The issue of disclosing personal information collected by mobile phone companies is one of important dilemmas in modern ICT ethics. The solution of this problem depends upon the purposes of the information disclosure, the parties to which the information is disclosed and the clients’ consent for it.
The information collected by the mobile phone companies can be regarded as personal. The concept of personal information is defined within the Privacy Act as “Information or an opinion (including information or an opinion forming part of a database), whether true or not, and whether recorded in a material form or not, about an individual whose identity is apparent, or can reasonably be ascertained” (McDermid 2008, p. 114). The data on the mobile number, subscriber’s location, moves and connects to different cells within the network allows ascertaining the individuals. For this reason, the collection and disclosure of information gathered by mobile phone companies should be maintained in accordance with the information privacy principles.
There are certain rules as to not only disclosing but even collecting the personal information from the clients. “An organization must not collect personal information unless the information is necessary for one or more of its functions or activities” (Attorney-General’s Department 2001). Defining the reasonable goals for collecting and storing personal information, agencies can use it for the purposes compliant with these initial goals. “An organization must not use or disclose personal information about an individual for a purpose (secondary purpose) other than the primary purpose of collection” (Attorney-General’s Department 2001).
Regarding the situation with selling the information from mobile phones databases to marketing agencies, the secondary purpose of direct marketing does not correspond to the initial purpose for collecting the personal information. Still, the disclosure of information to marketing companies is still permissible in case if the clients have given their consent to direct marketing, in case if requesting the clients’ consent is not reasonable and if the subscriber has not refused to receive the marketing messages officially.
Though the principle of confidentiality is one of the central issues in modern ICT ethics, moral considerations should be balanced with the overall societal interests. McDermid (2008) noted that “In any debate or decision making concerning privacy we should strive to strike a balance between the right to privacy and other rights and interests of society” (p. 103). For this reason, this information can be disclosed to governmental organizations in case if it is valuable for preventing or investigating certain crimes. In this situation, the privacy principles should be balanced with the interests of the majority of the community.
The information on the location, moves and connects to other cells within the network of the suspended can be used as evidence in court by law enforcement agencies. The personal information can be disclosed if the organization reasonably believes that “the use or disclosure is necessary to lessen or prevent serious and imminent threat to an individual’s life, health or safety; or a serious threat to public health or public safety” (Attorney-General’s Department 2001).
Though the results of the recent research have demonstrated the differences between the perception of the professional ethical norms in different generations and genders (Lucas and Mason 2003) and perception of formal and informal learning of ethical principles (Davey 2009), the observation of ACS code of ethics is important for all programmers. The mobile phones companies have to consider the society interests and the privacy principles when disclosing the personal information of their clients.
ACS Code of Ethics Project. ACS Website. Web.
Attorney-General’s Department (2001). Extract from the Privacy Act 1988: The National Privacy Principles in the Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Act 2000 (2001). Web.
Davey, B. (2009). Aspects of professionalism, ethics and lifelong learning for Australian ICT professionals. Journal of Business Systems, Governance and Ethics, 4(3): pp. 27-48.
Floridi, L. (ed.) (2010) The Cambridge handbook of information and computer ethics. Cambridge University Press.
Lucas, R. and Mason, N. (2003). A survey of ethics and regulation within the ICT industry in Australia: Ethics education. Journal of information, communication and ethics in society, 6(3): pp. 349-363.
McDermid, D. (ed.) (2008). Ethics in ICT: An Australian perspective. Pearson Education Australia.