Jordan’s digital ethics: Who is shaping the moral codes of our e-reality?

Ruba Saqr (Photo: Jordan News)
Ruba Saqr (Photo: Jordan News)
Last week, the government application, “Sanadjo” or “Sanad,” rolled out a new feature that stands in sharp contrast with our moral values, and one that invites ethical corruption into our lives, in the name of digitization and modernity.اضافة اعلان

On some existential level, Jordanians have a natural consensus — as if our hearts are secretly linked to the same source — on issues pertaining to compassion, resilience, and persistence in the face of hardship and adversity.

We believe in giving a hand to a refugee who has lost her homeland, and our hearts go out to nations enduring occupation and oppression in a “togetherness” that defines our unique Jordanian character.

With no vanity, we carry an exceptional set of moral values that reveal our true mettle, like a torch that inspires other nations.

But when it comes to our digital life, our values as a nation are kept out of the conversation.

Our natural right to weigh in on matters that touch our daily lives (and our smartphones, tablets, and computers) are being ignored by a government that has a very limited understanding about digital ethics, privacy, respect for personal data, and other contemporary concepts that have become increasingly widespread in many parts of the world, but have for some reason eluded our bureaucrats.

Although the US, the EU, and Canada, have made major strides in developing an understanding about digital ethics and rights, it is very sad that our government still has no idea, it seems, that such values are perfectly aligned with the spiritual tenets of Islam and the values of the religiously moderate Jordan that we live in.

And when I say “government,” I am referring to more than just the Jordanian Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship.

This is because an ethical framework requires a national conversation built on insight, leadership, and an attitude of inclusivity, where public, private, and civil society individuals and institutions take part in building a “national manifesto” that defines our digital ethics.

This then gets translated into “policy,” and from there into a set of laws and regulations that best suit our local context and our higher ideals as a nation.

As a side note, in my opinion, this process should have taken place ahead of commissioning Microsoft to develop the Jordan Digital Transformation Strategy, which I have spoken about in my previous article, published last week.

Sanad’s new feature has rightfully sparked controversy among the few Jordanians who care (and know) about privacy rights (Jordan News has published a reactions story titled, “Gov’t app feature making vaccination information accessible stirs debate on privacy,” around a week ago).

With total disregard to the “knowledge and consent” of affected individuals, the application has made it easy for anyone who has the ID number, a scanned version of the ID card, and the birth date of any Jordanian national, to look up their vaccination status — in a manner that violates Jordanians’ personal data and privacy rights.

Opening the door to employers, and anyone with your identification information, to look up your vaccination status as a citizen, is an open invitation to social degradation and chaos!

This move encourages ethical vices such as “snooping and prying,” going behind people’s backs to get information about them instead of asking them to their faces, and violating the sanctity of their property (their personal data), their lives, and their honor.

Yes, those are big words, but such values are important in a non-virtual setting, and as such, virtual life should live up to the same standards, if not to better ones.

Unfortunately, digital “prying” is not a new concept.

It has become a global norm thanks primarily to Facebook, which has been described as a “company that lacks a moral compass,” by US Congress, digital ethicists, and privacy advocates, the past few years.

Going behind people’s backs — online — to dissect every photo they have posted of their kid’s birthday, every conversation they have had with friends and colleagues, their status, and their whereabouts, has become the norm for many who have slipped into the social media trap.

So many of us tend to forget that when we indulge in such derogatory acts, we are contradicting the spiritual tenets of our faith-based belief systems that explicitly frown upon this kind of moral degradation.

That is why it would be interesting to know who signed off on rolling out this thoughtless feature, and what chain of command has led to allowing this violation of privacy on a national scale!

This kind of decision shouldn’t have been made by an employee in some governmental department, nor by a department head in some ministry.

Decisions of this caliber and complexity need to be based on clear “policy” that has ethics and values at its core.

Because digital life with no ethics is a dangerous path that will produce serious ramifications both on the short and the long run.

Let us start by asking, who shapes our digital moral codes? Why aren’t civil society organizations a part of this effort? Who is educating the public about their digital rights and their right to privacy? Anyone pushing for serious training courses for the local media to improve reporting on issues pertaining to “digital policy,” not just daily tech news?

Not only are we kept out of shaping the moral codes of our digital lives, we are also expected to follow the directionless decisions that some governmental employees are taking on matters that touch our privacy and our dignity, without questioning them.

This state of affairs is downright wrong, and is in need of further reflection so as to correct course.

With more and more forms of digitization being imposed on us, with no public conversation or transparency, it is perhaps about time we stepped up our game and started adopting digital systems that have clear moral principles and ethical codes of conduct.

We are in desperate need of the kind of conscientious leadership that knows how to protect us, and the future generations, from large-scale societal moral degradation caused by misadvised digital transformation.

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