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PUBLISHING PUBLIUS: AN ETHICAL ANALYSIS

PUBLISHING PUBLIUS:

AN ETHICAL ANALYSIS
SYNOPSIS

Publius is the name of a software (a Web protocol) that is used to take the data components of files apart and distribute them onto physical locations in many countries, making them impossible to track or put back together once they are tracked. Publius is also encrypting software that changes the most basic data form of the data components, the key to cracking the code being known only by Publius and its user. Publius was developed recently in the midst of increasing news of Government Web monitoring, the Bush Administration’s phone and email tapping being one of many examples. The nascent software was immediately attacked by the Government who accused its developers of threatening law and order by giving a means for individuals who commit criminal offenses to cover themselves with. It was also attacked by business and commercial firms who saw that it would only make it even more difficult to track down and prosecute instances of copyright infringement. Publius has been at the forefront of raging debates, not because of its technicalities, but because of its implications in real life. For both government and business, the disruptive uses and abuses of the software have limitless potential.

Under normal circumstances, Internet providers will protect the privacy rights of their users, a matter that is actually enshrined by law as well as corporate policies. Private persons who try to track down other individuals using remnant traces of information on them, such as Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, usually have to fare on their own, because Internet providers will refuse to give them this information. One demander who must be respected, however, is the Government. The Government has various legal and executive recourses in forcing Internet providers to surrender details of users to it. Despite this, the United States is generally a transparent society which prizes the importance of the individual citizen’s rights. The ideal place for Publius is not the United States or the entire developed world in general. The inventors of Publius claim that they had only wanted to help objectors to the regimes of Third World countries stay anonymous on the Internet, the only medium where they could not only express their views, but also communicate them to the rest of the world rather than be kept in isolation by their regimes. Many countries make it impossible for objectors to have any visibility, at home or in front of the international community, even at the cost of outrageous measures that infringe the objectors’ human rights. For instance, in the Union of Myanmar (formerly Burma), the always peaceful, now elderly democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi has spent many years under house arrest or in solitary confinement, removed from the sight of the world. Many intellectuals in mainland China, even members of the Communist Party, are kept under tight scrutiny and their basic freedoms, movements, and access rights to the media and the rest of the world are carefully controlled by the regime. Examples like these two abound and Publius was originally designed to improve the human rights catastrophe in countries that do not have the same extent of respect for individual freedom as European countries do.

Despite all of this, Publius has caused many problems for America. It has created unintended consequences that rob private companies’ rights to receive compensation for their intellectual property. It has come to the aid of all manners of criminal individuals for whom guaranteed anonymity on the Internet is a godsend, and protected them from the Web monitoring capabilities of the Government and law enforcement. Like the fate of so many inventions such as Alfred Nobel’s dynamite, Publius is an invention created for good, now often used for evil. But does this mean it should be banned? Discontinued? Or do its philanthropic benefits outweigh its heavy social costs? These problems are examined in this case study.

ANALYE THE ETHICS OF MARKETING PUBLIUS USING UTILITARIANISM, RIGHTS, JUSTICE, AND CARING. IN YOUR JUDGMENT, IS IT ETHICAL TO MARKET PUBLIUS? EXPLAIN.

Utilitarianism, rights, justice, and caring are all different developed ways of looking at a problem. Unfortunately, Ethics is not a hard and fast science, but it is a science, one that tries to organize and factually found perspectives. There is an old paradigm that there is no reality, only perception, and Kant was convinced that the mind by nature acts as a subjective film between the events and happenings of the real world and the human being, thus making objective analysis impossible. But this does not mean that we cannot come as close to objective analysis as possible. In ethics, all because there is no crystal clear right or wrong, judgment must be a compromise, but one that might be minimally invasive and furthermost beneficial overall.

Utilitarianism is the first of the four theories or theory families or groups that will be used. Unlike other theories ,utilitarianism is very practically founded. It is not based on relationships, or inherent rights, or natural law. It is minimally speculative. Utilitarianism is the most logical theory, because it holds that whatever is acquisitively best for the individual, is the right thing to do. It is money- or benefit-oriented (Velasquez, 2006, p. 60). Some intellectuals who contributed to utilitarianism to make it more exact and practical tried to lean it further toward the views of moralists, by developing rule based utilitarianism (Velasquez, 2006, p. 68-69). If we imagine a straight line of utility, with a formula, and imagine that we can mathematically estimate the cost of damage caused by action like theft or corruption, the damage must be in the negative and lessen the amount of utility. This is what rule based utilitarianism argues. Laws should not necessarily be there to appease moralists; they should be there because they really do stop or curtail activities that are damaging to personal interests. Utilitarianism does not give any unequivocal reason for theft to be illegal. If theft increases my utility, why do I not do it? On the other hand, if theft were legal, it would not be in the interest of myself or other commercial individuals, because anytime, our properties could be robbed and our utilities would decrease. Utilitarianism sets sights on making utility as great as it can possibly be. So theft should be illegal in a utilitarian environment (Velasquez, 2006, p. 68-69).

It is not difficult to see that the problems that are caused by Publius in the developed world run contrary to the spirit of utility. They cause social problems that cost the business world, and the social world, heavily. Businesses lose money when their intellectual property is encrypted and distributed online, effectively stolen by users who thanks to Publius will evade the clutches of the law. Society loses money and qualitative assets like a healthy environment that encourages foreign investment for example, when criminals can run amok on the Web committing fraud, identity theft, embezzlement, or more sinister crimes like producing child pornography, and not have to face the deterrent of the law because Publius cleans up their tracks and protects their identities. There are obvious advantages for using Publius, summarizable namely as protection for people who challenge the administrations of developing countries which may not be so democratic and tolerant as ours. But does this advantage apply in America or Europe, where people undeniably have the highest extent of individual freedom in the world? Here it can only be abused. The most effective place for Publius is not here, which leads to wondering why it should be marketed here, instead of overseas. If anything, Publius should be blocked in countries where its social benefit is redundant, and only accessed in countries where it can be used for what it was intended for. This is the ethical and the utilitarian conclusion so far.

The second matter to consider is rights. Utilitarianism is based on what is best for society or the individual to get ahead. It is about fallout, not the philosophy of self. Rights, on the other hand, concern the natural boundaries of independent people, rights they have by birth, by law, by contract, etc. These rights should not be overridden, even if it is to further another person’s goals or pave the way for society’s progress (Velasquez, 2006, 73-74).

Legal rights are rights that are given to a person by virtue of legislation, that is enforced executively (Velasquez, 2006, p. 73). Publius was developed, again, to protect or grant the legal rights of activists living overseas. Just because a law exists does not mean the Government of a certain country always respects or enforces it, after all. But in the developed world, individuals do have legal rights, to personal privacy, to freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and the press, and these rights are usually respected. News of their breach is more the exception than the norm, while it may be the norm overseas. Publius is here to solve a nonexistent problem.

Moral rights are rights that are given to individuals by birth. The most important kind of moral right is the human right (Velasquez, 2006, p. 75). But rights do come hand in hand with duties. The question is, should the individual have the moral right, meaning the right that exists even if it is not officiated by law, to absolute anonymity on the Internet, to do whatever he or she wants to do, even if it is socially and utilitarianly destructive?  Duties forbid a human being from abusing his or her rights in this way (Velasquez, 2006, p. 74-75). So the answer is no; human beings have the moral right to freedom of belief, speech, assembly, etc., which are also guaranteed legal rights in the West. Once again, Publius is trying to solve a nonexistent problems, and create or intensify costly social problems.

Another distinction of rights is positive and negative rights (Velasquez, 2006, p. 76-77). Negative rights are rights that can be had by one person and have nothing to do with anyone else. For example, Robinson Crusoe probably had the negative right  to do whatever he pleased on his island, because it affected no one else. Is absolute anonymity on the Internet a negative right? If Publius is banned or battled by the Government, which may very well block it or criminalize it, then using Publius is a positive right, that we need permission or allowance or help from others to properly use (Velasquez, 2006, p. 76). Anonymity is a positive right, because if it were a negative right, it would not involve any debate with the Government or law or business firms at all. The right of anonymity has the duty of good conduct, healthy intention of use. This duty cannot be assumed in all human beings; rather, it is monitored and enforced by Government and law, which act as a disincentive. So as a positive right, the Government, which is the second person involved in that right, is an equal partner.

An interesting point is raised by the concept of contractual rights (Velasquez, 2006, p. 77). Contractual rights come from an officially stipulated document. Workers have contractual rights to be paid and contractual duties to show up to work, for example. Similarly, Publius could come equipped with contractual rights and duties, similar to the Terms of Service found on Google, Yahoo!, Windows Live Mail, and every other major service on the Internet. However, this would not guarantee that Publius would not be used for social evils, just as most Internet users do not read the Terms of Service when newly joining a service. However, contractual rights are the only kind of rights that so far make Publius’s existence a legislatable, regulatable matter, instead of either a benefit or an evil.

Kant’s categorical imperative can be summed this.

“An action is morally right for a person in a certain situation if, and only if, the person’s reason for carrying out the action is a reason that he or she would be willing to have every person act on, in any similar situation.”

(Velasquez, 2006, p. 79)

“An action is morally right of a person if, and only if, in performing the action, the person does not use others merely as a means for advancing his or her own interests, but also both respects and develops their capacity to choose freely for themselves.”

(Velasquez, 2006, p. 80).

Kant’s categorical imperative is concentrated heavily on the relativity of a person’s decisions to other people’s welfare. Most people who use Publius will use it for their own, personal, socially good or neutral ends, but the minority who will use it to harm society do not have any kind of systemic restraint or penalty for their actions. They make Kant’s categorical imperative impossible to apply. By making it irrelevant, then, they contradict it. Publius is a product capable of causing both social benefit and social cost. It is a technically neutral product. Bringing it out into the market would then be based on Government and legal controls designed to maximize social benefit and minimize and penalize social cost. However, the design of Publius make it impossible for the Government and law enforcement to play that vitally needed role. Publius creates a catch-22 type loop problem.

Because Publius is again, a technically neutral product, its creative or destructive potential is completely up to the natures of its human users. This is a logical way to go into questions of justice. Justice is relevant to Publius because if Publius is banned, some people who would have used it for good would not be able to use it, because of some other people who would have used it for harm.

One academic example of justice is egalitarianism (Velasquez, 2006, p. 89-90). Egalitarianism is a grand attempt to realize Jefferson’s adage that all men are created equal. It attempts to continue that born equality into later life. All subjects under egalitarianism (“equalism”)  are exactly alike to one another, with the same rights and accountability and penalization. Egalitarianism is an interesting concept when applied to Publius. Should all people be allowed to use Publius until they prove that they do not deserve it? We should keep in mind that all people were not born when Publius developed and that many new users will have moral histories that will be telling about their likelihood to abuse Publius. When it comes to using Publius and being given the trusted position of complete anonymity online, a college student and a released computer hacker are not the same, for example. Egalitarianism would say that everyone has an equal right to use Publius, which is wrong.

Another form of distributive justice is capitalist justice (Velasquez, 2006, p. 91). In brief, capitalist justice associates the rights of a person with that person’s input into society. Its most obvious application is in monetary and corporate terms. For example, in a partnership, a person who put in 50% of the company’s initial capital would be granted a contractual right to collect 50% of company profits under capitalist justice. We can also think of a person’s input as being moral input. We could relate this to a graph where we would indicate, any person with a moral input of zero (morally neutral, like first time users are high school or college students) or above should be able to use Publius, and anyone with a moral input below zero (meaning offenders) should not be able to use Publius. Of course, this reasoning is theoretical and presents many practical problems. It is possibly unworkable.

Finally, the founding argument of the care hypothesis is cited below.

“We each exist in a web of relationships and should preserve and nurture those concrete and valuable relationships we have with specific persons.”

“We each should exercise special care for those with whom we are concretely related by attending to their particular needs, values, desires, and concrete well-being as seen from their own personal perspective, and responding positively to these needs, values, desires, and concrete, well-being, particularly of those who are vulnerable and dependent on our own care.”

“Compassion, concerned, love, friendship, and kindness are all sentiments or virtues that normally manifest this dimension of morality.”

(Velasquez, 2006, p. 102)

The goal of Publius is to help activists overseas who are less fortunate than we are. It is to protect them from everything that might happen to them if their identities were discovered – torture, beatings, kangaroo courts, trumped charges, indefinite imprisonments and isolations, or even murder. The ethics of care would mandate that Publius be extended to protect these vulnerable people, even if it comes at great social cost in the West. The ethics of care is often applied when there is no or even negative utility, and when no other theory or model in business ethics seems to explain an altruistic act of human nature (Velasquez, 2006, p. 102).

ARE THE CREATORS OF PUBLIUS IN ANY WAY MORALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY CRIMINAL ACTS THAT CRIMINALS ARE ABLE TO CARRY OUT AND KEEP SECRET BY RELYING ON PUBLIUS? IS AT&T IN ANY WAY MORALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THESE? EXPLAIN YOUR ANSWERS.

The release of Publius into America is practically unnecessary and socially devastating. It is an effective weapon in the hands of lawbreakers. It is up to the creators and to AT&T whether to release Publius and make this happen. They know of its potential (certain) effects, they would be the direct cause of Publius’s negative consequences if they released it, and the release or withholding of Publius is entirely voluntary. Based on the truth values of these three premises, Publius’s creators and publishers are morally responsible for any criminal acts that criminals are able to carry out and keep secret by relying on Publius.

IN YOUR JUDGMENT, SHOULD THE US GOVERNMENT ALLOW THE IMPLEMENTATION OF PUBLIUS? WHY OR WHY NOT?

Most of the results of the earlier methodology support the sheer destructive social power of Publius if it is released, against its smaller social benefits.  The US government should not allow the implementation of Publius.

References

Velasquez, M. (2006). Business Ethics: Concepts & Cases. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc.

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