Ethical Decision Making And Privacy: Related Theories And Models

Maslin Masrom, Zuraini Ismail, Ramlah Hussein and Norshidah Mohamed


Theoretical Foundation and Conceptualization

Nowadays, in the society, ethical issues are important in the information technology (IT) area, and facing with ethical issues is inevitable. Since humankind live together, it is not possible to live without rules and regulation as what a person must do and what he or she may not do (Boyle, 2002). In general, ethics helps us to live peacefully in the society. While use of information and computer technology (ICT) is being used in all areas of business, industry and education sectors, and general public, the chance for unethical use or abuse of this technology is also increased. Examples of unethical use are infraction of privacy, unauthorized access, creation of virus and worms, security breaches, and software piracy.

In recent era, firms spend a big amount of budget on preventive measures, for example computer-related security (i.e. security tools and policies). Since this is a human problem, ethical behavior by individuals should be warned to computer-related abuse (Henry & Pierce, 1994). Ethical decision making is a process which can be affected by individual’s environment (such as societal environment, belief system, personal environment, personal values, professional environment, legal environment, and business environment). Studies of ethical decision making in an IT context generally search in two directions (Haines & Leonard, 2007). First, the studies focus on examining demographic and personality styles of individuals, and second focuses on the process of ethical decision-making to find beliefs and attitudes that lead to unethical behavior.

The Internet has proliferated into everywhere in the world, and become an essential tool of the people lives. Shaw (2003) explains the relationship between ethics and privacy through the advancement of ICT and internet technologies in the world as following:

“Despite this pervasiveness, there is a downside to using the web. The web has transformed computer mediated communication into computer mediated behavior. Each action generates messages that can be captured, stored, used, and shared by the organizations and individuals who manage web servers. As a result the web allows for behavior to be tracked both broadly and precisely, making it possible to compile detailed, intimate profiles of individuals. These profiles can in turn be used in any number of ways that affect the lives of their subjects, so the electronic footprints we leave as we use the web have the potential to threaten individual privacy at an unprecedented level.”

Recently, privacy is one of the most important component of information security field, and also has become an important ethical issue for computer ethics. In this era, file sharing websites became very common, and there are many unethical issues occurred related to infraction of privacy right. Haines and Leonard (2007) state that ethical behavioral intentions and privacy should be investigated in relation to changes in IT. Therefore, in order to comprehend why privacy is important for ethical issues, previous studies on privacy are examined.

In this study, the related research theories and models for decision making and privacy are presented and discussed. Among the related research theories and models cover in this study:

  • Henry and Pierce’s Model (Henry & Pierce, 1994)
  • Loch and Conger’s Model (Loch & Conger, 1996)
  • Goles, White, Beebe, Dorantes and Hewitt’s Model (Goles et al., 2006)
  • Haines and Leonard’s Model (Haines & Leonard, 2007)

Also, moral development encompasses of six components of moral intensity, general moral imperative, moral reasoning and six-stage process of ethical decision making are described in this paper.

This paper also propose the conceptual framework for determining the relationship between ethical decision making and privacy. The conceptual framework is depicted in Fig.1.

Concepts definitions are given in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Definition of Concepts

Concepts Description
Ethical Issue: Privacy

One that most people in society are connected with. With the growth of computer technology in all areas of life, many individuals fear that personal information may become widely and easily available through services such as credit databases and medical information systems.

Individuals and organizations using information systems have moral obligation to protect undocumented personal information.

Individual’s Environment Influences
Societal Social / Cultural values
What does society say should be done?
Belief System Religious values and beliefs from one’s spiritual or religious environment.
What does one’s church/religion say?
Personal Environment The influence of family, peers and significant other.
Personal Values One’s internalized, value and experiences.
What do I say?
Professional Environment Codes of conduct and professional expectations.
What does my profession say?
Legal Environment Law, legislation, and government.
What does the law say?
Business Environment Corporate goals and profit motive.
What does my company and the “bottom line” say?
Ethical Decision-Making
A process which can be affected by individual’s environment

An important contribution of this paper is the integration of theories and models of ethical decision making and privacy.
Research Approach, Research Methodology and Nature of Data

This study is in relation to qualitative research approach. The data, for this kind of study, consists of former scientific literature. As for the former scientific literature, we look through academic writings, such as refereed articles and books. Other publicly reachable materials are also considered, such as bulletins, web pages, newspaper and magazines. These approaches will further develop other future investigations.


Boyle, E.J. (2002). An Ethical Decision Making Process for Computing Professionals, Ethics and Information Technology, 4, pp. 267-277.

Goles, T., White, G.B., Beebe, N., Dorantes, C.A., & Hewitt, B. (2006). Moral Intensity and Ethical Decision-Making: A Contextual Extension, The Data Base for Advances in Information Systems, 37, pp. 2-3.

Haines, R. & Leonard, L.N.K. (2007). Individual Characteristics and Ethical Decision-Making in an IT Context, Industrial Management and Data, 107 (1), pp. 5-20.

Henry, J. W. & Pierce, M.A. (1994). Computer Ethics: A Model of Influences on the Individual’s Ethical Decision Making, Computer Personnel, October, pp. 21-27.

Loch, K.D. & Conger, S. (1996). Evaluating Ethical Decision Making and Computer Use, Communications of the ACM, 39 (7), July, pp. 74-83.

Shaw, T.R. (2003). The Moral Intensity of Privacy: An Empirical Study of Webmaster’s Attitudes, Journal of Business Ethics, 46, pp. 301-318.