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U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Ethical Principles Guiding Information and Communication Technology Research (Menlo Report)

Published August 1, 2012

Published in December 2011 and amended in August 2012, the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis and the Department of Homeland Security proposed a framework for ethical guidelines for computer and information security research. The framework was informed by the three principles of the 1979 Belmont Report for ethical research in the biomedical and behavioral sciences, Respect for Persons, Beneficence, and Justice. The Menlo Report adds the principle Respect for Law and Public Interest.

From introduction:

This report attempts to summarize a set of basic principles to guide the identification and resolution of ethical problems arising in research of or involving information and communication technology (ICT). ICT is a general umbrella term that encompasses networks, hardware and software technologies that involve information communications pertaining to or impacting individuals and organizations. ICT has increasingly become integrated into our individual and collective daily lives, mediating our behaviors and communications and presenting new tensions that challenge the applications of these guiding principles.

ICT research (ICTR) involves the collection, use and disclosure of information and/or interaction with this ubiquitously connected network context which is overlaid with varied, often discordant legal regimes and social norms. The challenge of evaluating the ethical issues in ICTR stems in large part from the attributes of ICT: scale, speed, tight coupling, decentralization and wide distribution, and opacity. This environment complicates achieving ethically defensible research for several reasons. It results in interactions with humans that are often indirect, stemming from an increase in either logical or physical "distance" between researcher and humans to be protected over research involving direct intervention. The relative ease in engaging multitudes of distributed human subjects (or data about them) through intermediating systems speeds the potential for harms to arise, and extends the range of stakeholders who may be impacted. Also, legal restrictions and requirements have expanded considerably since the 1980s, and ICTR is unquestionably subject to a variety of laws and regulations that address data collection and use. While it is true that these individual complications are shared by traditional biomedical and behavioral research, this report seeks to manage the tension resulting from the simultaneous confluence of these complicating factors that occur with regularity in ICTR.

There is a need to interpret and extend the traditional ethical framework to enable ICT researchers and oversight entities to appropriately and consistently assess and render ethically defensible research. Such a framework should also support current and potential institutional mechanisms that are well served to implement it, such as a research ethics board (REB). We build on the foundation set by the Belmont Report, which articulates three fundamental ethical principles and guiding applications of these principles for protecting human subjects of biomedical and behavioral research: respecting persons; balancing potential benefits and harms; and equitably apportioning benefits and burdens across research subjects and society. The guidelines in this report are applicable to research that has the potential to harm humans, regardless of whether those humans are the direct research subjects or are indirectly at risk of harm from interactions with ICT. This report explains how the traditional framework fits within the context of the computer science sub-discipline of information security research. Specifically, this domain addresses ICT vulnerabilities, digital crime, and information assurance for critical infrastructure systems. These are areas where harms are not well understood yet are potentially significant in scope and impact. The framework proposed herein is germane to other disciplines that involve the use of ICT, including those targeted by the Belmont Report that now operate in ICT contexts.

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