Internet - Ethical Implications

The ethical implications of using the Internet can be quite daunting. We all have our own morals and set of principles, which define our way of life in our society.

What about all the information that is freely available on the Internet and how does this affect our moral principles?

You can find information about almost anything on the Internet, ranging from atomic theory to pornography. This information could be offensive or deliberately misleading, or perhaps designed to cause hatred or bias.


Censorship has been one of the most contentious issues in the development of the Internet.

The Internet was intended to be a seamless network, allowing individuals from all over the world to freely exchange information.

Individuals and societies see the need for censorship differently. Each society has its own set of cultural values, which affects the ethics of that society. The Internet is world-wide, allowing information to pass from one country to another. Policing the Internet for offensive content is almost impossible as information that might be deemed to be offensive in one country may not be offensive in another.

There are two ways of regulating the Internet:

•   legislation
•   voluntary hotlines.

The USA has brought in legislation, such as the Communications Decency Act (CDA). This Act was challenged in the US courts and, under the First Amendment to the US Constitution, the CDA was withdrawn.

The UK has tended to use voluntary hotlines – e.g. the Internet Watch Foundation – which allow Internet users to request sites, or web pages, or content be removed. Clearly, a country that does not see the content as offensive reduces the effect of such hotlines.

Also, if the organisation that controls the web server takes action and pulls the plug on the offending website, then the site will simply move to another server.

It is likely that censorship will be more strictly controlled by the big businesses that are starting to dominate the Internet.

Privacy on the Internet

Privacy on the Internet deals with the right to control who has access to personal information.

Personal information is often considered to be sensitive. The right to privacy is an important issue, considering the number of organisations that are actively gathering information about their customers. What happens to all the information that is gathered on submission forms or visitors books?

Legislation – the Data Protection Act – has tried to protect our right to privacy. The Act makes it an offence in the UK to store or publish personal information without consent.

Download and complete Worksheet 14.




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