This Code of Ethics is intended to provide guidelines for GIS (geographic information system) professionals. It should help professionals make appropriate and ethical choices. It should provide a basis for evaluating their work from an ethical point of view. By heeding this code, GIS professionals will help to preserve and enhance public trust in the discipline.
This code is based on the ethical principle of always treating others with respect and never merely as means to an end: i.e., deontology. It requires us to consider the impact of our actions on other persons and to modify our actions to reflect the respect and concern we have for them. It emphasizes our obligations to other persons, to our colleagues and the profession, to our employers, and to society as a whole. Those obligations provide the organizing structure for these guidelines.
The text of this code draws on the work of many professional societies. It is not surprising that many codes of ethics have a similar structure and provide similar guidelines to their professionals, because they are based upon a similar concept of morality. A few of the guidelines that are unique to the GIS profession include the encouragement to make data and findings widely available, to document data and products, to be actively involved in data retention and security, to show respect for copyright and other intellectual property rights, and to display concern for the sensitive data about individuals discovered through geospatial or database manipulations. Longer statements expand on or provide examples for the GIS profession.
A positive tone is taken throughout the text of this code. GIS professionals commit themselves to ethical behavior rather than merely seeking to avoid specific acts. The problems with listing acts to be avoided are: 1) there are usually reasonable exceptions to any avoidance rule and 2) there is implicit approval of any act not on the list. Instead, this code provides a list of many positive actions. These explicit actions illustrate respect for others and help strengthen both an understanding of this ethos and a commitment to it.
This code is not expected to provide guidelines for all situations. Ambiguities will occur and personal judgment will be required. Sometimes a GIS professional becomes stuck in a dilemma where two right actions are in conflict with each other or any course of action violates some aspect of this code. Help might come from talking with colleagues or reading relevant works such as those listed in the bibliography. Ultimately, a professional must reflect carefully on such situations before making the tough decision. Contemplating the values and goals of alternative ethical paradigms may be useful in reaching a decision: [ii]
I. Obligations to Society
The GIS professional recognizes the impact of his or her work on society as a whole, on subgroups of society including geographic or demographic minorities, on future generations, and inclusive of social, economic, environmental, or technical fields of endeavor. Obligations to society shall be paramount when there is conflict with other obligations. Therefore, the GIS professional will:
1. Do the Best Work Possible
2. Contribute to the Community to the Extent Possible, Feasible, and Advisable
3. Speak Out About Issues
II. Obligations to Employers and Funders
The GIS professional recognizes that he or she has been hired to deliver needed products and services. The employer (or funder) expects quality work and professional conduct. Therefore the GIS professional will:
1. Deliver Quality Work
2. Have a Professional Relationship
3. Be Honest in Representations
III. Obligations to Colleagues and the Profession
The GIS professional recognizes the value of being part of a community of other professionals. Together, we support each other and add to the stature of the field. Therefore, the GIS professional will:
1. Respect the Work of Others.
2. Contribute to the Discipline to the Extent Possible
IV. Obligations to Individuals in Society
The GIS professional recognizes the impact of his or her work on individual people and will strive to avoid harm to them. Therefore, the GIS professional will:
1. Respect Privacy
2. Respect Individuals
American Institute of Certified Planners. 1991. AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, http://www.planning.org/ethics/conduct.html.
ASPRS. 2001. Code of Ethics of the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing,
Association for Computing Machinery. 1992. ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, http://www.acm.org/constitution/code.html.
Craig, William J. 1993. A GIS Code of Ethics: What Can We Learn from Other Organizations? Journal of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association, 5(2): 13-16. See
Edson, Curtis, Brian Garcia, Jordan Hantman, Nicole Hartz, Hannah Jensen, Jill Leale, Kelley Lewelling, John Marks, Jeff Maxted, Bruce Moore, Brendan Vierk Rivera, Anna Weitzel. 2001. “Code of Ethics for GIS Professionals,” paper for IES 400, GIS and Society, Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison. See http://www.ersc.wisc.edu/academics/courses/IES400GISandSociety/Code%20of%20Ethics/ethics_code1.pdf
Kidder, Rushworth M. 1995. How Good People Make Tough Choices, New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.
Olson, Andrew. 1998. Authoring a Code: Observations on Process and Organization, http://ethics.iit.edu/codes/Writing_A_Code.html, Center for Study of Ethics in the Professions, Illinois Institute of Technology.
Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors, 1998. Manual of Practice for Professional Land Surveyors in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. http://www.psls.org/info/manualpractice.htm
Rachels, James. 1999. The Elements of Moral Philosophy, Boston: McGraw-Hill College.
[i] URISA’s Ethics Task Force consisted of William J. Craig, chair, Al Butler, Tim Case, and Rebecca Somers. Craig authored the first draft with significant input from James H. Fetzer and Harlan Onsrud. Somers and Judy M. Olson provided comments in numerous significant areas on subsequent revisions.
This document is the result of extensive public review. Dozens of people provided useful feedback and suggestions during two periods of open public comment in 2002. All comments were reviewed and considered carefully. Changes were made to the code where appropriate within the basic deontological framework.
[ii] This approach is recommended by Kidder (1995). For a thorough discussion of moral theories, see Rachels (1999).