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Resources for Teaching Ethics

A growing list of case studies suitable for use in media and communication ethics courses can be found at the Media Ethics Initiative website: www.mediaethicsinitiative.org. The Media Ethics Initiative is based in the Center for Media Engagement in the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas Austin.

 

PTC 2022 ETHICS REPORT

BY TOM COOPER

One intriguing panel topic at PTC 2022 was entitled “Not Your Father’s Network”. The corresponding ethical issues of 2022 might easily be entitled “Not Your Mother’s Dilemmas”. A host of new technologies and evolving issues pertaining to ransomware, ESG, cyberhate, Trojan horses, terror-hacking, net neutrality, universal access, and e-wars would not have been likely dinner conversation introduced to us by our mother or father. 

These topics and the “usual suspects” within the ethics legacy -- security, equity, diversity, human rights, privacy, racial and gender discrimination,  sustainability, fair regulation, freedom of information, among others -- were posed and debated at the 44th annual Pacific Telecommunications Council conference (PTC, ’22) entitled “Reunite. Rethink. Renew”. The event occurred from January 16-19, 2022 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village within a hybrid on-line/in person format.

The Pacific Telecommunications Council is a global professional organization with over 3500 member representatives from over 45 countries and 300 member companies. Given that PTC includes more than 7900 participants from these countries and companies, and many guests as well, it is not surprising that approximately 1,450 registered attendees -- professional communicators, lawyers, regulators, academics, vendors, and others --from over 60 countries and territories participated to discuss topics regarding the economics, engineering, impact, policies, laws, growth, evolution, regulation and infrastructure of the information technology industries within the Pacific region.

Many themes were discussed within the atmosphere of “multiple concurrent technological and social revolutions” epitomized by the new multi-cloud environment within the context of the global pandemic.

One important ethical challenge in the Pacific region (and indeed worldwide) has been narrowing if not eliminating the digital divide, especially within developing nations and tribal economies. Two important panels offered back-to back reporting, analysis, and ethics discussions about the problems of access, equity, race, and resources beginning with impoverished and marginalized Pacific communities.

The first panel, entitled "Facing the Challenges of the Digital Divide in Indigenous and Tribal Communities" featured these speakers: Gene Eckhart, Program Manager, ImageSource, Inc, USA (PRESENTER), Allen Meeks, VP, Corporate Development, Mox, USA (PRESENTER), Joel Ogren, President, ACA International, LLC, USA (PRESENTER), Mike Rushing, Sr Manager, Connectivity Segment, Digital Realty, USA (PRESENTER), Tyson Johnston, Policy Representative, Quinault Indian Nation, USA (MODERATOR).

Not only were the Quinault and Choctow nations represented but also government and corporate leaders who are in position to support these and other communities. Audience members learned not only of the many Indigenous students and citizens completely deprived of digital access but also of those who must commute or walk many miles each day only to share intermittent, delayed low bandwidth access with many others The concept of “digital right-away” was explained noting the hierarchy of rights-of-passage to cable and digital in which most Indigenous nations have not had a “seat at the table.”

Thus the potential benefits of multi-cultural wingspan, the building of long-term relationships and the unique knowledge of tribal lands and resources have usually been excluded or minimized within internet development. The disparities and inequities of 18th and 19th century “treaty times” unfortunately carry over to the digital age such that remote citizens are frequently deprived not only of electricity and plumbing but also of health care, job opportunities, and education.

On the positive side, policies fostering increased access, when equitably implemented, can greatly increase the life span, emergency relief, educational level, GNP, and overall quality of life for marginalized nations and peoples. But such access remains rare. Indeed one chronic difficulty imposed upon tribal people has been the invasion of corporations importing foreign agendas to authentic peoples rather than building relationships of trust and understanding.

One pro-social aspect of the panel included the sharing of recommendations intended for a “win-win” solutions and bridge-building. Some of these pointed toward how First Peoples communities may create their own “right away” priorities, wider broadband, distributive justice, and full-spectrum access. And yet it was noted that, for example, an average home in Portland, Oregon has greater digital access and more bandwidth than the entire tribal community nearby. Since such imbalances are commonplace worldwide, there is seemingly endless social justice work yet to be done.

 The second panel broadened the aperture to consider related social justice issues within and beyond the Pacific digital and telecom world. As indicated in the aggregate panel titles below, important ethical issues of discussion and consciousness-raising throughout the remainder of the conference included hate speech (paper accepted but not presented), fairness, racism, misinformation, resource distribution, privacy, inequity, limited access, poverty, security, and related problems.

The second session was entitled "Understanding Societal and Digital Divides: Race-related Factors, Misinformation, and Hate Speech" and presented these speakers and moderator: George Ford, Chief Economist, Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies, USA (PRESENTER), Covadonga Gijón, Assistant Professor, UNED, Spain (PRESENTER), Trisha T. C. Lin, Professor, National Chengchi University, Chinese Taipei (PRESENTER), Jenifer Winter, Professor, School of Communications, University of Hawaii, USA (MODERATOR), 

Questions raised pertained to whether lower adoption rates of technology are primarily race-based or age-based or gender-biased not only in the United States but in the less studied provinces of Spain. The inequity reported in Spain was not only according to class divisions but also featured degrees of what I am calling a “gender divide” in which older women who find it harder to enter the workforce are digitally excluded or marginalized. Access discrimination also occurs among the elderly writ large who often have less work-related access, lower income, and fewer teaching resources to learn digital skills. Such problems are further exacerbated during a pandemic in which older people are at greater risk.

Issues pertaining to the ethics of publicizing COVID prevention methods as applied in Taiwan were discussed within the larger context of major media misinformation about COVID transmission and prevention. Unlike many other countries the government of Taiwan imposed major fines upon those media which spread disinformation. Particular emphasis was given to the “internet armies” who proffered Propaganda and increased sensation and panic. It was no surprise that the traditional adversarial relationship between China and Taiwan accounted for a backdrop atmosphere of sustained disinformation. 

Another engaging ethics-related panel called "The Cybersecurity Landscape" introduced these speakers and moderator: Babak Pasdar, Chief Executive Officer, Acreto, USA (PANELIST), Tomoo Yamauchi, Deputy Director-General for ICT R&D and Cybersecurity Policy, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC), Japan (PANELIST), Clifford Bean, Director Navy Missions, Peraton, USA (MODERATOR). 

Some or the moral questions which raised were 1) to what extent must governments take the lead in defending their citizens against invasions of privacy both by the governments themselves and by outside agents? What ethical questions are raised when governments also employ outside corporations, agencies, and experts to collect and utilize confidential information? How do cybersecurity providers themselves develop standards of citizen accountability, internal monitoring, and equal access to their services? In a multinational context what cyber-boundaries can and should be fortified when in many cases they may block “freedom of information?” Who gets to define what privacy means in a multi-cultural context? How well is such “privacy” protection currently implemented and who is responsible for eliminating the leaks?

Later a panel of interest entitled “ Economic and Societal Consequences of Broadband and Media Policy in the U.S. and Globally” offered these speakers and moderator: Presenter Mehdi Hasan, Senior Research Fellow (Digital Healthcare), Integrated Development Foundation, USA, Presenter Francis Pereira Associate Professor, Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, USA, Co-Presenter, Julie Albright, Digital Sociologist, Infrastructure Masons / USC, USA, Co-Presenter, Nancy Novak, Chief Innovation Officer, Compass Datacenters, USA, Moderator, Elizabeth Fife, Associate Professor, Technical Communication, Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California, USA.

It was important to see topics such as telehealth showcased since ethics is frequently thought of as “red light” (“thou shalt not”) issues. And yet “green light” (pro-social implementatation of ethics) topics are also important. One presenter offered comparative analysis of the U.S. and Singapore adoption of and obstacles to telehealth with an eye toward how telemonitoring can concurrently increase survival rates and effect cost reduction.

Another “green light” pointed toward examples of inclusion which seek to bridge the digital divide. Examples of specific programs which aspire to assist seniors with digital literacy and overcome generational and racial discrimination were spotlighted. Aspects of regulation and policy have overlapped with oif not contained ethical issues. So it was no surprise that the panel entitled "Regulation and Digital Strategies" featured an important history and update on the status of net neutrality. Competing political and moral arguments involved in government regulation of the internet were catalogued. Often called “the First Amendment of the Internet,” net neutrality remains hotly debated not only within international forums but also increasingly among U.S. state legislatures.

The scholars pictured below made presentations or moderated: Sung Wook Ji, Associate Professor, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Republic of Korea (PANELIST), Diana Rojas-Torres, Associate Professor, Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Universidad de La Sabana, Colombia (PANELIST), Richard Vincent, Professor of International Communication, Indiana State University, USA (PANELIST), Daniel Smith, Lecturer, University of Hawaii, USA (MODERATOR). 

One important means of addressing some (environmental, social, and governmental) issues within corporate America has been labelled ESG. PTC featured an important discussion called “ESG and Human Rights Topping Corporate Risk Agenda” which presented this moderator and speakers: Rob Aldrich, Senior Sustainability Lead, Amazon Web Services (AWS), USA (PANELIST), Nicole Karlebach, Global Head, Business & Human Rights, Verizon, USA (PANELIST), Tara Giunta, Co-Lead, ESG and Human Rights; Vice Chair, Investigations and Compliance, Paul Hastings LLP, USA (MODERATOR).

Obviously, the environmental component is the largest and most important within ESG since “as the planet goes, so goes telecom and humanity.” ESG discussion of sustainability has included the ways in which corporations are approaching climate change, sustainable resources, corporate pollution, and “future-proofing” themselves and the planet.

Corporate human rights issues (often under the “social” and “governance” umbrellas) are not just about the impact of telecom companies upon “outer” groups such as customers and corporate neighbors but also the rights of employees, employers, their families, and the vendors and guests who co-populate the corporate community. Clearly, those telecom companies which venture into new “markets” and unfamiliar cultures must also make strong efforts to understand the mores, practices, cultures, religions, political institutions and traditions of the countries in which they are guests to further guarantee the rights of their hosts.

 Regarding the “E sector of “ESG”, it was heartening to hear other sessions in which more corporate representatives indicated that they had “gone green” by using paperless and energy-saving processes. Moreover, some said that they have developed policies which will lead to choosing their vendors, clients, and partners more carefully with environmental policies in mind.

Many companies are also paying much closer attention to AI ethical issues including preventing manufacturing robots from accidentally injuring workers, monitoring IOT “loopholes” which can be exploited by terrorists and pranksters, and rethinking autonomous technology (such as cars and trains) which can effect accidental fatalities. Within the “E” sector, another panel focused upon “Sustainability in the Hyper Data Center World” which pointed
toward positive changes in the telecom environment including decarbonization and better resource recycling. Joe Weinman’s interview with Jonathan Koomey also asked whether the entire growth and architecture of digital telecom is contribution to global warming. In the aggregate sustainability
and related environmental ethical issues were more front and center at PTC 22 than within previous annual conferences.

Questions regarding security vs. privacy have often been given prominence within PTC discussions. PTC often features engineers, managers, geeks, and companies which specialize in security upgrades and expertise. This year an important security session was entitled “Cloud and Security “ which featured these panelists and moderator: Avi Freedman, Co-Founder & CEO, Kentik, USA (PANELIST), Don Schuett, Chief Revenue Officer, TierPoint, USA (PANELIST), Jonathan Seelig, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman, Ridge, USA (PANELIST), Lynn Smullen, GVP Strategic Client Industry Leader, Oracle, USA (PANELIST), Kip Turco, Chief Executive Officer, STACKPATH, USA (PANELIST), Colby Synesael, Managing Director, Cowen and Company, USA (MODERATOR).

An interesting distinction was made this year between internal and external security. The need for protection from (internal) employee data theft is often essential and yet ethically how far can leaders and their designees go in signaling distrust of their employees? Similarly, to what extent do scrutinized employees feel that their privacy is invaded during chronic internal monitoring? Although panel discussions such as this one are frequently about the quality, nature, and upgrades in the latest security systems, ethical questions are always lurking between the lines.

All of the issues discussed at PTC ‘22 have become quite complicated given their international, intercultural, and pandemic contexts . One must consider the multitude of differing cultural traditions, governments, policies, COVID protocols, legal systems, innovation and adoption rates, and “consumer rights” within each country. Security and privacy have become super-sized international concerns as witnessed by the scandals surrounding Facebook, Google, Equifax, and the hacking of the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. Indeed one panel on security noted that at this stage ’best practices are only best efforts” regarding “leak proof” security. No doubt pervasive issues of security, privacy, conflict of interest, freedom of information, and many others will be timeless considerations. Therefore it is likely that PTC ’23 which will also be anchored in Honolulu next January, will continue to include dialogue about many of
these topics as they are expanded by evolving technologies. One bright light regarding PTC 2023 is the intention of the leaders of the “Research and Educators” group, Professors Elizabeth Fife and Jenifer Winter, to include more ethics research in the program when possible. 

Further information about PTC ’22 and other PTC events and materials may be obtained at www.ptc.org, via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , and by writing the Pacific Telecommunications Council, 914 Coolidge Street, Honolulu, HI 96826-3085.

Tom Cooper, Professor Emeritus,
Emerson College