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SENIOR Project press conference: When Ethical Values Are at Stake, Information Technology Companies Prefer Self-Regulations to Statutory Laws

In Europe 51% of surveyed IT companies already have an ethical code and 31% are planning to adopt one in the near future

25 November 2009 - 25 November 2009

According to a recent survey carried out by SENIOR - Social Ethical and Privacy Needs in ICT for Older People, a research project funded by the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission - 51% of surveyed IT companies in Europe have already adopted ethical codes to deal with the complex and multifaceted issues raised by the information society. Meanwhile, another 31%, which do not currently have not ethical codes, are planning to adopt one in the near future. The sample involved 52 Europe based IT companies, including technical consulting, design and development services, infrastructure provisioning and network management services, Internet access and backbone services, telecoms, and software houses.
Says Dr. Emilio Mordini, Coordinator of the SENIOR project: “Interestingly enough only 28% of the companies consider the ethical codes chiefly as an instrument to improve the company’s brand, while most companies (53%) think that ethical codes are effective tools for dealing with value conflicts and critical events which involve the relationship between corporate rules and societal values.”
When ethical values are at stake, information technology industries prefer to refer to general framework principles, often embedded into self-regulations and ethical codes, rather than to statutory laws and EU directives. According to Mordini, this is one of the main findings of the SENIOR project, which has also discovered that companies are much more affected by ethical issues than one usually thinks, yet they do not like a multiplication of statutory regulations and prefer to rely on self regulations. The main ethical issues that concern European IT industry include issues related to digital divide, disability, ageing, accessibility, eInclusion and social solidarity. Surprisingly enough, privacy and data protection are not ranked in the first places among ethical worries, and only 16% of companies think that they are fundamental ethical issues.
“These data can perhaps be explained by a diffuse perception that privacy and data protection are no longer ethical issues but should be categorized as pure legal issues” explains Mordini. Yet, IT companies might just follow European citizens’ views about privacy, as per a Feb 2008 survey on privacy perception in EU27 (Flash Eurobarometer Series #225, Data Protection in the European Union), according to which only 34% of citizens were concerned about whether their personal information was protected or not. In other words European citizens seem to believe that ethics has little to do with legalistic approaches to privacy and data protection, seeing it rather as a more substantial appeal to rights principles such as respect for dignity, for autonomy and for justice.
This dramatically matches with European trends on digital inclusion. In May 2009, in the context of the negotiation on the telecoms package, the European Parliament affirmed the principle that the Internet is essential for the exercising of fundamental rights such as the right to education, freedom of expression and access to information.
On Oct 14 The Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications announced that every Finnish citizen should have a legal right to a 1 Megabit-per-second connection. On Nov 4, the European Parliament established that safeguards for internet access should be ruled by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Based on the findings, Dr. Emilio Mordini asks: “Are we on the verge of a new age of digital rights which will concern all those who have been excluded by the first digital revolution, like the elderly, disabled persons, migrants and disaffected youngsters?” And he also provides the answer: “I think so, and changes are that e-Inclusion becomes more and more a crucial policy areas in the European Union”.

Date: Wednesday 25 November 2009
Time: 17.30 – 19.30
Venue: Danish EU Research Liaison Office – DANRO
Rue du Trône 98 - 1050 Brussels - Belgium
Topic: “The need of an ethical approach to the development of ICT in the Ageing Society: evidence from an EC funded project”

Registration is not necessary – but space is limited to 25 guests

Valeria Balestrieri: