Rebecca MacKinnon has a post about US companies which are selling internet censorship technologies to China, “Confirmed: All Typepad blogs blocked in China:”
It’s a complicated issue. We need greater scrutiny of U.S. tech companies in China by bloggers, journalists, human rights activists, and anybody who cares about free speech and corporate accountability. We need more information about what these companies actually know when they are selling their products and services. To what extent are they actively providing service and support for uses that are clearly aimed to stifle free speech?
I’d like to ask about the ethics of such a thing. In “How about, ‘Don’t Be Evil’“, Tom Ptacek takes issue with the ISC2 Code of Ethics. ISC2 is an information security professional association. I can’t seem to find any advice in it about this situation. The closest it comes is:
Treat all constituents fairly. In resolving conflicts, consider public safety and duties to principals, individuals, and the profession in that order.
Hmmm, public saftey? Isn’t that China’s excuse for a lot of things?
In stark contrast is the ACM’s Code of Ethics. ACM is the Association of Computing Machinists, a broader professional society.
1.1 Contribute to society and human well-being.
This principle concerning the quality of life of all people affirms an obligation to protect fundamental human rights and to respect the diversity of all cultures. An essential aim of computing professionals is to minimize negative consequences of computing systems, including threats to health and safety. When designing or implementing systems, computing professionals must attempt to ensure that the products of their efforts will be used in socially responsible ways, will meet social needs, and will avoid harmful effects to health and welfare.
So, while not resolving the issue, of “May I work on a censorware program,” the ACM makes clear, and immediate, mention of human rights.
My gut belief is that it is wrong to provide deep technical assistance to he Chinese regime, and those doing so should take stock, and look for more responsible work.