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Aspects of Law and Ethics Related to Technology

Information Society: Governance, Ethics and Social Consequences

Date: 22-23rd May, 2006
Institute of Computer Sciences, University of Namur, Belgiu

Dr Penny Duquenoy and Dr Carlisle George and members of the ALERT research Group (Computing Science), and IFIP Working Group 9.2 (Computers and Social Accountability, Penny as Chair), recently attended a two-day conference organised in honour of Professor Jacques Berleur by the University of Namur and IFIP Working Group 9.2.

This two-day conference brought together European dignitaries to give their perspectives – philosophical, legal, economic, technical, cultural and ethical – on the legitimacy of Internet control. The event recognised the work Professor Berleur conducted for more than 30 years, and his achievements in promoting social and ethical issues in the field of Computing Science both within the University, and in IFIP (International Federation of Information Processing) as a founding member of IFIP’s Technical Committee on Social Responsibility (TC9), Working Group 9.2 (Social Accountability) and the Special Interest Group 9.2.2 (Taskforce on Ethics). Jacques is still fully involved with all of these groups, and currently Chair of the Programme Committee for the IFIP Human Choice and Computers Conference (HCC7) to be held in Slovenia this September, which is dedicated to the memory of Rob Kling who founded the field of Social Informatics.

The first day took a largely theoretical approach – with presentations from key persons such as Stefano Rodota (Former Data Protection Commissioner, Italy); Yves Poullet (Law Faculty, CRID, University of Namur); Richard Delmas (European Commission, Administrator of the DG Information Society and Chief of the GAC secretariat, Belgium); Prof. Klaus Brunnstein (Professor for Informatics, Hamburg University, and President of IFIP), amongst others. The organisers were particularly pleased to welcome Prof. Deborah Johnson from the University of Virginia, USA – author of arguably the most widely used textbooks on Computer Ethics (now in 3rd Edition), and member of IFIP SIG9.2.2.

The second day saw a change of gear towards a more practical approach to the social consequences of Information Technology by asking “Is there a gap between theory and practice?” Following an introduction to the day by Dr Penny Duquenoy (as Chair of WG 9.2), Prof. Johnson gave her experiences of “Ethics in Practice” by describing the incorporation of social and ethical consequences of IT into student projects, and the social awareness this raised with students. Examples of other awareness-raising initiatives were given by Dr. Bern Martens (Catholic University College Leuven) who teaches computer ethics at the trainee teacher level, and Dr. Les Neal of the British Computer Society (and member of their Ethics Expert Panel) describing the introduction of the professional issues courses within the accreditation procedures of the BCS. The presentations ended with a view on how these issues can be attended to through policy initiatives (Dr. Vasileios Laopodis, formerly DG Information Society and Media).

These presentations were followed by an afternoon of workshops addressing practical ways of engendering a social and ethical awareness of ICT at the level of education, policy makers, industry and consumers. Finally, Prof. Berleur and Dr Penny Duquenoy took the stage to give their verdicts on “how IFIP’s work can link theory and practice”. At the end of the day’s proceedings Penny thanked Jacques on behalf of WG9.2 for providing the foundation that enabled others to work in this field, and for his inspiration and warmth.

Details of the event can be found at: www.info.fundp.ac.be/informationsociety/

Prof. Jacques Berleur (far right), and from left: Dr. Carlisle George, Dr. Penny Duquenoy (Chair IFIP WG9.2), and Prof. Klaus Brunnstein (President IFIP).