Conflicts of Loyalty – The Client Versus the User and the Stakeholder

Lesley Rackley, Julian Webb and John Betts


In this paper we examine the relationship between computing clients, users of computer systems and the wider community of ‘stakeholders’ and consider the responsibilities of the computing professional towards each of these three groups when a conflict of interest arises. Initially we consider the contributions that both professional codes of practice and ethical theory have to offer this debate. We find that the interests of all three parties must be protected and hence, although a set of principles can be established from these sources, they do not enable us to define the role responsibilities of the computing professional when a clash of loyalties occurs. The fiduciary model of responsibility is then considered. On this basis we suggest that the primary responsibility of computing professionals is to discharge their duty of expertise to the client to the best of their ability, in this case by recommending strategies to address the conflicting interests. We then propose a set of guidelines for professionals facing a dilemma of this sort which incorporates the principles previously outlined. Finally we conclude that although we have an ethical and moral responsibility to the society of which we are part, computing professionals should not be expected to assume responsibility for all the decisions of their clients.