- Ethics and Electronic Information: A Festschrift for Stephen Almagno, and: Information Ethics in the Electronic Age: Current Issues in Africa and the World
Issues that fall under the rubric "ethics and the electronic environment" or "information ethics" are myriad and complex and usually quite compelling in their immediacy. They can range from discussions of literary copyright to patient confidentiality, from children and pornography to the information flow (or lack thereof) in Indigenous communities. The scope and rapidly evolving nature of these debates ensure that the words "comprehensive" and "definitive" will never be used to describe any single volume of collected essays in this field, however far-ranging or in-depth they may appear to be. These two volumes, Ethics and Electronic Information and Information Ethics in the Electronic Age, are no exceptions, but, placed among the array of titles that have come and gone before and since their publication, they are useful contributions to the literature.
Each of these volumes is divided into three parts. In keeping with its stated purpose the Rockenbach and Mendina book devotes its first half-dozen essays to the work of Professor Stephen Almagno, who retired from the University of Pittsburgh School of Information Sciences in 2001. Almagno was among the first to teach an information ethics course at Pittsburgh in the early 1990s; admiring, appreciative tributes from students and colleagues reflect the high esteem in which he is held.
Part 2 of Ethics and Electronic Information focuses on library issues. In the first essay the always-eloquent David Carr considers the nature of "trust" in providing information service. Carr's opening claim that libraries are the cultural institutions "most specifically charged with a responsibility for service in our culture" (45) made this alumna of the late Columbia library school smile. (The school distinctively called itself the "School of Library Service" rather than the usual "School of Library Science.")
The fairly eclectic, adequately written selections in this volume's third section, "Topical Issues," look at the Internet with respect to plagiarism, social democracy, loyalty, and business interests. While hacking on the Internet is invariably cause for concern, a piece on ethical hacking (isn't that an oxymoron?) that describes [End Page 413] how people outside of organizations do most of the security checking for internally produced programs is pretty scary.
The essays in Information Ethics in the Electronic Age originated as presentations at the "Ethics of Electronic Information in the 21st Century" symposium in 2002. They deal with the very serious ways in which, as editor Tom Mendina describes it, "information and information technology often seem to exceed, even contradict or oppose, the purposes of their creators" (2). In the pieces in section 1, "Africa," these conflicts are invariably politically fraught: the commercial use of Indigenous knowledge in developing countries; the right of access to information for all; linking developing countries with the outside world; and the lack of infrastructure to support Internet development. Sections 2 and 3, "Information Organizations and the Handling of Information" and "Information Issues in the Post-Nine-Eleven World," return to the more familiar territory of cybercrime, copyright, privacy, and educating information professionals about ethics and the electronic environment. Two thought-provoking contributions (curiously placed in different sections) are Douglas Raber's "Is Universal Service a Universal Right?" and Alistair S. Duff's "For a New Nanny State." Both bring earlier discussions of civil liberties and responsibilities to bear on present-day issues.