Classification of Unethical Behaviors in the Management of Information Systems: The Use of Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale Procedures

Article excerpt

All unethical behaviors in IS are not equally significant. The severity of unethical acts depends on various factors. This paper identifies those factors and develops a classification scheme for grouping unethical acts/behaviors in information systems. The classification scheme provides a tool that can be used by management on how best to allocate and spend resources to combat unethical behaviors. The scheme could be part of a larger plan to manage information systems resource of an organization. The paper begins with a listing of unethical acts common in information systems. These acts are then grouped into four broad categories. Factors that influence severity of unethical acts are identified and a classification scheme is developed to classify unethical acts using what is known as Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS). BARS has been used in research in many fields, including business. Finally, authors discuss future research in the field.


Ethics is one of the most discussed subject matters in today's world. From politics to government, business to academia, ethics has become one of the most important topics. The field of information systems (IS)/Management Information Systems (MIS) is no exception. Significant amount of research has been undertaken by IS researchers on the subject of ethics. Such research has concentrated on various aspects of ethics as it relates to information systems and/or computer science (CS). List of unethical acts/behaviors is abundant in literature - some significant and some non-significant.

Conceptual and pedagogical framework for teaching ethics in the IS/CS curricula has been suggested. How to teach end-user ethics to non-IS/non-CS students (also called end users) and the issues involved in this teaching has also been explored. Ethical attitudes of MIS personnel and the differences between men and women in their perceptions of what's ethical and what's unethical have been investigated and results published in literature.

All unethical acts or behaviors do not have the same degree of severity with regard to their impact on individuals or organizations. While some acts have far-reaching consequences and implications, others are relatively minor. An attempt has been made in this research to identify the factors that determine the severity of unethical behaviors in information systems. The research has been extended to develop an approach to classify such behaviors and group these into various categories based on their impact. A future study will validate these groupings of unethical acts through a survey of IS/CS students and/or professionals.

Relevant Literature

Several research studies have focused on the area of IS ethics (Saari 1987; Aiken 1988; Heide and Hightower; Couger 1989; Oz 1990; Paradice 1990; and Conner and Rumelt 1991 ). Research has also been conducted to minimize and/or deter unethical behaviors. Such research has been divided into direct/preventive measures and indirect/deterrent measures. Direct/preventive measures such as enhanced security, prompt and fair reporting, and tougher penalties/sanctions and indirect/deterrent measures consisting of establishing and implementing codes of conduct for IS professionals, identifying ethical issues in using computers and incorporating ethical issues in the IS curriculum have been proposed and supported (Parker 1980, 1988; Couger 1984; and Straub 1986).

Trevoni (1986) and Bommer et al (1987) have developed models of ethical decision making and considered factors that influence ethical decision making. Banerjee et al (1998) concluded that individual and situational characteristics influence ethical behavior intention. Their ethical model used moral judgment, attitude toward ethical behavior, and personal normative beliefs as variables that affect an individual's intention to behave ethically/unethically. Kreie and Cronan (1998) developed and tested a model to determine why a behavior was judged as ethically acceptable or unacceptable. …


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