Comp 317-001/417-002

Social, Ethical and Legal Issues in Computing

This course will be online for most of you, though it will be face-to-face for international students who need a face-to-face class.

Peter Dordal, Loyola University CS Dept

Fall 2020: Mondays 5:30-8:00, with face-to-face participants in Cuneo 210.

The synchronous portion will generally end somewhat before 8:00. There will be online videos to make up for the difference.

Text: The textbook will be A Gift of Fire, 5th Edition, by Sara Baase and Timothy Henry, Prentice-Hall, 2017. This is also available in an e-book format.

There will be three writing assignments during the semester; the first writing assignment will have a rewriting component, as you resubmit your first draft.

There will also be one debate/presentation assignment. It is graded on a pass/fail basis; pretty much the only way to fail is to not do it.

I am not sure yet about exams.

My general course groundrules are here. Loyola's academic integrity rules are here.

You are expected to be familiar with the rules for quoting other sources in papers.

Notes and Readings

Notes Organized by Topic

Filesharing and Ethical Theory: weeks 1 and 2

Copyright Laws and Lawsuits: weeks 3 and 4

Privacy and the government: week 5

Privacy and others: weeks 6, 7

Free Speech and the Internet: weeks 8, 9, 10

Software Patents: weeks 10, 11, 12

Computer Crime and Hacking: week 12, 13

Trust and Licensing: week 13

Tech and Antitrust: week 14

Course notes

Most content is now in the files above.

Week 1: Aug 24
Week 2: Aug 31
Sept 7: Labor day
Week 3: Sep 14
Week 4: Sep 21
Week 5: Sep 28
Week 6: Oct 5 Week 7: Oct 12
Week 8: Oct 19
Week 9: Oct 26
Week 10: Nov 2
Week 11: Nov 9
Week 12: Nov 16
Nov 23: week of Thanksgiving         
Week 13: Nov 30 (online for everyone)


Before the Week 1 class, read 1.1-1.3 and at least 4.1 (preferably 4.2 as well)

Before the Week 2 class, read all of chapter 1 and 4.1-4.3.

Paper topics

Paper 1: Music sampling or DMCA and filesharing. Due Friday, September 25.

Editable Word-type formats (.odt, .docx, .doc, .rtf, ...) only; no pdf!

Paper 2: Facebook Privacy Regulation or Section 230 censorship. Due Friday Nov 6.

Paper 3: Software Patents or Computer Crime. Due Wednesday Dec 9.

Two brief (one-paragraph) examples of essay writing (good and not as good) are here.

We will consider some of the topics listed below.

Learning outcomes:

Understanding of laws and issues in areas such as privacy, encryption, freedom of speech, copyrights, patents, computer crime, and computer/software reliability and safety; understanding of philosophical perspectives such as utilitarianism versus deontological ethics and basics of the U.S. legal system.

Articles, references, and links


Don't Talk To Cops, Part 1, James Duane, Regent University Law School

And an interesting followup: Reminder: Please Shut Up (advice from an attorney)

Don't Call Yourself A Programmer, by Patrick McKenzie


Association for Computing Machinery -- The professional organization for computer professionals (oriented towards programmers). See their USACM subgroup for public-policy issues. See also the ACM Code of Ethics.

Electronic Frontier Foundation -- Founded to fight for citizens' rights in the areas of privacy, cyberspace freedom (specifically, freedom of speech), copyrights, and encryption.

American Civil Liberties Union -- Not specifically concerned with cyberspace law, but nonetheless very involved in the fight against the Communications Decency Act. The ACLU has long fought against censorship in any form, and for personal liberties in general.

Electronic Privacy Information Center -- They are concerned with both government surveillance (directly and by searching your records), the scope of government databases, and encryption.

Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility -- "CPSR is a public-interest alliance of computer scientists and others interested in the impact of computer technology on society." Includes privacy issues but also professional responsibilities of programmers and workplace empowerment issues.

Ethics Center for Engineering and Science A useful compendium of ethics case studies and other information pertaining to science and engineering.

US Copyright office home page All sorts of information on copyright legislation, including the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

2600, the Hacker Quarterly, leader in the fight for DeCSS.