The moral significance of the internet in information: Reflections on a fundamental moral right to information

Publication Date30 Nov 2004
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/14779960480000252
Pages191-201
AuthorKenneth Einar Himma
SubjectInformation & knowledge management
The Moral Significance of the Internet in Information:
Reflections on a Fundamental Moral Right
to Information
At the foundation of information ethics are
a number of issues concerning the nature of
ethics, information, and information tech-
nology.1The most abstract issue is the ques-
tion of whether information ethics needs a
foundation independent of the foundation
for other ethical theories.2Another impor-
tant issue involves the question of whether
information entities have moral standing
and hence a right to minimal respect.3A
third involves the question of whether
information technologies give rise to ethi-
cal problems that have no logical relation to
ethical problems not involving these tech-
nologies.4
In this paper, I consider a different foun-
dational issue. As the importance of infor-
mation becomes more evident, theorists
have begun to suggest there is a fundamen-
tal moral right to information. Though the
s u b s t a n c e of this right has not been
described in much detail, the idea is that we
have an interest in information per se that
rises to the level of a basic moral right that
ought to be recognized and protected by
the law in every nation.
Thus conceived, the existence of a fun-
damental right to information would imply
that information ethics has a foundation
that is part i a l ly independent of other
known ethical principles. While these lat-
ter principles may frequently govern behav-
ior towards information, the claim that the
right to information is fundamen tal
means it is not derivable from any other
rights and is hence not derivable from these
Info, Comm & Ethics in Society (2004) 2: 191–202
© 2004 Troubador Publishing Ltd.
KEYWORDS
Information
Value
Rights
Foundation
Kenneth Einar Himma
Department of Philosophy, Seattle Pacific University, WA, USA
Email: himma@spu.edu
COVERAGE
I consider the foundational issue of whether we have a right to information that is fundamental in being
independent of other rights and general in protecting all information. To this end, I distinguish two kinds
of morally relevant value an entity might have, i.e. intrinsic and instrumental value, and explain the role
that each has in determining whether a person has a fundamental moral interest in that entity. Next, I
argue that, by itself, the claim that some entity Ehas an informative nature does not justify believing that
Ehas either intrinsic value or instrumental value. Accordingly, I conclude that whatever protection
morality provides to our interests in information, such protection does not rise to the level of a right that
is either general in the sense that it applies to all information or fundamental in the sense that it is not
derived from other more basic rights.
A B ST RAC T

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