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Home > CJ Ethics > Pt 6 Emerging Moral Issues in Criminal Justice | Buy CJ Ethics

Overview, Part 6: Emerging Moral & Ethical Issues

This section explores not just emerging ethical concerns, but additional topics frequently not included in Criminal Justice: cyberlaw, privacy & surveillance, child protection in a wired world, crime and policing in virtual communities, media, and televising executions

Televised Executions
Televising McVeigh's Execution

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Author, Title & summary

Criminal Justice Ethics topics and pages

Cyberlaw: The Constitution & Freedom in Cyberspace

Much can be learned from studying moral problems that have existed long enough to be the subject of considerable thought and reflection. Yet society is changing rapidly, driven by evolving technological capabilities. A substantial challenge is to identify new moral issues and make sense of how old moral understandings may or may not apply to new situations. The readings in this section were chosen because they describe novel and challenging situations that require moral judgments; they describe significant moral issues that are neglected in the traditional scope of criminal justice ethics, and start the difficult process of applying accumulated wisdom to new generations of problems. Although this section is the final one in Criminal Justice Ethics, we hope it is a starting point for the study of problems we must face to establish ethical communities in real life and to ensure that social justice remains an important principle as technology changes out lives in unprecedented ways. 

The first reading is by Harvard law Professor Lawrence Tribe and entitled "The Constitution in Cyberspace: Law and Liberty Beyond the Electronic Frontier." Tribe is well known for his scholarship on the Constitution and its interpretation. This article is the text of a keynote address he gave at a conference on Computers, Freedom & Privacy. He describes some of the recent problems and outlines a useful series of principles about the Constitution that can help with its application to computer networks. 




Part 2: Limits of Law


Privacy and Surveillance

One of the main concerns with technology is how increasingly sophisticated databases and record-keeping pose a threat to individual privacy. Jeffrey Reiman uses the example of the Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems – where people are passive passengers in cars moved more efficiently by computer direction – to explore this issue in, “Driving to the Panopticon: A Philosophical Exploration of the Risks to Privacy Posed by the Highway Technology of the Future.” The Panopticon was a plan for a prison that involved the extensive use of surveillance as a mechanism of control. Reiman is concerned with forms of social control that accompany the surveillance involved with keeping track of where people drive all the time. I


Privacy & Surveillance


Child Protection, Obscenity and Freedom

If technology poses dangers to adults, then it has even more serious potential to harm vulnerable children. Computers open up new avenues for sex offenders to victimize children, but the internet may also hold out potential to help by notifying communities about offenders. Ernie Allen is the C.E.O of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and he debates Nadine Strossen, President of the American Civil Liberties Union in, “Megan’s Law and the Protection of the Child in the On-Line Age.”  They start by debating the merits of Megan’s law, which requires community notification of sex offenders. The second debate topic is a recent Supreme Court of Kansas v Hendricks case that allowed that allowed the involuntary civil commitment of sex offenders when their prison terms expired. The final topic for their debate is the Communications Decency Act, which Congress passed to protect children from indecency on the internet and which the Supreme Court struck down in Reno v ACLU

March 2003, Supreme Court upholds Megan's Law in Smith v Doe (Alaska Sex Offender registration Act) and Connecticut Dept of Public Safety v Doe

Child Protection v Adult Freedom

Part 2: Limits of Law

Crime & Governance in Virtual Communities

The next article is Julian Dibble’s “A Rape in Cyberspace: Or, How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database into a Society.” The first of many intriguing questions is the appropriateness of the term ‘rape’ for an event in the computer chat room – a ‘virtual’ encounter in which suffering was caused though no one’s real life body was harmed. The second main issue is finding an appropriate response by the virtual community to the offense and Dibble chronicles the odd collection of cyber-characters as they create a criminal justice system for their community. This work is part of a growing genre called the cyber-biography and is the first chapter to Dibble’s book, My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World (New York: Henry Holt, 1998). 


Regulating virtual communities


Media and Reality Crime Shows

The last two essays are about the media because of its power to shape perceptions about crime and justice. Debra Seagal took a job at a ‘reality-based’ police show and tells how the show got put together in “Tales From the Cutting-Room Floor.” The show has film crews in several cities and ‘story analysts’ like Seagal sift through thousands of hours of tape, which provide a detailed empirical study of police behavior. Readers should identify what they see as the ethical issues and violations on the part of the police. Seagal is insightful about the values that go into deciding what goes into the program and what gets left out, including when there is too much ‘reality’ for the ‘reality-based’ program. Her short article speaks volumes about media ethics and the ideological distortions in the ‘reality’ it creates.


Media, Crime and Criminal Justice


Televising Executions

People on all sides of the capital punishment debate have advocated televising an execution and Paul Leighton examines this idea in “Fear & Loathing in an Age of Show Business.” Television is present in 98% of households – more than have indoor plumbing – so a televised execution has the potential to save lives through deterrence and undermine support for capital punishment by exposing viewers to the ‘reality’ of executions. Leighton tries to identify the assumptions behind such claims and data relevant to assessing the likely effects. He also explore the possibility that a televised execution may cause additional deaths because of brutalization dynamics or imitation effects. 

Televising Executions

Televising McVeigh's Execution


Death Penalty

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