September 24th, 2008 by Tony Doyle
Tony Doyle served as program chair for the sixth annual Information Ethics Roundtable, held on May 9 on the eighth floor of Hunter West. The topic was Information Ethics and its Applications. The program consisted of five speakers. Each speaker spoke for roughly 30 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of commentary, followed in turn by 20 minutes of discussion.
The first speaker was Frances Grodzinsky, (Computer Science, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Connecticut). Professor Grodzinsky’s talk was entitled “The Verizon v. RIAA Case Revisited: Some Further Reflections on the Tension between Privacy and Property Interests.” The case in question arose out of concern from the Recording Industry Association of America about free music file sharing services like Napster and later peer-to-peer services like Lime Wire and Grokster. The RIAA has maintained that the potential threat of such services to music still under copyright justifies forcing internet providers like Verizon to hand over the internet records of their subscribers. Grodzinsky disagreed, arguing that the interest that the rest of us have in privacy trumps the RIAA’s intellectual property interests. Don Fallis of the University of Arizona’s School of Information Resources and Library Science commented.
The keynote speaker, Luciano Floridi (University of Hertforshire, Department of Philosophy, University of Oxford, and Universita degli Studi di Bari, Scienze Filosofiche), presented next. Professor Floridi is a pioneer in the flourishing field of the philosophy of information. Floridi’s talk, “Individual Data and the Limits of their Ownership,” defended the conclusion that a person has a strong moral claim to all personal data and that the unauthorized use of that data is a akin to theft. Kay Mathiesen of the University of Arizona’s School of Information Resources and Library Science commented.
The third speaker was James Stacey Taylor (Philosophy and Religion, The College of New Jersey). Professor Taylor, in his talk, “Privacy, Personal Information, and Hedonism: A Defense of Peeping Tom,” argued that undetected, unpublicized voyeurism causes no harm. He went on to urge that, if the practice causes no harm, then the main reason for thinking that it is wrong is seriously undermined. Steve Ross of Hunter’s Philosophy Department commented.
Richard Volkman (Philosophy, Southern Connecticut State University) spoke next. His talk was entitled “If Information Wants to Be Free, Information Wants to be in the Market.” Professor Volkman defended, among other things, the contention that retailers should be able to gather as much information about their customers as those customers’ buying habits reveal and that retailers should be able to profit from this information. In short, let the market determine what kind of personal information should be available to private companies and how they might benefit from it. Professor Volkman’s commentator was Catherine Womack of the Philosophy Department at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts.
Mark Manion (Humanities Department, Drexel University in Philadelphia) followed. His topic was “The Ethics of Peer-to-Peer File Sharing.” Professor Manion was critical of the power that the major recording companies exert over copyrighted material, arguing that copyright protection is far in excess of what it is needed to maximize the creation, production, and distribution of music. Marc Meola of the College of New Jersey Library commented.
Roughly 50 to 60 people attended the event. Each talk was followed by lively discussion.
Funding for the Roundtable was provided by The Library Association of CUNY (LACUNY), The Hunter College Library, and the Hunter College Enterprise Board.