Ethical Action by the BCS (or any other IT organisation)…

My recent post on the BCS questioned whether or not I should join. I’ve decided (also thanks to a fantastic response from Mark Harrison) to do so, probably around March.

The main article that attracted my interest enough to write the previous post, also posed a question that I have an alternate view on. The article covered:

Should BCS take a proactive role in bringing concerns of an ethical nature involving the use of IT to the public’s attention?

The main paridigm of the article was that due the the members of the BCS having split affiliation between the different political parties, and therefore the politics of the individual issue – it was perhaps not in its best interests to voice an opinion – as the membership would have to be polled. The issues brought up for discussion in the article were the ID Cards – and the NHS Central Repository of Patient Information.

In my opinion this is exaclty the sort of thing I’d like an ‘independent’ and ‘chartered’ IT organisation in the UK to be doing. I don’t expect such an organisation to promote/demote the actual policy – but be more involved in how the policy is implemented. Rather than contesting the need for this central repository – the organisation should be analysing and offering different methods of fulfilling the functional specification.

For ID cards, the BCS should be using their collective technical expertise to make sure that there are no ‘weak points’ in the infrastructure of such a critical database. The security should be audited by the BCS (paid for by whichever consultants happen to be doing the implementation). However, the BCS should not question the policy itself. In my opinion that is where the BCS would become internally divisive.

Other areas in which the BCS should operate is in analysing future market trends. The BBC iPlayer debate being something I’ve yet to see the BCS have much publicity over. Someone ‘educated and informed’ and most of all ‘independent’ needs to comment on what the BBC’s policy actually means. The repercussions of the BBC’s decision on small businesses and the IT sector in the UK need to be addressed publicly. The BCS are the only organisation (to my knowledge) that have the respect and perceived independence to be authoritative on this issue. Organisations like the OSC and ORG have done a fantastic job thus far – but as they are more ‘radical’ – their views are easily rebutted by the ‘average joe.’

I think this is a desirable role for the BCS to take – advising people like John Pugh on the technicalities and viable options – rather than have people talk about ‘principles’ which are currently impossible to pursue. If there’s already another organisation that fulfils this role, (as I’ll consider joining that one too,) please let me know.

Posted Tuesday, January 15th, 2008 under ICT.