With the growth of Information Technology a host of legal and ethical issues have arisen. These range from the laws that protect the work people create using computers, to the ethical and legal problems brought about by the use of robots in modern warfare.
The way you use data and computers is subject to the law of the country you are living in. Across the world different countries have different laws, for the exam you only need to learn about the laws that affect the United Kingdom.
You must be familiar with the following legislation:
The Health and Safety Act was passed in 1992 and set out to promote excellence in managing health and safety in the work place. There are strict guidelines on how a desk is set up including provision for monitor positioning, adjustable chairs etc. Health and Safety is paramount when using computers for prolonged periods of time. Sitting in front of a computer screen typing and/or using a mouse is not a natural act for a human being and may result in health problems such as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), back and eye issues.
The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 state that an employer must:
Any employer failing to do this may be subject to a criminal investigation.
The Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 affects how people can acquire, use and share ideas, software and media.
A patent is a form of intellectual property which an individual or organisation owns the right to for a fixed period of time, allowing them to charge people for the use of it. After that time has expired the idea is in the public domain. Patents include the design of the lightbulb (1841) and the ejector seat (1916).
Computing has seen patents in hardware and more recently in software. There are many people who believe that software patents are damaging to Computer Science, as they stop innovation and stifle creativity. A famous case was BT trying to patent the hyperlink. If this had been successful, then every time a hyperlink was used (every page on the World Wide Web), someone might have had to pay money to BT for the privilege. Other people see software patents as important in defending the intellectual property of inventors, if someone creates something new they should be rewarded for it. Other software patents include: the MP3 and GIF. Countries such as India do not have software patents.
Software copyright refers to the law regarding the copying of computer software. Many companies and individuals write software and sell it for money, these products are copyrighted and you cannot copy the code or the program without the permission of the maker. This, they believe protects the work of the programmers, rewarding them for their efforts
Other companies and individuals release software under Free and Open Source software (FOSS) licenses. These licenses allow users the right to use, study, change, and improve a program's design through the availability of its source code. Some adherents of FOSS believe it creates better software in the long term, and others believe that no software should be copyrighted. FOSS licensed products are heavily used in running the World Wide Web and in the creation of popular websites such as Facebook. Open Source licenses generally mean that if you create software that makes changes to open source code, and choose to release it, you must release your new code under the same Open Source license, this is called Copy-Left. Some free software is in the public domain, meaning that you can use it for whatever purpose you wish, if you make a software product involving changes to public domain sources code, you don't have to release your code into the public domain.
Copyright in most works lasts until 70 years after the death of the creator if known, otherwise 70 years after the work was created or published (fifty years for computer-generated works).
In summary the act specifies that users are not allowed to:
Personal Data - data that can be used to identify a living individual
The Computer Misuse Act 1990 deals with people who crack computer programs or systems. Crimes might include removing the Copyright protective measures from a commercial software product, breaking into a school database to change grades, hacking into a companies' website and stealing customer credit card details, creating viruses and trojans, and so on. It was recognised in the late 1980s that the increase in business and home use of computers required legislation in order to protect against their exploitation. To this end, in 1990 the Computer Misuse Act was established.
Under the act, three new offences were created:
"Obtaining access" means; "Causing the computer to perform any action the results in it": Copying/moving data, Erasing/altering data, Using a program; or Causing the computer to output programs or data.
A difficulty with computer crime is that it can cross physical and national borders, the Computer Misuse Act recognises this fact and gives British Courts the jurisdiction where a "significant link" with Britain can be demonstrated in instances of computer-related crime. America has its own Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
The Data Protection Act 1998 controls the way that companies, organisations and individuals handle personal data. It states that:
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was passed in 2000, and introduces the power to intercept communications with the aim of taking into account the growth of the Internet. It regulates the manner in which certain public bodies may conduct surveillance and access a person's electronic communications. Supporters of the act claimed this was an excuse to introduce new measures, some of these included being able to force someone to reveal a cryptographic key for their data, with failure to do so resulting in up to 2 years imprisonment. As we have seen in packet switching, data can be read in transit between hosts. However, the act goes further than allowing this:
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/A-level_Computing