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  5. Types of ethical considerations on the Internet


Ethical considerations of an NGO’s online use are generally of two main types: those dealing with ethical participation in the Internet, and those dealing with ethical practices by the organization using the Internet.

As a loose collaboration of service providers and users cooperating with each other, the Internet itself is sensitive to behavior on the Internet. While there is no enforcement of ethics-based rules on the Internet, there are rules of etiquette, often referred to as netiquette. Some of these rules and expectations stem from the nature of the architecture and protocols that make up the Internet. Similar to common sense rules about spreading disease in the real world, users of the Internet are expected not to spread computer viruses and other malware, that is the software that harms computers and networks, and thereby people and communities as well. To that end, the recommendations about security discussed in the security module are not only good for the organization itself, but some may also be ethically necessary for the well-being of the Internet.

In the same way that human rights on the Internet are the same as the human rights defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), responsibility for ethical use of the Internet is the same as the responsibility for ethical behavior in general.

Adhering to human rights guidelines includes, for example, respect for the user’s privacy and the data that can be derived from their interactions with the organization’s network. The United Nations has released Guideline Principles for Businesses and Human Rights that is as applicable to non-commercial institutions as it is to for-profit businesses. The guidelines discuss methods for implementing the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” strategy for Human Rights.

These Guiding Principles are grounded in recognition of:

(a) States’ existing obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights and fundamental freedoms;

(b) The role of business enterprises as specialized organs of society performing specialized functions, required to comply with all applicable laws and to respect human rights;

(c) The need for rights and obligations to be matched to appropriate and effective remedies when breached.

As organizations performing specialized functions in the public interest, NGOs, associations in the public interest and other not-for-profit organizations have at least as many public interest obligations as for-profit corporations, if not more due to the nature of their work.

What is the Internet?

  • The Internet is a network of networks that needs to operate around the world as if it were one network.
  • No one is in charge of the Internet, but everyone is and non-commercial organizations play an important role on the Internet.
  • The importance of transparency touches on each of the fundamentals that we’ve identified, and is essential to building trust.
  • Data must be handled ethically.
  • Sustainable use and the Internet is an important consideration.