|| ACM Code of Ethics and
Adopted by ACM Council
Contents & Guidelines
Commitment to ethical professional conduct is expected of every
member (voting members, associate members, and student members)
of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).
This Code, consisting of 24 imperatives formulated as statements
of personal responsibility, identifies the elements of such a commitment.
It contains many, but not all, issues professionals are likely to
face.Section 1 outlines fundamental ethical
considerations, while Section 2 addresses additional,
more specific considerations of professional conduct. Statements
in Section 3 pertain more specifically to individuals
who have a leadership role, whether in the workplace or in a volunteer
capacity such as with organizations like ACM. Principles involving
compliance with this Code are given in Section 4.
The Code shall be supplemented by a set of Guidelines, which provide
explanation to assist members in dealing with the various issues
contained in the Code. It is expected that the Guidelines will be
changed more frequently than the Code.
The Code and its supplemented Guidelines are intended to serve
as a basis for ethical decision making in the conduct of professional
work. Secondarily, they may serve as a basis for judging the merit
of a formal complaint pertaining to violation of professional ethical
It should be noted that although computing is not mentioned in
the imperatives of Section 1, the Code is concerned
with how these fundamental imperatives apply to one's conduct as
a computing professional. These imperatives are expressed in a general
form to emphasize that ethical principles which apply to computer
ethics are derived from more general ethical principles.
It is understood that some words and phrases in a code of ethics
are subject to varying interpretations, and that any ethical principle
may conflict with other ethical principles in specific situations.
Questions related to ethical conflicts can best be answered by thoughtful
consideration of fundamental principles, rather than reliance on
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- General Moral Imperatives.
- More Specific Professional Responsibilities.
- Organizational Leadership Imperatives.
- Compliance with the Code.
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1. GENERAL MORAL IMPERATIVES.
As an ACM member I will ....
1.1 Contribute to society and human well-being.
This principle concerning the quality of life of all people affirms
an obligation to protect fundamental human rights and to respect
the diversity of all cultures. An essential aim of computing professionals
is to minimize negative consequences of computing systems, including
threats to health and safety. When designing or implementing systems,
computing professionals must attempt to ensure that the products
of their efforts will be used in socially responsible ways, will
meet social needs, and will avoid harmful effects to health and
In addition to a safe social environment, human well-being includes
a safe natural environment. Therefore, computing professionals who
design and develop systems must be alert to, and make others aware
of, any potential damage to the local or global environment.
1.2 Avoid harm to others.
"Harm" means injury or negative consequences, such as
undesirable loss of information, loss of property, property damage,
or unwanted environmental impacts. This principle prohibits use
of computing technology in ways that result in harm to any of the
following: users, the general public, employees, employers. Harmful
actions include intentional destruction or modification of files
and programs leading to serious loss of resources or unnecessary
expenditure of human resources such as the time and effort required
to purge systems of "computer viruses."
Well-intended actions, including those that accomplish assigned
duties, may lead to harm unexpectedly. In such an event the responsible
person or persons are obligated to undo or mitigate the negative
consequences as much as possible. One way to avoid unintentional
harm is to carefully consider potential impacts on all those affected
by decisions made during design and implementation.
To minimize the possibility of indirectly harming others, computing
professionals must minimize malfunctions by following generally
accepted standards for system design and testing. Furthermore, it
is often necessary to assess the social consequences of systems
to project the likelihood of any serious harm to others. If system
features are misrepresented to users, coworkers, or supervisors,
the individual computing professional is responsible for any resulting
In the work environment the computing professional has the additional
obligation to report any signs of system dangers that might result
in serious personal or social damage. If one's superiors do not
act to curtail or mitigate such dangers, it may be necessary to
"blow the whistle" to help correct the problem or reduce
the risk. However, capricious or misguided reporting of violations
can, itself, be harmful. Before reporting violations, all relevant
aspects of the incident must be thoroughly assessed. In particular,
the assessment of risk and responsibility must be credible. It is
suggested that advice be sought from other computing professionals.
See principle 2.5 regarding thorough evaluations.
1.3 Be honest and trustworthy.
Honesty is an essential component of trust. Without trust an organization
cannot function effectively. The honest computing professional will
not make deliberately false or deceptive claims about a system or
system design, but will instead provide full disclosure of all pertinent
system limitations and problems.
A computer professional has a duty to be honest about his or her
own qualifications, and about any circumstances that might lead
to conflicts of interest.
Membership in volunteer organizations such as ACM may at times
place individuals in situations where their statements or actions
could be interpreted as carrying the "weight" of a larger
group of professionals. An ACM member will exercise care to not
misrepresent ACM or positions and policies of ACM or any ACM units.
1.4 Be fair and take action not to discriminate.
The values of equality, tolerance, respect for others, and the
principles of equal justice govern this imperative. Discrimination
on the basis of race, sex, religion, age, disability, national origin,
or other such factors is an explicit violation of ACM policy and
will not be tolerated.
Inequities between different groups of people may result from the
use or misuse of information and technology. In a fair society,all
individuals would have equal opportunity to participate in, or benefit
from, the use of computer resources regardless of race, sex, religion,
age, disability, national origin or other such similar factors.
However, these ideals do not justify unauthorized use of computer
resources nor do they provide an adequate basis for violation of
any other ethical imperatives of this code.
1.5 Honor property rights including copyrights and patent.
Violation of copyrights, patents, trade secrets and the terms of
license agreements is prohibited by law in most circumstances. Even
when software is not so protected, such violations are contrary
to professional behavior. Copies of software should be made only
with proper authorization. Unauthorized duplication of materials
must not be condoned.
1.6 Give proper credit for intellectual property.
Computing professionals are obligated to protect the integrity
of intellectual property. Specifically, one must not take credit
for other's ideas or work, even in cases where the work has not
been explicitly protected by copyright, patent, etc.
1.7 Respect the privacy of others.
Computing and communication technology enables the collection and
exchange of personal information on a scale unprecedented in the
history of civilization. Thus there is increased potential for violating
the privacy of individuals and groups. It is the responsibility
of professionals to maintain the privacy and integrity of data describing
individuals. This includes taking precautions to ensure the accuracy
of data, as well as protecting it from unauthorized access or accidental
disclosure to inappropriate individuals. Furthermore, procedures
must be established to allow individuals to review their records
and correct inaccuracies.
This imperative implies that only the necessary amount of personal
information be collected in a system, that retention and disposal
periods for that information be clearly defined and enforced, and
that personal information gathered for a specific purpose not be
used for other purposes without consent of the individual(s). These
principles apply to electronic communications, including electronic
mail, and prohibit procedures that capture or monitor electronic
user data, including messages,without the permission of users or
bona fide authorization related to system operation and maintenance.
User data observed during the normal duties of system operation
and maintenance must be treated with strictest confidentiality,
except in cases where it is evidence for the violation of law, organizational
regulations, or this Code. In these cases, the nature or contents
of that information must be disclosed only to proper authorities.
1.8 Honor confidentiality.
The principle of honesty extends to issues of confidentiality of
information whenever one has made an explicit promise to honor confidentiality
or, implicitly, when private information not directly related to
the performance of one's duties becomes available. The ethical concern
is to respect all obligations of confidentiality to employers, clients,
and users unless discharged from such obligations by requirements
of the law or other principles of this Code.
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2. MORE SPECIFIC PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITIES.
As an ACM computing professional I will ....
2.1 Strive to achieve the highest quality, effectiveness and
dignity in both the process and products of professional work.
Excellence is perhaps the most important obligation of a professional.
The computing professional must strive to achieve quality and to
be cognizant of the serious negative consequences that may result
from poor quality in a system.
2.2 Acquire and maintain professional competence.
Excellence depends on individuals who take responsibility for acquiring
and maintaining professional competence. A professional must participate
in setting standards for appropriate levels of competence, and strive
to achieve those standards. Upgrading technical knowledge and competence
can be achieved in several ways:doing independent study; attending
seminars, conferences, or courses; and being involved in professional
2.3 Know and respect existing laws pertaining to professional
ACM members must obey existing local, state,province, national,
and international laws unless there is a compelling ethical basis
not to do so. Policies and procedures of the organizations in which
one participates must also be obeyed. But compliance must be balanced
with the recognition that sometimes existing laws and rules may
be immoral or inappropriate and, therefore, must be challenged.
Violation of a law or regulation may be ethical when that law or
rule has inadequate moral basis or when it conflicts with another
law judged to be more important. If one decides to violate a law
or rule because it is viewed as unethical, or for any other reason,
one must fully accept responsibility for one's actions and for the
2.4 Accept and provide appropriate professional review.
Quality professional work, especially in the computing profession,
depends on professional reviewing and critiquing. Whenever appropriate,individual
members should seek and utilize peer review as well as provide critical
review of the work of others.
2.5 Give comprehensive and thorough evaluations of computer
systems and their impacts, including analysis of possible risks.
Computer professionals must strive to be perceptive, thorough,
and objective when evaluating, recommending, and presenting system
descriptions and alternatives. Computer professionals are in a position
of special trust, and therefore have a special responsibility to
provide objective, credible evaluations to employers, clients, users,
and the public. When providing evaluations the professional must
also identify any relevant conflicts of interest, as stated in imperative
As noted in the discussion of principle 1.2
on avoiding harm, any signs of danger from systems must be reported
to those who have opportunity and/or responsibility to resolve them.
See the guidelines for imperative 1.2 for
more details concerning harm,including the reporting of professional
2.6 Honor contracts, agreements, and assigned responsibilities.
Honoring one's commitments is a matter of integrity and honesty.For
the computer professional this includes ensuring that system elements
perform as intended. Also, when one contracts for work with another
party, one has an obligation to keep that party properly informed
about progress toward completing that work.
A computing professional has a responsibility to request a change
in any assignment that he or she feels cannot be completed as defined.
Only after serious consideration and with full disclosure of risks
and concerns to the employer or client, should one accept the assignment.
The major underlying principle here is the obligation to accept
personal accountability for professional work. On some occasions
other ethical principles may take greater priority.
A judgment that a specific assignment should not be performed may
not be accepted. Having clearly identified one's concerns and reasons
for that judgment, but failing to procure a change in that assignment,
one may yet be obligated, by contract or by law, to proceed as directed.
The computing professional's ethical judgment should be the final
guide in deciding whether or not to proceed. Regardless of the decision,
one must accept the responsibility for the consequences.
However, performing assignments "against one's own judgment"
does not relieve the professional of responsibility for any negative
2.7 Improve public understanding of computing and its consequences.
Computing professionals have a responsibility to share technical
knowledge with the public by encouraging understanding of computing,
including the impacts of computer systems and their limitations.
This imperative implies an obligation to counter any false views
related to computing.
2.8 Access computing and communication resources only when authorized
to do so.
Theft or destruction of tangible and electronic property is prohibited
by imperative 1.2 - "Avoid harm to others."
Trespassing and unauthorized use of a computer or communication
system is addressed by this imperative. Trespassing includes accessing
communication networks and computer systems, or accounts and/or
files associated with those systems, without explicit authorization
to do so. Individuals and organizations have the right to restrict
access to their systems so long as they do not violate the discrimination
principle (see 1.4). No one should enter or
use another's computer system, software, or data files without permission.
One must always have appropriate approval before using system resources,
including communication ports, file space, other system peripherals,
and computer time.
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3. ORGANIZATIONAL LEADERSHIP IMPERATIVES.
As an ACM member and an organizational leader, I will ....
BACKGROUND NOTE:This section draws extensively from the
draft IFIP Code of Ethics,especially its sections on organizational
ethics and international concerns. The ethical obligations of organizations
tend to be neglected in most codes of professional conduct, perhaps
because these codes are written from the perspective of the individual
member. This dilemma is addressed by stating these imperatives from
the perspective of the organizational leader. In this context"leader"
is viewed as any organizational member who has leadership or educational
responsibilities. These imperatives generally may apply to organizations
as well as their leaders. In this context"organizations"
are corporations, government agencies,and other "employers,"
as well as volunteer professional organizations.
3.1 Articulate social responsibilities of members of an organizational
unit and encourage full acceptance of those responsibilities.
Because organizations of all kinds have impacts on the public,
they must accept responsibilities to society. Organizational procedures
and attitudes oriented toward quality and the welfare of society
will reduce harm to members of the public, thereby serving public
interest and fulfilling social responsibility. Therefore,organizational
leaders must encourage full participation in meeting social responsibilities
as well as quality performance.
3.2 Manage personnel and resources to design and build information
systems that enhance the quality of working life.
Organizational leaders are responsible for ensuring that computer
systems enhance, not degrade, the quality of working life. When
implementing a computer system, organizations must consider the
personal and professional development, physical safety, and human
dignity of all workers. Appropriate human-computer ergonomic standards
should be considered in system design and in the workplace.
3.3 Acknowledge and support proper and authorized uses of an
organization's computing and communication resources.
Because computer systems can become tools to harm as well as to
benefit an organization, the leadership has the responsibility to
clearly define appropriate and inappropriate uses of organizational
computing resources. While the number and scope of such rules should
be minimal, they should be fully enforced when established.
3.4 Ensure that users and those who will be affected by a system
have their needs clearly articulated during the assessment and design
of requirements; later the system must be validated to meet requirements.
Current system users, potential users and other persons whose lives
may be affected by a system must have their needs assessed and incorporated
in the statement of requirements. System validation should ensure
compliance with those requirements.
3.5 Articulate and support policies that protect the dignity
of users and others affected by a computing system.
Designing or implementing systems that deliberately or inadvertently
demean individuals or groups is ethically unacceptable. Computer
professionals who are in decision making positions should verify
that systems are designed and implemented to protect personal privacy
and enhance personal dignity.
3.6 Create opportunities for members of the organization to
learn the principles and limitations of computer systems.
This complements the imperative on public understanding (2.7).
Educational opportunities are essential to facilitate optimal participation
of all organizational members. Opportunities must be available to
all members to help them improve their knowledge and skills in computing,
including courses that familiarize them with the consequences and
limitations of particular types of systems.In particular, professionals
must be made aware of the dangers of building systems around oversimplified
models, the improbability of anticipating and designing for every
possible operating condition, and other issues related to the complexity
of this profession.
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4. COMPLIANCE WITH THE CODE.
As an ACM member I will ....
4.1 Uphold and promote the principles of this Code.
The future of the computing profession depends on both technical
and ethical excellence. Not only is it important for ACM computing
professionals to adhere to the principles expressed in this Code,
each member should encourage and support adherence by other members.
4.2 Treat violations of this code as inconsistent with membership
in the ACM.
Adherence of professionals to a code of ethics is largely a voluntary
matter. However, if a member does not follow this code by engaging
in gross misconduct, membership in ACM may be terminated.
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This Code and the supplemental Guidelines were
developed by the Task Force for the Revision of the ACM Code of
Ethics and Professional Conduct: Ronald E. Anderson, Chair, Gerald
Engel, Donald Gotterbarn, Grace C. Hertlein, Alex Hoffman, Bruce
Jawer, Deborah G. Johnson, Doris K. Lidtke, Joyce Currie Little,
Dianne Martin, Donn B. Parker, Judith A. Perrolle, and Richard S.
Rosenberg. The Task Force was organized by ACM/SIGCAS and funding
was provided by the ACM SIG Discretionary Fund. This Code and the
supplemental Guidelines were adopted by the ACM Council on October
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ACM/Code of Ethics. Last Update: 01/16/98 by HK.