Protecting the Public, Securing the Profession: Enforcing Ethical Standards Among Software Engineers

John Wilkes


he concept of ‘the public interest’ should form one element in the ethical responsibilities of software engineers and other IT professionals operating in a rapidly-changing global economy whose conventional enforcement procedures may be falling out of date. The public interest should be admissible in law where necessary in support of initiatives by professionals (acting through augmented professional bodies) who are attempting to raise ethical standards within the profession or protect the public from malpractice. IT professionals acting collectively are the most appropriate group to determine and enforce ethical standards and, if the traditional model of a profession is thought applicable to the IT industry, they have a duty to do so. It is likely that the status and power of software engineers would be augmented as a result. A practical means of enforcing ethical standards on software engineers is by a world-wide system of licences, embodying both technical and ethical elements, administered by internationally-recognised professional bodies whose legitimacy comes partly or wholly through their capacity to act in the public interest, rather than as the legal creations of particular nation-states.