Information ethics

Information ethics has been defined as "the branch of ethics that focuses on the relationship between the creation, organization, dissemination, and use of information, and the ethical standards and moral codes governing human conduct in society".[1] It provides a critical framework for considering moral issues concerning informational privacy, moral agency (e.g. whether artificial agents may be moral), new environmental issues (especially how agents should behave in the infosphere), problems arising from the life-cycle (creation, collection, recording, distribution, processing, etc.) of information (especially ownership and copyright, digital divide, and digital rights). Information ethics is related to the fields of computer ethics[2] and the philosophy of information.

Dilemmas regarding the life of information are becoming increasingly important in a society that is defined as "the information society". The explosion of so much technology has brought information ethics to a forefront in ethical considerations. Information transmission and literacy are essential concerns in establishing an ethical foundation that promotes fair, equitable, and responsible practices. Information ethics broadly examines issues related to ownership, access, privacy, security, and community. It is also concerned with relational issues such as "the relationship between information and the good of society, the relationship between information providers and the consumers of information."[3]

Information technology affects common issues such as copyright protection, intellectual freedom, accountability, privacy, and security. Many of these issues are difficult or impossible to resolve due to fundamental tensions between Western moral philosophies (based on rules, democracy, individual rights, and personal freedoms) and the traditional Eastern cultures (based on relationships, hierarchy, collective responsibilities, and social harmony).[4] The multi-faceted dispute between Google and the government of the People's Republic of China reflects some of these fundamental tensions.

Professional codes offer a basis for making ethical decisions and applying ethical solutions to situations involving information provision and use which reflect an organization's commitment to responsible information service. Evolving information formats and needs require continual reconsideration of ethical principles and how these codes are applied. Considerations regarding information ethics influence "personal decisions, professional practice, and public policy".[5] Therefore, ethical analysis must provide a framework to take into consideration “many, diverse domains” (ibid.) regarding how information is distributed.

The main, peer-reviewed, academic journals reporting on information ethics are the Journal of the Association for Information Systems, the flagship publication of the Association for Information Systems, and Ethics and Information Technology, published by Springer.


The field of information ethics has a relatively short but progressive history having been recognized in the United States for nearly 20 years.[6] The origins of the field are in librarianship though it has now expanded to the consideration of ethical issues in other domains including computer science, the internet, media, journalism, management information systems, and business.[6]

Evidence of scholarly work on this subject can be traced to the 1980s, when an article authored by Barbara J. Kostrewski and Charles Oppenheim and published in the Journal of Information Science, discussed issues relating to the field including confidentiality, information biases, and quality control.[6] Another scholar, Robert Hauptman, has also written extensively about information ethics in the library field and founded the Journal of Information Ethics in 1992.[7]



  1. Joan, Reitz M. "Information Ethics." Online Dictionary For Library And Information Science. N.p., 2010. Web. <>.
  2. Floridi, Luciano (1999). "Information Ethics: On the Theoretical Foundations of Computer Ethics" (PDF). Ethics and Information Technology. 1 (1): 37–56. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 November 2005.
  3. Moran, Barbara A.; Stueart, Robert D.; Morner, Claudia J. (2013). Library and Information Center Management. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited. p. 321.
  4. M.G. Martinsons and D. Ma (2009) "Sub-Cultural Differences in Information Ethics across China: Focus On Chinese Management Generation Gaps", Journal of the Association for Information Systems 10.11, 957-973.
  5. E. Elrod and M. Smith (2005). "Information Ethics", in Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics, ed. by Carl Mitcham. Vol. 2: D-K (1004-1011). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.
  6. 1 2 3 Froehlich, Thomas (December 2004). "A Brief History of Information Ethics". Textos Universitaris de Biblioteconomia i Documentació. Universitat de Barcelona. 13. ISSN 1575-5886.
  7. Kerr, Michael (29 March 2010). "Introduction". Ethics And Information Management In The 21st Century. University of British Columbia. Archived from the original on 31 March 2012.

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