Now that we have a definition of ethics we can turn our attention back to the current matter at hand, that of Codes of Conduct and Ethical Standards Relevant to Computing Practitioners.
We know that if something is concluded to be ethical, this conclusion is based on considering various aspects that surround the evaluation of a particular act or scenario. Thus, a conclusion could be reworded as a ruling. If we were to consider many different acts or scenarios then we might arrive at many conclusions, or rulings, or again put another way, a set of rules. PBs tend to do this very act: they consider the situations and scenarios that the professionals they represent may be confronted with and decide on a set of rules – which can also be called ethics – that their members should adhere to.
This defined set of rules (ethics) is then called a Code of Conduct (BCS), Code of Ethics (IEEE), Code of Professionalism and Conduct (GTCS) and other such similar names. All these organisations have done though is to define some general rules and job-specific rules that they want their members to adhere to and accordingly they have defined them (written them down) in the form of these ‘codes’. So, one facet of professionalism would simply be adherence to the set of rules defined by the PBs that a professional has elected to become a member of.
If we examine the BCS Code of Conduct we find that, as an example, it defines various rules that are broken in to four broad categories, namely: Public Interest, Professional Competence and Integrity, Duty of Relevant Authority and Duty to the Profession.
The IEEE Code of Ethics also lists the rules of membership but does not visibly break them in to categories in the same fashion as BCS, nonetheless, the principles are the same: both organisations have defined a set of rules of membership.
We will cite one common example between the codes of both organisations: bribery. Item 2g in the BCS Code of Conduct states that members shall “reject and will not make any offer of bribery or unethical inducement”.
Item 4 in the IEEE Code of Ethics states that members shall “reject bribery in all its forms” though it does not make any direct reference, on first inspection, it would seem, unlike the BCS Code of Conduct, to the member not attempting to bribe another.
So, if we wanted to keep our option to bribe others on the table then perhaps membership of IEEE would be a better choice rather than the BCS? Not quite. If we look at the IEEE wording again we see that it says “reject bribery in all its forms” thus by taking a moment to carefully consider the wording we find that it is actually telling us that all attempts at bribery, no matter what angle it is approached from (being bribed and attempting to bribe) are not permitted by the Code of Ethics of IEEE.
Now, there are two things driving the interpretation here: one is the understanding of the written word and how to interpret words, and the other is integrity. Even if we read the same IEEE words, “reject bribery in all its forms”, and do not see how it implies, or even states, that the act of attempting to bribe is not covered by these words then it is hoped, we suggest, that the facet of the professional’s personality that might be called their integrity should be activating to suggest that there seems to be an oversight in the IEEE rule on bribery.
Two things should happen here: if we are considering bribery as a potential route in a work situation and our moral or professional ethics (IEEE code of Ethics, in this case) do not seem to rule this option out then we should contact IEEE to actually ask them to explicitly comment, or clarify, any particular rule toward helping us confirm if the considered route of bribery would be an acceptable one; secondly, we should apply your own judgement – our own integrity: integrity is something that all PBs hope their members will bring to their professional dealings on a day to day basis and membership with them.