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For centuries, most institutions have followed one of two ethical systems, Guardian (governmental) and Commercial. There is good reason for this: ethics must be chosen carefully to promote the organization's goals and prevent self-sabotage or antisocial behavior. Guardian ethics focus the use of force, while Commercial ethics promote the process of trade. Guardian organizations are generally good at preventing loss, while Commercial organizations are good at maximizing benefit. Within the past fifty years, a new system of ethics has appeared, spurred and enabled by the wide availability of computers and networking. The easy copying of computer data has led to a system of Information ethics, which maximizes the availability of information, and promotes the production and distribution of that information. This new system promises a variety of benefits, but also introduces some new problems while Information-based organizations learn to work in harmony with existing Guardian and Commercial institutions such as copyright. Analyzing organizations and institutions in terms of the three ethical systems, and addressing problems in terms of which system is best suited to deal with them, can form a basis for a broad range of policy decisions, and can sometimes serve as an early predictor of ethical problems.
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