Comp 317-002/417-002

Social, Ethical and Legal Issues in Computing (online)

Peter Dordal, Loyola University CS Dept

Fall 2023: Thursdays. We're scheduled for 4:15-6:45, online. However, close to half the content will be available in prerecorded video lectures, so we will generally finish our synchronous Zoom meetings by 6:00.

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. Each of these will be ~1000 words or so.

There will be one debate assignment, in which you will debate a topic from this list. You will pair up with another student; I will create a sign-up sheet soon. When your time to debate has arrived, I will flip a coin for one of you; heads gets "agree" and tails "disagree". The other debater gets the opposite. That is, you won't know which side you get until class time. You may use notes, but your goal should be to speak so as to try to convince your classmates. At the end of each debate, I'll take a poll of the others in the class, and also you will get a chance to express your "real" position.

There may also be small assignments each class to either post something on the Sakai discussion board, or to write a short answer to a current question.

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 classes:  1 and 2

Copyright Laws and Lawsuits: classes 3 and 4

Privacy and the government: class 5

Privacy and others: classes 6, 7

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

Software Patents: classes 11, 12

Computer Crime and Hacking: class 13

Tech and Antitrust: class 13

Course notes

Most content is now in the files above.

Class 1: August 31
Class 2: Sep 7
Class 3: Sep 14                        
Class 4: Sep 21
Class 5: Sep 28
Class 6: Oct 5
Class 7: Oct 12
Class 8: Oct 19
Class 9: Oct 26
Class 10: Nov 2
Class 11: Nov 9
Class 12: Nov 16
Nov 23: Thanksgiving Class 13: Nov 30
Class 14: Dec 7


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

Before Class 2, read all of chapter 1 and 4.1-4.3.

Paper topics

Please submit in Word-type format (.docx, .doc, .odt, .rtf, etc). No pdf!

Paper 1: Music Sampling or Cariou v Prince

Paper 2: Facial Recognition or Section 230 (draft)

Paper 3: Software patents or Antitrust

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

Here is an excellent essay on How To Actually Avoid Plagiarism. The main point: when taking notes, any quotations should be placed in quotation marks as you copy them. Do not expect to fix citations in your final edit.

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.

A couple articles on writing

Why engineers should focus on writing, by Dmitry Kudryavtsev

Common Bugs in Writing, Henning Schulzrinne

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.