It would have been hard to miss the information had you been scanning the newspapers during the tumultuous February of 2011, when the long-standing Mubarak regime in Egypt was swept from power by a popular uprising ultimately aligned with the military. The image of urban chaos being calmly photographed by a participant with a cell phone is completely emblematic of this most IT-inspired and IT-managed popular revolution to date, Actually, credit for originating this development probably goes the Iranian people, but the Egyptians were the first to actually pull it off. The revolution was televised—along with being tweeted, facebooked, emailed, iphotoed, and generally stage-managed with the full range of currently available information and communication technologies. But this wasn't just a user-driven revolution; at least a part of the IT industry—most specifically, Google—actively joined in the event, particularly as a result of the central role played in events in Egypt by a Google executive named Wael Ghonim. Here is a useful summary of his involvement, that wound up dragging the company and some of its satellites into the process: Eventually, the traditional media awoke to the role being played by IT and the successful efforts to get around the limits on the Internet attempted by the regime, and it became a prime focus for the mandatory post-revolutionary media processing of the events: So where does all this fit into ethical discourse? Well, large-scale social discord, even in the pursuit of liberty and democracy, must certainly be considered as a situation full of potential ethical dilemmas. Who gets to do what, to whom, when, and under what justification? How do the various parties adjudicate rights and responsibilities? To what degree is it permitted to violate laws, ignore generally accepted social norms, and even use physical force in pursuit of one's goals? And most particularly, to what degree ought outside parties such as foreign companies get involved in domestic political affairs, either to support or oppose the revolution? In Egypt in January and February 2011, these weren't just academic questions posed idly by a professor; they were deadly serious issues faced every moment by a fair chunk of the world. It's easy to come down on the side of democracy against authoritarianism when you're safely across a couple of oceans; by this perspective, Google looks like a major international hero. But consider the precedent; how would most Americans react to the prospect of an international corporate player such as the German IT firm SAP deciding to support striking teachers in Madison Wisconsin by jiggering the local telecom net? Not likely — but certainly well within the bounds of the permissible, by Google's standards. The IT profession and corporate infrastructure has been ramping up its use of the rhetoric of "revolution" for quite some time now. Even lawyers can be swept up in this tide; see for example: When the rhetoric of the "IT revolution" becomes part and parcel of political revolutions, a major dividing line has been crossed. And IT managers must begin to assume the ethical responsibilities for the consequences wrought by their products. The major armaments manufacturers in Europe and America were rightly castigated after the First World War for their irresponsible encouraging of the international arms race before 1914 in pursuit of corporate profits; the phrase "merchants of death" was quite literally applied. Is this a precedent that we ought to begin enforcing on today's purveyors of revolution-facilitating toys?
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