Myriad examples and case studies exist which address the moral, ethical, legal, and cultural impacts of technology on individuals and societies. Of course, the nature of information technology and computer science means new cases are arising constantly. The examples below are a highlight of some of the more significant cases from the last few years, along with examples of sites that provide up to date examples. Click here for recommended AQA A-Level Computer Science textbooks.
In June 2013, the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers published revelations about a secret, quasi-legal US government Internet surveillance programme known as PRISM and operated by the National Security Agency (NSA). In the following weeks global media continued publishing revelations of ever more extraordinary surveillance systems. First, revelations that the NSA had worked with the British intelligency agency GCHQ to side-step legal issues, then evidence that online images were being collected and mined, and finally, confirmation that thousands of mobile phones had been monitored and tracked. Foreign allies were quickly alienated as it was revealed that the NSA had spied on supposedly friendly governments and ministers, including the Germans, Chileans, and Brazilians. The articles below highlight some of the key events in the scandal, and make excellent material for classroom discussion of the ethics of surveillance.
- The NSA and surveillance ... made simple - video animation
- NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others
- GCHQ taps fibre-optic cables for secret access to world's communications
- NSA 'tracking' hundreds of millions of mobile phones
- New NSA leaks show how US is bugging its European allies
- US allies Mexico, Chile and Brazil seek spying answers
- NSA monitored calls of 35 world leaders
- NSA collects millions of text messages daily in 'untargeted' global sweep
- N.S.A. Collecting Millions of Faces From Web Images (NY Times)
- What the NSA can (and can't) mine from intercepted photos
- NSA: Nude Snaps Agency - Swapping other people's sexts is a fringe benefit
Many of the surveillance technologies and methods featured in Enemy of the State - which features Will Smith as a lawyer tracked down by government agents - may seem pure fantasy. However, recent revelations about NSA spying once again make this a relevant and pertinent film that deals with contemporary issues.
A compelling two-part PBS documentary about the US government (and particularly the NSA's) warrantless surveillance of the Internet of millions, which was only revealed after Edward Snowden leaked classified information
The documentary does a good job of addressing both sides of the surveillance argument, featuring interviews with government insiders, including those who were the architects of the now infamous surveillance systems.
The following ethical case studies involving software developers make excellent material for assignments or classroom discussions and debates:
The Occidental Engineering Case Study from Santa Clara University. This case study focuses on a software engineer pressured by management to certify a safety critical system he knows is not finished.
Therac-25 is a classic computer science case study. Between 1985 and 1987, software errors in the Therac-25 radiation therapy machine caused death or severe injury to six patients. Involving mistakes throughout the development and support processes, the case highlights the need for professional standards when dealing with safety critical systems.
The news articles below cover some of the major risks of malicious actions such as hacking or malware. Myriad examples of these problems exist (and new ones seem to appear every few weeks), but the examples below highlight some of the more famous cases (and the greatest losses).
- Target Expects $148 Million Loss from Data Breach
- Security lapses at Apple and Amazon lead to an epic hack
- McDonald’s customers’ data exposed in a Big Mac hack attack
- Sony fined over 'preventable' PlayStation data hack
- Lost in the post - 25 million at risk after data discs go missing
- Zurich Insurance fined £2.3m over customers' data loss
- Doorstep lender Shopacheck fined £150,000 for data loss
- Home Depot: Card breach put 56M cards at risk
The news articles below cover some examples of (in)famous errors in databases, from relatively minor to major errors in voting systems.
- French phone bill waived after 12qn-euro blunder
- Meet Mikey, 8: U.S. Has Him on Watch List
- Dead girl given truancy warning
- Outrage at 500,000 DNA database mistakes
- Florida’s flawed “voter-cleansing” program
Should Companies Admit They've Been Hacked? This is an extremely relevant case study as the past few years as seen a slew of high-profile companies attacked by criminals intent on stealing sensitive customer details (usually credit card details and passwords) from their databases. Some companies chose to hide the breaches from their customers while others were open about being compromised. This case study discusses the ethics of each approach.
Ethics in Computing covers a wide range of ethical situations from intellectual property to free speech and privacy. Different areas are covered - including government, medical, and educational. Each section is subdivided and has a plethora of links to case studies or news articles. This means some work is needed to find the most relevant articles, and the site itself is probably better suited to older students.