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The Ten Commandments of Computer Ethics

posted 12 Jan 2011, 01:57 by Jess Maher

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Written by the Computer Ethics Institute
by the Computer Ethics Institute
  1. Thou shalt not use a computer to harm other people.
  2. Thou shalt not interfere with other people's computer work.
  3. Thou shalt not snoop around in other people's computer files.
  4. Thou shalt not use a computer to steal.
  5. Thou shalt not use a computer to bear false witness.
  6. Thou shalt not copy or use proprietary software for which you have not paid.
  7. Thou shalt not use other people's computer resources without authorization or proper compensation.
  8. Thou shalt not appropriate other people's intellectual output.
  9. Thou shalt think about the social consequences of the program you are writing or the system you are designing.
  10. Thou shalt always use a computer in ways that ensure consideration and respect for your fellow humans.
Computer Ethics Institute

Contact: Stuart Allen
sallen (at)

This page last updated on August 11, 2008 by Webmaster.


1)  Human Dignity 

a.    Respect for Human Dignity 

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Their dignity and rights must also be respected and protected on the Internet. 

2)  Universality and Non-Discrimination in the Enjoyment of all Rights 

a.    Principle of Universality and Non-Discrimination

All rights and freedoms contained in this Charter are universal.

 Accordingly, everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Charter, without distinction of any kind, such as ethnicity, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status or condition. 

b.    Access to the Internet for All  

Everyone has the equal right to access to the Internet. Where appropriate, this includes the right to broadband access.

 As the Internet has become an indispensable tool for many life-related functions and is necessary for the enjoyment of other rights like the right to education, all people must have access to the Internet at affordable conditions.

 Freedom of Access includes freedom of choice of system and software use. To facilitate this and to maintain interconnectivity and innovation, communication infrastructures and protocols should be interoperable.

 Internet access can only be restricted for necessary, clearly specified and law-based reasons like efforts to eradicate child abuse. Any restrictions must be strictly proportionate to the threat at hand and must not undermine the openness of the Internet or its capacity to support human rights.  

c.    Ensuring Digital Inclusion 

 An Internet based society and economy requires that all have an equal opportunity for active and effective participation in and through the Internet. To this end active support should be available for self-managed and other community-based facilities and services to ensure universal digital inclusion. Digital inclusion requires the opportunity for access to, and effective use of the range of digital media, communication platforms and devices for information management and processing.

 Everyone, in particular governments and business, should undertake steps individually and through international assistance and cooperation towards digital inclusion, i.e. equal access to information technology and eliminating any discrimination in access to the Internet.

 To contribute towards this end, public Internet access points must be made available, such as at telecentres, libraries, community centers, clinics and schools as well as support to access via mobile media so that all people can have access where they live or work. 

d.    Gender equality 

Women and men have an equal right of access to learn about, define, access, use and shape the Internet. Efforts to increase access must recognise and redress existing gender inequalities. There must be full participation of women in all areas related to the development of the Internet to ensure gender equality. 

e.    Marginalised Groups and People with Different Needs 

Interfaces, content and applications must be designed to ensure accessibility for marginalised groups, people with disabilities and people with different capacities to read and write.

 The principle of inclusive design and the use of support technologies must be promoted and supported to allow persons with disabilities to benefit fully and on an equal basis with others.

 People of all ages, including the young and the elderly, have a right to attention to their specific needs in using the Internet as part of their entitlement to dignity, to participate in social and cultural life, and enjoy other human rights.   

3)  Liberty and Security  

a.    Protection of Liberty and Security 

Everyone has the right to the protection of their liberty and security online. This includes protection against all forms of online harassment, trafficking, cyber-stalking and misuse of one’s digital identity and data.

 b.    Functionality and security of the Internet

 Everyone has the right to enjoy functional and secure connections to and on the Internet. 

c.    Security Measures shall respect Human Rights 

Any security measures which affect the Internet shall be consistent with international human rights laws and standards as well as the rule of law. They should be necessary for, and proportionate to, the relevant purpose.  


4)   Equality and Diversity on the Internet 

a.     Equality before the Law 

All people are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law in matters regarding the Internet. (This applies online as well as offline.)

 This however does not preempt any special legal protections or measures at protective discrimination for people and groups who may be structurally discriminated and require such measures to ensure their substantive equality with others. 

b.  Net Neutrality and Net Equality 

The Internet and physical means of traffic on it shall be available to all on uniform, non-discriminatory terms. Internet content should not be prioritised or discriminated against for economic, social, cultural, religious or political reasons. Control of Internet content must not affect the equal right of all people to express themselves and access information online. 

c.  Diversity of Cultures and Languages 

The public service value of the Internet should be protected, including access to quality and diverse information as well as different cultural content.  

The Internet should represent a diversity of cultures and languages in terms of appearance and functionality. Cultural and linguistic diversity on the Internet should be encouraged in form of text, as image and sound. Technological evolution and innovation to promote diversity on the Internet should be encouraged.  

d.  Right to use one’s own Language 

All individuals and communities have the right to use their own language to create, disseminate, and share information and knowledge through the Internet. Special attention should be given to minority languages.  

5)  Right to Development 

a.    Enjoyment of all Rights on the Internet 

The right to development includes the full enjoyment of all rights related to the Internet and set out in this Charter. Donor institutions and businesses have a particular obligation to promote this right to their maximum capacity.  

b.   Environmental Sustainability  

Everyone has a responsibility to use the Internet in a sustainable and ecologically viable way. This relates also to the disposal of e-waste as to the use of the Internet for the protection of the environment.  

c.   Poverty Reduction and Human Development 

Information and communication technologies have a vital role to play in helping to achieve the U.N. millennium goals of eradicating poverty, hunger, and diseases and promoting gender equality and empowerment of women, particularly in the developing world. All stakeholders should consider how they can develop and implement technology that contributes to the eradication of poverty, to enabling education and to sustainable human development and empowerment. 

6)  Freedom of Opinion and Expression  

a.   Freedom of Opinion on the Internet 

Everyone has the right to express one’s opinions on the Internet without interference. 

b.  Freedom of Expression Online 

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression on the Internet, which includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, and regardless of frontiers through any media of his or her choice

 Freedom of expression is an essential pre-condition for the realisation of other rights, freedoms and social goods, including democracy, education and human development. It is therefore closely linked to the need for plural and diverse content, and the equal entitlement of all people to make their voices heard in the public domain.

c.  Freedom of Online Protest

 Organisations, communities and individuals have the right to use the Internet to organize  and engage in online and offline protest. 

d.  Standards for Restrictions 

Restrictions on content by censorship or filtering must be based on law and be consistent with international human rights laws and standards as well as the rule of law. They should be necessary for and proportionate to the relevant purpose.  

e.    Freedom from Censorship 

The Internet should be free from censorship and filtering. Internet service providers, search engines and other intermediaries that are forced by governments to implement censorship or filtering should fully inform users of the censorship criteria being used, and specify the relevant laws and regulations requiring it.

 Criteria for any filtering or censorship can only be considered legitimate if it is permissible under national and human rights law, developed in a publicly accountable and transparent manner, and is publicly auditable and accountable. 

A clear, efficient and user-friendly appeals mechanism must be provided so that users can appeal to the service provider and the government if they feel that content is illegally or accidentally restricted.  

f.    Right to Information 

Everyone has the right to receive and impart information and ideas through the Internet. 

Everybody has the right of access to government information, according to international law or laws passed democratically at the national level.  

7)  Freedom of Religion and Belief 

a.    Right to Express and Practice Religion and Belief

 Everyone has the right to express and practice their faith on the Internet. This includes exchange of information, communication, expression of opinions and formation of religious communities or associations. Public or private actors must not repress or persecute people for their religion or beliefs expressed on the Internet.  

b.    Limitations on Racist Speech and freedom from hate speech 

The beliefs and opinions of others should be respected. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred on the Internet that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence should be prohibited by law. 

8)  Freedom of Assembly and Association 

a.   Participation in Assembly and Association on the Internet 

The users of ICT tools, services and platforms must be allowed to form, join, meet or visit an assembly, group or association for any reason, including political and social. Access to assemblies and associations using ICTs must not be blocked or filtered.  

b.  Freedom to set up Online Communities and freedom of online protest 

Everyone has the freedom to establish or join online communities. 

9)  Right to Privacy 

a.    Right to Privacy on the Internet 

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence on the Internet. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks. 

National legislation on privacy should be based upon international privacy frameworks that comply with the rule of law, respect fundamental human rights, and support democratic institutions. 

Privacy policy and settings of all services should be easy to find, and the management of privacy settings should be comprehensive and optimised for usability. 

The right to privacy must be protected by standards of confidentiality and integrity of IT-Systems, providing protection against others accessing IT-Systems without consent. 

b.    Protection of Digital Identity 

Everyone has a right to a digital identity. 

The digital identity of the human person, i.e. the personal identification in information systems is inviolable.

 Digital signatures, user names, passwords, PIN and TAN codes must not be used or changed by others without the consent of the owner. 

c.    Virtual Personality and Informational Self-Determination 

The virtual personality of human persons needs to be respected. However, the right to a virtual personality must not be misused to the detriment of others.

 Everybody has the right to determine the circulation and the use of his own personal data. This right might be restricted only in the case of prevalent public interest. 

d.    Freedom from Defamation 

No one and no community shall be subjected to unlawful attacks on their/its honour and reputation on the Internet. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks. 

e.   Right to Anonymity and to Use Encryption

 Every individual has the right to communicate anonymously on the Internet and to use encryption technology. to ensure secure, private and anonymous communication.  

f.    Freedom from Surveillance

 Everyone must be free to communicate without arbitrary surveillance or interception, or the threat of surveillance or interception. This includes the use of technologies such as deep packet inspection, behavioural tracking and exercising control over individuals, for example through cyber-stalking.  Any agreement regarding access to online services that includes acceptance of such surveillance shall clearly state the nature of the surveillance. 

10)       Right to Data Protection 

a.  Protection of Personal Data

 Personal data must be protected. Fair information practices should be enacted into national law to place obligations on companies and governments who collect and process personal data, and give rights to those individuals whose personal data is collected. 

b.  Obligations of Data Collectors

 Collection, use, disclosure and retention of personal data must comply with a transparent privacy policy. Whoever requires personal data from persons, should request the individual's informed consent regarding the content, purposes, storage location, duration and mechanisms for access, retrieval and correction of their personal data. Everyone must be free and able to exercise control over the personal data collected about them and its usage. Everyone has a right to access, retrieve and delete the personal data collected about them.

c.  Minimum Standards on Use of Personal Data

 Public or private organisations that require personal information from individuals must collect only the minimal data necessary and for the minimal period of time needed. Data must be deleted when it is no longer necessary for the purposes for which it was collected. Data collectors have an obligation to seek active consent and to notify people when their information has been forwarded to third parties, abused, lost, or stolen. Data Security 

Appropriate security measures shall be taken for the protection of personal data stored in automated data files against accidental or unauthorised destruction or accidental loss as well as against unauthorised access, alteration or dissemination.

 d.  Monitoring by Independent Data Protection Authorities 

Data protection should be monitored by independent data protection authorities, which work transparently and without commercial advantage or political influence. 

11)       Right to Education

a.  Right to Education on and through the Internet

 Everyone has the right to be educated about the Internet and to use the Internet for education.

 Everyone has the right to use the Internet to access knowledge, information and research. Providers of tools, Internet services and content should not prohibit people from utilising the Internet for shared learning and content creation.

 Virtual learning environments and other sorts of multimedia, learning and teaching platforms should take into account local and regional variations in terms of pedagogy and knowledge-traditions.

 Publications, research, text books, course materials and other kinds of learning materials should preferably be published as Open Educational Resources with the right to freely use, copy, reuse, adapt, translate and redistribute them. Publishers and authors should not enter contractual obligations which prevent the publication of scientific and other works on the Internet.

 b.  Education about the Internet and Human Rights 

Education on the Internet should include raising awareness and respect for human rights (online and offline).  

c.   Education and Training for Digital Literacy

 Digital literacy should be a key component of education. Knowledge and skills enable people to use and shape the Internet to meet their needs. Local and national governments, international and community organizations and private sector entities should support and promote free or low-cost training opportunities, methodologies and materials related to using the Internet for social development.  

12)       Access to Knowledge and Intellectual Property Rights


a.   Right to Participate in the Cultural Life of the Community 

Everyone has the right to use the Internet to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share its scientific advancements and benefits. This includes the right to access knowledge and information on the Internet, regardless of frontiers. 

No restrictions must be placed on cultural expression and activities online.  

Everyone should be able to create and access information in their mother tongue.  

b.  Freedom from Restrictions of Access to Knowledge by Licensing and Copyright 

Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production in the Internet of which he/she is the author. Creators should be remunerated and acknowledged for their work in ways that do not restrict innovation or access to public, educational knowledge and resources.  

However, licensing and copyright of content should permit knowledge to be created, shared, used and built upon. Creators and users should use licensing models such as Creative Commons.

 Internationally accepted ‘fair use’ exceptions and limitations to copyright should always be used, including making copies for personal and classroom use, format conversion, library lending, review, critique, satire, research and sampling. Digital Rights Management (DRM) –techniques must not prevent ‘fair use’ exceptions. 

c.   Knowledge Commons and the Public Domain  

Publicly funded research and intellectual and cultural work should be made available freely to the general public.


d.  Free/Open Source Software and Open Standards 

Open standards and open formats should be made available wherever possible.  

Free/libre and Open Source Software (FOSS) should be used, promoted and implemented in public and educational institutions and services.  

When a free solution or open standards do not exist, the government or the corresponding public institution should promote the development of the software needed. 

13)       Rights of the Child and Child Protection 

a.   Right to benefit from the Internet 

Children should be able to benefit from the Internet according to their age. Children should have opportunities to use the Internet to exercise their civil, political, economic, cultural and social rights. These include rights to health, education, privacy, access information, freedom of expression and freedom of association. Children who are capable of forming their own views have the right to express them in all Internet policy matters that affect them, and their views should be given due weight according to their age and maturity.  

b.  Freedom from exploitation and child abuse imagery 

Children have a right to grow up and develop in a safe environment that is free from sexual or other kinds of exploitation. Measures should be taken to prevent the use of the Internet to violate the rights of children, including through trafficking and child abuse imagery. However, such measures should uphold the rights of the child and should not disproportionately or unnecessarily restrict or endanger the free flow of information online. 

c.  Best Interest of the Child 

In all matters of concern to children and the Internet, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.  

14)       Right to Work 

a.   Respect for Workers’ Rights 

Workers' rights must be respected in the information society. A necessary prerequisite for realizing these rights for employees is the right to use the Internet to form trade unions, including the right to promote one's own interests and gather in freely elected organs of representation. 

b.  Internet at the Workplace 

Workers and employees should have Internet access at their work place, where available. 

Any restrictions on Internet use in the work place should be explicitly stated in staff or organizational policies. The terms and conditions for surveillance of the Internet use of employees must be clearly stated in work place policies and comply with the right to data protection.

15)       Participation in Public Affairs and Internet Governance 

a.    Right to Participate in Electronic Government 

Everyone has the right to participate in electronic government where available.  

b.    Right to Equal Access to Electronic Services 

Everyone has the right to equal access to electronic services in his country.  

c.   E-Democracy 

E-democracy and online voting should be promoted whenever it bears the potential to enable a more participatory democracy where political decisions are debated and taken by more people, provided its security can be assured.  

d.  Right to Participate in Governance of the Internet 

Everyone has the right to participate in the governance of the Internet.

e.  Principles of Transparency, Information and Participation

All stakeholders should follow the principles of transparency, information and participation in processes concerning Internet governance.  

16)       Consumer Protection  

Everyone, in particular business and governments, should respect, protect and fulfill principles of consumer protection on the Internet. E-Commerce should be regulated by governments in a way that ensure consumers the same level of protection as they enjoy in non-electronic transactions.  

17)       Right to Health and Social Services Online 

Everyone has a right to access health-related and social services as well as their own electronic health records on the Internet. 

18)       Right to Legal Remedy and Fair Trial 

a.   Right to a Legal Remedy  

Everyone has the right to an effective legal remedy against any charges brought against him/her by public authority or a private person with regard to matters related to the Internet.  

b.  Right to Fair Trial 

In the determination of any criminal charge or civil rights or obligations regarding the Internet, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public trial hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. 

c.   Presumption of Innocence 

Everyone charged with a criminal or civil law offence regarding the Internet shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law. 

d.  Right to Due Process 

Everyone is entitled to due process by public or private authorities dealing with legal claims or possible violations of the law regarding the Internet. 

All action taken against illicit activity on the internet must be aimed at those directly responsible for such activities.  

e.   No Punishment without a Law 

No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on the Internet on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the criminal offence was committed.  

f.    Right not to be tried or punished twice 

No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an Internet offence for which he has already been finally acquitted or convicted.  

19)       Appropriate Social and International Order for the Internet 

a.   Entitlement to a Social and International Order 

Everyone is entitled to a social and international order of the Internet in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realised.

b.  Multilingualism and Pluralism on the Internet 

The Internet as a social and international order should enshrine principles of multilingualism, pluralism, and heterogeneous forms of cultural life in both form and substance.

c.   Governance of the Internet for Human Rights 

The Internet and the communications system should be governed in such a way as to ensure that it upholds and expands human rights to the fullest extent possible.

d.  Effective Participation in Internet Governance 

The interests of all those affected by a policy or decision should be represented in the governance processes, which should enable all to participate in its development. Transparency and full and effective participation of all, in particular disadvantaged groups in global, regional and national decision-making should be ensured. 

20)       Duties and Responsibilities on the Internet 

a.   Respect for the Rights of Others 

Everybody using the Internet has duties and responsibilities as well as rights. These include respect for the rights of all individuals in the online environment. 

b.  Responsibility of Power Holders 

Power holders should exercise their power responsibly, refrain from violating human rights and respect, protect and advance them to the fullest extent possible. 

21)       General Clauses 

a.    Interdependence of all rights in the Charter 

All rights contained in this Charter are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. 

b.  Limitations for restrictions of rights and principles 

Any restrictions of rights in this Charter must be necessary, proportionate, defined in law and consistent with international human rights law and standards. 

Restrictions must not be applied for any other purpose other than those for which they have been described. 

c.   Non-exhaustive nature of the Charter 

The fact that certain rights and principles have not been included in this Charter or have not been developed in detail does not preclude the existence of such rights and principles. 

d.  Interpretation of Rights and Freedoms of the Charter 

Nothing in this Charter maybe interpreted to impair any of the rights and freedoms set forth therein.