There are so many ways to define information ethics. Let me suggest a simple place to begin. Take a look at my blog posting here on February 23rd. This definition applies to the uses and abuses of information in the past, the present, and the future. While it's true that we are much more aware of information issues today, we can also use ethical analysis to understand the past. Of particular interest to us are inventions such as the alphabet, the book, the printing press, the telephone, the digital computer, the fax, and the Internet. What else comes to mind when you think of inventions that make information available or to hinder access to information? Next think of major events and periods of history that give us clues to the dynamics at work when humans come in contact with information and information technologies. Think of the beginnings of agriculture, the rise of cities, the Industrial Revolution, and the nuclear age. What information did the earliest farmers need? How did they learn how to grow crops? What about the rise of citities? Most historians note that record keeping was one of the characteristics of city life. Maybe there was an early Dilbert in the offices of early urban bureauracracies. Before the Industrial Revolution, we have the beginnings of printing. Do you see a relationship? Does being a reader, a literate person, change a person's self image? How? Who could learn to read in the early days? When did reading become an essential skill of living and learning? Think also about the rise of modern science and how the Industrial Revolution has shaped our world today. Think also of how education has changed over the centuries. Think of the history of higher education and the concept of the university. What was taught in the early American universities? When did the curriculum change? How is the curriculum changing today? If theology was the queen of the disciplines long ago and then was replaced by Science, will information technologies replace Science? Next we'll move on to some of the philosophical traditions to add to the historical bones we've been filling with flesh. Don't worry if you are not familiar with all of this history. We'll all be filling in our blanks throughout the course through our discussions among ourselves. We are always learning and never will know it all. That keeps us humble.
For more on the history of information ethics and the contributions of many key scholars see:
The International Center for Information Ethics