Ethical impacts of digital technology on wider society

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Ethical impacts


Legal impacts


Environmental impacts


Issues of privacy



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Explain the current ethical, legal and environmental impacts and risks of digital technology on society. Where data privacy issues arise these should be considered.



Exam questions will be taken from the following areas:

  • cyber security
  • mobile technologies
  • wireless networking
  • cloud storage
  • theft of computer code
  • issues around copyright of algorithms
  • cracking
  • hacking
  • wearable technologies
  • computer based implants.

Students will be expected to understand and explain the general principles behind the issues rather than have detailed knowledge on specific issues.

Students should be aware that ordinary citizens normally value their privacy and may not like it when governments or security services have too much access.

Students should be aware that governments and security services often argue that they cannot keep their citizens safe from terrorism and other attacks unless they have access to private data.

A History of the Introduction and Shut Down of Therac-25

Therac-25 was released on the market in 1983. In 1987, all treatment with the eleven machines in operation was suspended. Those machines were refitted with the safety devices required by the FDA and remained in service. No more accidents were reported from these machines. At about that time, the division of AECL that designed and manufactured Therac-25 became an independent company.

The major innovations of Therac-25 were the double pass accelerator (allowing a more powerful accelerator to be fitted into a small space, at less cost) and the move to more complete computer control. The move to computer control allowed operators to set up the machine more quickly, giving them more time to speak with patients and making it possible to treat more patients in a day. Along with the move to computer control, most of the safety checks for the operation of the machine were moved to software and the hardware safety interlocks removed.

Richard Marchado

At age19, Richard Machado was the first individual to be convicted of a federal electronic mail (e-mail) hate crime. The Machado case is one example of a handful of similar incidents that have occurred since the advent of the Internet.

Laptops in Education

The Texas Legislature has been exploring various electronic media for delivery of textbooks to elementary and secondary students. In 1989, the 71st Texas Legislature expanded the definition of "textbook" to include CD-ROMS', diskettes, audio and video-cassettes, and laser discs. The 75th Texas Legislature initiated a pilot test in several school districts so that updated supplements to the "textbooks" would be delivered through computer networks. This large-scale effort to supply students with laptop computers, or even adequate access to computers, presents a wide range of ethical issues. The presentation of the case focuses on funding dilemmas in education, the complexity behind computer supported learning, and the interweaving interests (publishers, technology companies, parents, taxpayers) that face decision makers in educational technology. We include information from interviews done in Puerto Rico with people involved in a similar effort to incorporate technology into education.


Biomatrix was a publicly traded pharmaceutical company that developed a treatment (Synvisc) for osteo-arthritis. Three individuals posted disparaging remarks about the company and Synvisc on Yahoo! message boards for almost a year. Biomatrix sued the three individuals and won. This was the first time online material has been found capable of containing libel. Presentation of the case focuses on the decisions that message board operators had to make as the case came to light, but also include design issues, legal issues, and ethical issues in online message board systems.


Traditional wiretaps are usually placed on the suspects’ phone line in hopes of capturing a spy or a criminal. These methods have always occasioned discomfort in the civil liberties community. With the advancement in communications technology and encryption, privacy threats may overbalance the utility of crime-surveillance technology. This case explores the delicate balance between these two values and the use of an FBI device called Carnivore, a "wiretap" for internet traffic that is placed directly on the internet service provider’s (ISP) server. The case concentrates on the balancing of these values, on the complexities that the Internet has brought to privacy concerns, and on the balancing of values in surveillance after the PATRIOT act.

Toysmart was a Disney-owned company that had been advertising, promoting, and selling toys on-line since January 1999. On May 22, 2000 announced that it was going out of business and sought the help of a consulting firm, The Recovery Group, to confer in selling its assets. It was also on this date that advertisements began appearing in the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe in which offered to sell its customer’s personal information including consumers’ names, addresses, billing information, and family information. This case provides an invaluable tool for looking at privacy issues in computing because it sets a precedent for other failing on-line companies -- they must maintain the rights of their consumers even if they are forced to file for bankruptcy. The Toysmart case also brings into question issues of honesty and deception in that was a licensee of TRUSTe, an organization that ensures that the privacy policies of on-line companies are maintained, and displayed its seal and trademark stating “Your information is safe with us!” on its website while advertising to sell its consumers’ private information only months later as the company was forced into bankruptcy.

3.1 Fundamentals of algorithms

3.2 Programming

3.3 Fundamentals of data representation

3.4 Computer systems

3.5 Fundamentals of computer networks

3.6 Fundamentals of cyber security

3.7 Ethical, legal and environmental impacts of digital technology on wider society, including issues of privacy

3.8 Aspects of software development

Glossary and other links

Glossary of computing terms.

AQA 8520: The 2016 syllabus

General content


Ethical impacts

Ethical Problems in Computing 1

Ethical Problems in Computing 2

Ethical Problems in Computing 3

Ethics versus morals

Ethical issues

Ethical cases

Legal impacts

The 8 principles of the Data Protection Act

Police misuse of Ripa powers to spy on journalists is systemic, MPs told

BBC and Royal Mail 'using Ripa terror powers to spy on public'

RIPA: Passwords

The Grim RIPA

Five Welsh councils used undercover surveillance on staff

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 – an overview

How Protection of Freedoms Bill will work

Protection of Freedoms Act 2012

Guide to Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations

Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR)

What is the Freedom of Information Act?

 A Short Guide to the Freedom of Information Act

Plain English Guide to Freedom of Information

Freedom of Information - a summary

Computer Misuse Act

Computer Misuse Act prosecution numbers falling

Computer Misuse Act 1990 cases

A brief history of Copyright.

Equality Act 2010

Equality act 2010: What do I Need to know?

Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003: Threat or Menace?

Communications Act 2003

Digital Economy Act

A Guide to the Digital Economy Act 5 – Summary

Malicious Communications Offences

What is Sending Malicious Communications?

The UK’s 15 most infamous data breaches

Forrester Research Data Privacy Heat Map, 2015

India: Data Protection Laws In India: The Road Ahead

Data protection in India

Data Protection Laws Of The World (interactive)

Data Protection Laws Of The World (pdf)

ICLG comparisson tool

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 And Internet Connections Records

Data protection not just about personal data and compliance

Jargon buster guide to GDPR

Does Facebook own my pictures?

Pirate bay

Envirormental impacts

Environment issues

Environmental impacts

Useful links for Green IT

What is Green IT?

What Is Green IT, and Why Should You Care?

Green IT: Changing IT without it costing the earth.

Whatever happened to Green IT?

Pictures: India's Poor Risk Health to Mine Electronic "E-Waste"

India: The Rising Tide of E-Waste

BCS commentary on Greening Government ICT

Privacy issues