problems that had never been seen before." The debate about how computers have affected ethics and if they have created whole new arenas for ethical violations continues, but it is clear that computer ethics is a challenging field that bears increased study and concern.
The biggest issue in the online privacy issue is, can people really expect privacy when there is so much information sharing going on online? Today's society is technologically rich, information rich and socially networked more than any other in history. People "blog," "twitter," and "Facebook" about their daily lives and beliefs to an astonishing degree, throwing caution and privacy to the wind. They place extremely personal information online, like daily activities, their political and religious beliefs, and they allow the world to read it, but they still want to maintain their privacy to maintain their health and safety, and they expect their Internet providers and technology providers to provide that privacy. Of course, Internet and technology providers do have an ethical liability to keep their users safe, but is this even a realistic goal in today's society? Another author notes, "So many people are completely comfortable using social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace and so forth, to really live their lives in a kind of public scrutiny that once would have just been inconceivable" (Rennie, 2008). This new, technologically rich generation seems unconcerned about many privacy issues, and that may change the way society looks at and thinks about privacy and ethics.
However, there are still those that recognize the danger of giving up so much privacy online. Author Rennie continues (2008), "There may be a lot of things that people are putting up online these days that they will come to regret down the line, but it may also suggest that we are really looking at a change in a way that we view privacy." Privacy is also a notion that some experts believe is more of a modern notion. Author Rennie (2008) maintains that it is a relatively new idea that has become a universal rule really was not present even a few hundred years ago, because people lived in small communities then, everyone knew everyone, and they all knew private, personal information about each other, it was simply part of life. If this is the case, then privacy is a relatively new ethical concept, and seeing it disappear may be just another step in the way of the world.
Finally, computers have changed the way society works, plays, and interacts, and they are changing privacy ethics as well, on a global basis. Another author notes, "Computers do not know borders. Computer networks & #8230; have a truly global character. Hence, when we are talking about computer ethics, we are talking about the emerging global ethic" (Bynum, 2008). Thus, these privacy issues are no longer a country's problem, they are the world's problem, and how they are handled will affect everyone today and in the future. These universal rules came about as a result of the computer and its ability to connect people and institutions around the globe. It is a time for great change, and it is also a time for developing ethical concerns about computer privacy, and if it can be maintained effectively at a time when it appears to be slowly disappearing from an entire generation.
Adams, H.R., Bocher, R.F., Gordon, C.A., & Barry-Kessler, E. 2005 Privacy in the 21st Century: Issues for Public, School, and Academic Libraries. Libraries Unlimited, Westbrook, CT.
Bynum, Terryl 2008 Computer and Information Ethics, Stanford University, URL="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-computer/"
Fisher, C.B. 2006 Privacy and Ethics in Pediatric Environmental Health Research-Part I: Genetic and Prenatal Testing. Environmental Health Perspectives, 114(10), 1617+.
Rennie, John 2008 Who's Watching You: The Future of Privacy, Scientific American, URL="http://www.sciam.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=28825D7D-D772-2192-12177C05B4B2AED7"
Sharpe, V.A. 2005 Privacy and Security for Electronic Health Records: The Ramifications of "Interoperability." The Hastings Center Report, 35(6), 49.