Week 8 Learning resources

Emerging technologies bring with them many issues. The topic this fortnight is ‘Big Brother’ and while we will be look at privacy, we are taking a broad look at some ethical issues around the use of information.

The resources for this fortnight are structured around what Richard Mason defined as the ‘Four Ethical Issues of the Information Age‘. The article was written  in 1986 (!), but the issues that are identified are still relevant today.

Before we delve into these issues however, please have a look at the Declaration for the Independence of Cyberspace  written by John Perry Barlow in 1996. Barlow’s words in this declaration show what the founders of the Internet dreamed of, and will also inform our discussion this week.


The first of the ethical issues defined by Mason is Privacy. When we think of privacy on the Internet we often think in terms of our own personal privacy. While we have talked about creating our digital footprints, and where to draw the line in regards to privacy, consider what Mack Zuckenberg thinks – that privacy is dead.

Privacy links to all the other issues that Mason identified – accuracy, property and accessibility. The privacy implications in these topics will become apparent as you read them (and we will also discuss them in class), so for now we are just going to look at the implications of drones and privacy.


Watch this report from the ABC to get an idea of some of the issues to do with drones.


The Queensland Office for the Information Commissioner has highlighted that Government agencies wishing to use drones will need to consider how to manage personal information which may be collected by the drones, regardless of whether it is collected deliberately or inadvertently in the course of fulfilling the purposes for which drones are deployed.”  How this will be managed is still to be worked out.


The second issue to look at in regards to ethical use of information is accuracy. Who is responsible for the accuracy of information that is on the Internet? And what are are the consequences when the information that is out there is wrong?

There are many topics on the Internet that people have strong opinions about. This list of 10 controversial topics on Wikipedia will give you an idea of what some of them are.

While there is no way to ‘fix’ these issues, as some topics have no right or wrong answer, how do we ensure that people are able to access credible information? One way may lie in teaching people the skills they need to become information literate.

The ALA states that an information literate person is able to:

  • Determine the extent of information needed
  • Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically
  • Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
  • Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
  • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally 

Accuracy also raises the issue of censorship. If we want an internet free of censorship, then is accuracy even a concern or when people are directly affected by misinformation should someone be stepping in.


The third issue of the information age is property, who owns the information. We have already discussed big data and the value of information to organisations, but there are some other things to consider here. If information is power, then are the owners of information the most powerful? This idea links to accessibility as well. If you want to delve deeper into issues of information and property then have a look at Manuel Castells has to say about informational capitalism and the network society.

We are also going to look at property in terms of security. When someone is storing our information for us, how secure is it really?When talking about storing data the one word that comes up again and again is Cloud. To get an understanding of what Cloud Computing is you can read this article.

One of the really interesting ways that property ties into privacy  and accessibility is when we think about data hacks. When you take a photo and upload it to the Cloud, and even if you delete it, it’s often still there.  Does it always remain your property, or should it become public?  And why should it become public? There are some hacking cases to look at that draw out some of these issues.


The Fappening was a major leak of nude celebrity photos in 2014. Watch this video (from 9.23) to get a recap on the scandal.

This discussion raises many issues that are worth thinking about when it comes to where we store our information, why people hack, and how hacked information is traded on the black market.

However when does personal data become public property? The recent Panama Papers leak, the information leaked by Chelsea Manning, were these leaks in the public interest? Is it okay for information to become public property if it involves criminal activity?

Finally you might like to think of property in terms of internet piracy. Australia’s rate of Internet Piracy is dropping which has good to be a good thing, doesn’t it? Legislators have tremendous issues keeping up with piracy, and the latest three strikes law that was meant to deal with piracy in Australia has been abandoned. The way that piracy is handled in Australia is something that continues to develop.



Accessibility can mean two things. Our ability to access the Internet, which many see as a human right is the first way of looking at this issue. The second way is to think about who has access to our information and in  Australia we have mandatory data retention laws and there are a lot of strong opinions about them.

This short video explains what the laws do.


To get an idea about some of the heated debates around data retention there are three articles to take a look at.

The Attorney General’s stance on Data Retention,  have look at the FAQ’s and Myths about the laws from the perspective of the government.

Crikey’s article about Why Data Retention is Bad, while this article was written before the laws were enacted it sets out a very strong argument that is worth reading.

And for the final perspective, which lies somewhere in the middle look at this Gizmodo article about how the laws work in practice.




  • Karen Reply

    I find this topic fascinating as one who has been handling sensative and personal information (medical, financial, psychological, personnel) for nearly 20 years with all the attendant regulatory frameworks, compliance requirements, audits, Privacy Principals etc etc etc. The recent discussion of Australian census data no longer being private has really sparked my interest. Particularly in light of recent data breaches in the Philipines and Turkey (I think from memory). Brenda the Civil Disobedience Penguin is one of a number advocating boycotting the census (illegal – can land you a fine), such is the concern. Personally, the assurances and protections offered to date are of little comfort – especially when we know large federal departments such as the Bureau of Weather are subject to sustained data attacks and hacks.

    • kathleen Reply

      It is quite scary, and I feel that nothing is really ‘safe’ when it comes to digital data. Every time a better system gets built, a better hacker comes along. It’s hard to know where to draw the line, as the reality is we will all have some data stored online.

  • Sarah Ross Reply

    It is scary but I wonder if this comes, for me, from a distrust of government. I linked this back to the discussion on accuracy and misinformation – it is only too easy for one slip to lose you your job, but also be possibly criminally liable? Great set of readings and really interesting – I was quite shocked about the censorship methods and the amount of countries that employed them.

    By the way, why has the Bureau of Weather been attacked?

  • Lisa Hetherington Reply

    I certainly feel worried about the fact that none of our data is safe despite the assurances. I remember in the early eighties, when people could opt to paid by cash or cheque, and telegraphic transfers into one’s account didn’t exist, my neighbour told me that he had never opened up a bank account and had all his money in a safe as he didn’t want anyone in control of his money or having any information about how much he had. Very extreme, I know, but it is impossible to live in today’s world without having to put your data out there. So many things these days require you to share personal information, like connecting a phone line, getting Foxtel etc, you have to share so much information with them to get credit clearance before they’ll connect you. There was a very good article in The Guardian suggesting 10 ways to keep your personal data safe. (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/sep/16/10-ways-keep-personal-data-safe) and although will be savvy hackers always, we can still try to make it difficult for them.

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