Human Resistance to Electronic Rationality

Threats to Human Rights

The possession of comprehensive data bases by the government and business organizations raises questions many could not foresee. The human right to privacy and to the protection of a person in the home may be threatened by the trend toward the collection of all types of data about each individual. Technological progress has made available a powerful tool a management so powerful, in fact that society needs to improve its processes for controlling this vastly increasing supply of available information. Information necessary for one system may pose threats to individual rights if allowed to enter other systems for which it was not planned. In the last two decades, the issue received national attention when it was discovered that tax information collected by the Internal Revenue Service had been made available to other government agencies and threatened to serve as political blackmail. Rigid restraints have been imposed by legislatures and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare on the access to student grades in educational institutions by unauthorized people. Disclosure of the existence of large files of information held by the FBI and CIA raised serious questions about the potential misuse of information stored in large data bases.

Business firms have improved their knowledge for marketing and sales, so that mailing lists make it possible to pinpoint marketing opportunities. Word processing and Wide Area Telephone Systems (WATS) have increased the chances that each consumer may be subject to a deluge of “junk mail” and telephone calls by computers at any hour. The reduced cost of transmitting information has increased the social costs of receiving unwanted information mixed in with valuable information, so that the receiver needs a computer-like screening of information to avoid wasting time.

Systems analysts have been so effective in tying large information bases into a total system that they must now be particularly aware of the boundaries of their systems. If they are not, the counteracting threats may result in unnecessary constraints imposed by society in the name of human rights. Breakthroughs in assembling information pose new challenges to mangers for ensuring that information systems are designed in such a way they continue to provide valuable information without the potential of improper uses.

The introduction of a computer based management information system necessarily creates changes; a typical human reaction to change is resistance. At the clerical and worker level, the fear of being displaced by machines is based on both real and imaginary grounds. The routine and boring jobs may be eliminated by computers, but history shows that new and challenging types of jobs emerge.

At the managerial level there is a potential loss of status and influence by the manager when information can be obtained from the computer by the lowest-level worker. The loss of power to regulate the flow of information by managers may be a threat to their status. Computers, thus, can trigger emotional problems and stress not only for the lowest level worker in the organization but also for the top management.

Security of Information:

Increased use of computers in information systems has posed still another problem – the security of the information. Information is valuable. A dishonest person or even a young person who is experimenting with knowledge of the operation of the system has the potential of causing huge losses to the organization. Estimate of losses due to computer theft in the United States run in the billions each year. Another new term, ‘hackers’ has entered the expanding language of computers. The legal system needs to update its criminal law and the means of redressing wrongs. Management therefore, must provide tight controls on information systems. Technical means of control have been devised through the use of codes and electronic safeguards; however, studies show that management has been slow to spend the additional funds to make use of the technological advances. Again, technology has moved ahead of management’s efforts and abilities to utilize the advancements.

The technical problems of developing comprehensive information systems are being answered rapidly. The development of management thought, which might make full use of the technical developments, has been slower. Of one thing we can be sure: Management will devote much time and creative thinking to making such systems operational.