A Gift of Fire:
Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues for Computers and the Internet
(2nd ed.)
by Sara Baase

Sample Short-answer Exam Questions


Last updated: July 31, 2002

Instructions for short answer questions
Use complete sentences. The length of your answer should be from roughly two or three sentences to a short paragraph.

Where to find more questions
In addition to the questions below, the quiz questions and some exercises in the text at the ends of the chapters are also suitable for short answer questions for exams. Some of the General Exercises in the text are open-ended and thus more suitable for class discussions or essay questions (and may be more difficult to grade).

Sample questions

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10

Chapter 1
(See also page 29 in the text.)

Briefly describe one computer application in medical care that has improved care and/or saved lives.

What are two applications of computers that reduce the need for transportation? What are the social benefits of doing so? (Give two.)

Describe two computer or World Wide Web applications that empower people, that is, help people do for themselves things that we used to need experts or large companies to do.

Describe one benefit of automated teller machines and one negative impact.

Describe two computer applications that profoundly improve the quality of life for disabled people.

List one beneficial application or use of computers in each of the following areas: medicine, communications, and home appliances. (One sentence each is ok; state what the improvement is.)

What are two benefits of online libraries?

Explain the distinction between positive and negative rights; give an example.

A major retailer decides not to sell violent computer/video games. Some adults object that this infringes their right to play such games. Explain the difference between a negative right (liberty) to play violent computer/video games and a positive right (claim right) to play violent computer/video games. For each one, tell if it is violated by the retailer's action.

Chapter 2
(See also
quiz questions and exercises, pp. 86-89.)

Describe one way data are collected and/or used (with potential threats to privacy) that was not possible without computers.

What are cookies (in the context of the Web)?

Give one example where consumer information is collected for marketing purposes, but consumers receive some form of payment for the information. Give one example where personal information is collected for marketing, but most people (whose information is collected) are not aware of it.

Give one example of how data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau was used in a way that harmed people.

Give two ways that computer technology or software can protect privacy of personal information in databases.

A man sued a supermarket because he fell in the store. The supermarket company used its customer database to show that the man regularly bought a lot of alcoholic beverages. What is the term that describes this kind of use of information? How likely is it that supermarket lawyers would have gotten this information before supermarket cards were used to record purchases? (Why?)

Explain the difference between opt-in and opt-out policies for determining whether or not a customer's name and address will be included on mailing lists to be sold to other companies.

Explain the terms "invisible information gathering" and "secondary use," as they relate to personal information. Give an example of each.

What are two privacy concerns about technology that locates people or devices they carry (such as cell phones)?

Give two examples of uses of video surveillance cameras in public places. Tell their purpose and a real of potential abuse for each.

Some people suggest a law to require that credit bureaus send each person a copy of his or her credit report once a year. Explain one advantage and one disadvantage of such a law.
(Responses should include issues from both Chapters 2 and 4.)

What objection do some privacy advocates have to companies that provide free Internet services or computers to people in exchange for collecting information about the people's Web activity?

Give one argument in favor of using the concept of ownership of personal information as a privacy protection. Give one argument against it.

Some people propose assigning a property right in personal information as a method of protecting privacy. What are two problems with the notion of ownership of personal information?

Give and explain one criticism of strong legal privacy protections.

(a) Give an example of personal information that has been available for a long time but was not, in practice, a big threat to privacy because access was difficult.
(b) Give an example of personal information that was not collected or stored before computers were used.

Give one argument for and one argument against a law requiring that each person be assigned a national medical ID number that can be used to access his or her medical records.

Describe one difference in point of view between the free-market approach to privacy issues and the consumer protection approach.

Chapter 3
(See also
quiz questions and exercises, pp. 129-130.)

What is the main provision of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA)? How is it different from the situation before the law was passed?

Explain two points of dispute about implementation of CALEA.

Give one example of wiretapping by a government agency that was illegal or of questionable legality.

Describe points of dispute about use of Carnivore.

Give one reason the European Parliament objected to Echelon.

Describe two important uses (of different types) of encryption to electronic commerce.

One of the arguments given by the government for the Clipper Chip was that it would give us more privacy in telephone communications than we have now. Describe one strength and one weakness of this argument.

In the 1990s, Network Associates, a U.S. company, announced that it would contract with a Swiss company to develop data-security software using strong encryption for sale to international customers. Network Associates already had such software. Explain why they used the Swiss company.

Give one argument in favor of and one argument against the policy of the U.S. government of prohibiting export of strong encryption programs in the 1990s.

Give what you think is the strongest argument against mandatory access by law enforcement agencies to encryption keys. Then give a counterargument that a supporter of such access (say, the head of the FBI) might give.

Chapter 4
(See also
quiz questions and exercises, pp. 182-185.)

Describe one case of a serious accuracy problem in a database.

In the Arizona case, an illegal search of a car was conducted by the police because of an error in a police database. Two courts disagreed about whether the evidence found in the illegal search could be used by police. Give an argument from the courts for each side.

Many database problems involve misidentification of people. Give two sources of such problems not related to computer technology.

What are two important points or principles for designing user interfaces in safety-critical applications?

In order to keep illegal immigrants and foreign visitors from working in the U.S., the government experimented with a program to require that every job applicant be checked against a national database (of people who can legally work in the U.S.) before being hired. What are some likely problems with this database? Mention an example of another database to support your arguments.
(Responses should include issues from both Chapters 2 and 4.)

Describe two underlying causes of the baggage-handling system problems that delayed the opening of the Denver Airport.

Describe one practice or action (other than insufficient testing) that can introduce serious reliability or safety problems in software development. Give an example (of a real case).

Explain one of the flaws in the Therac-25 system.

What was one of the sources of failure common to both the Therac-25 radiation treatment machine and the Ariane 5 rocket?

Give one argument in favor of and one argument against mandatory licensing of computer programmers.

Describe one computer system that increased safety of air travel.

For the models comparing cloth versus disposable diapers, what is one factor (a datum or assumption) that affects the outcome?

Give two of the three questions used in the text to evaluate computer models.

Describe two weaknesses or flaws in the climate models.

What is one simplification in the climate models?

Fire departments often do "controlled burns;" that is, they carefully burn areas of brush to prevent a destructive wildfire from starting later. They now use a computer model to tell when it is safe to do a burn (e.g., not too windy). A fire department official with 25 years experience believed the computer model was not very good. He ignored the model, used his own judgment, and did a burn safely with no problems. But he was reprimanded by his boss for ignoring the computer. Give an argument in his defense. Give an argument in support of his boss.
(This question could be used for Chap. 9 or 10.)

A law was passed in one state making juice boxes illegal because they are more difficult to recycle than glass bottles. Suppose you are developing a computer model to compare the environmental impact of juice boxes with juice sold in bottles. The model will consider manufacture, transportation, and disposal.
List three important factors or variables to be included in the model. Include at least one for which the value is likely to be controversial (among environmentalists and juice box manufacturers). Tell which one.

In 1972 an organization used a computer model to predict that the world would run out of several important natural resources in the 1980s. The model used known reserves of the resources, the average amount used per person (worldwide), world population, and expected population growth. None of the resources ran out. Give several reasons (at least three) why this model was not a good predictor of when we would run out of resources.

Chapter 5
(See also
quiz questions and exercises, pp. 226-228.)

Describe any one of the Internet censorship laws.

Describe one method using computer technology, not laws, that parents can use to restrict access by their children to inappropriate material on the Internet.

Describe two new problems for libraries generated by access to the Internet from libraries.

Give one argument for and one argument against requiring filter programs on Internet terminals in libraries.

Describe two ways governments of other countries try to restrict access by their citizens to the Internet. Be specific.

How has the Web affected previously existing regulations about investment newsletters?

Describe a benefit of anonymity on the Web (with an example), and describe a disadvantage of anonymity (with an example).

Describe a technical methods for reducing the problems associated with spam.

Describe a policy or legal method for reducing the problems associated with spam.

Explain the distinction between freedom of speech as a negative right (liberty) and freedom of speech as a "positive" right (claim right). An example for each will help.

Chapter 6
(See also
quiz questions and exercises, pp. 272-274.)

What are two of the criteria to be used by courts in determining when copying copyrighted material is fair use?

Give two reasons why software piracy is very high in some countries outside the U.S.

Describe two techniques, other than law enforcement, to reduce copyright infringement of copyrighted works on the Internet.

Describe two methods for reducing copyright violations (of software or other intellectual property). The methods can be technical, legal, management or marketing policy, etc.

Describe two devices or technologies that made copyright infringement much easier than it was before they existed. Tell what kinds of material could be copied more easily with each of them. (Include at least one device or technology that does not involve computers.)

Explain one way that copying software for a few friends might help the income of software companies and one way that it might hurt their income.

Describe one of the main arguments that supported the court decision against Napster for copyright infringement.

Describe one of the main defense arguments in the Napster case.

Briefly tell one of the advantages and one concern about using licenses for software instead of selling copies.

Explain what digital rights management is. Give an example, and give one reason why it is controversial.

What provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act generated a lot of controversy and numerous court cases?

Describe one case in which copyright protection and freedom of speech conflict.

Explain the term "free software" (as used by Richard Stallman and the free software movement). Give one advantage of it. Give one disadvantage of it.

Explain the term "copyleft" (as used by Richard Stallman and the free software movement). Give one advantage of it. Give one disadvantage of replacing copyright with copyleft.

Chapter 7
(See also
quiz questions and exercises, pp. 321-322.)

Describe a few hacking incidents to illustrate the range of activities covered by the term "hacking."

How have hacking and the related problems and issues changed since the Web became widely used?

What are some methods or technologies use to catch hackers?

Give at least three reasons why security for many computer systems is weak.

Give an example of an activity that might be considered hacktivism and explain why there is ambiguity about classigying it as such.

Discuss a few issues involved in the punishment of young hackers.

What is shill bidding? Describe one technique used by online auction sites for reducing it.

What characteristics of the Web make stock fraud easier? What characteristics of the Web and computer technologies make it easier to catch people who commit stock fraud on the Web?

Describe a variety of techniques used to defend against credit card fraud, including at least one technical and at least one nontechnical.

Describe two kinds of computer crime committed by employees against their employers.

Briefly describe one significant kind of computer crime committed by "insiders" in a company, and one significant kind of computer crime committed by "outsiders."

Chapter 8
(See also
quiz questions and exercises, pp. 358-359.)

Give two examples of job categories for which the increased productivity of computer systems strongly reduced the number of people working in those areas.

Describe two factors besides computer technology that have a strong impact on employment levels. (Be specific or give examples.)

Give an example of an area in which computer technology reduces jobs for skilled workers. Give an example of how computer technology enables people with less skill and/or training to do jobs that used to require more.

Give two benefits of telecommuting, one for the employee and one with more general social value.

Describe one attempt to stop, reduce, or restrict telework. What were the objections to telework?

Give one advantage and one problem associated with the computer systems used by trucking companies to monitor and communicate with their truck drivers.

Give and explain two guidelines for employer monitoring of employees who work on the telephone (e.g., customer service workers).

What are some reasons why it is reasonable for employers to read employee e-mail? (Give at least three.)

Give arguments for and against employers monitoring or restricting Web use by employees.

Why is RSI a difficult problem to solve?

What were two causes of the RSI (repetitive strain injury) epidemic in Australia?

Chapter 9
(See also
quiz questions and exercises, pp. 392-394.)

Describe two of the Luddite objections to e-commerce.

What are two of the recommendations given by Sclove and Scheuer (in their article "On the Road Again? If Information Highways are Anything like Interstate Highways---Watch Out!") to help solve what they think are some of the problems caused by the Internet and new computer/telecommunications technologies?

Describe two programs, proposals, or services aimed at making computers and/or Internet services more accessible to people with low incomes.

Explain what the Luddites mean when they say technology creates artificial needs. Give an example involving computers.

What are two of the more serious, fundamental Luddite criticisms of computers?

According to the Luddites, who benefits most from computer technology? Briefly give an opposing view.

Describe two objections made in the 1970s to speech recognition research that from today's perspective are weak. Explain why.

Chapter 10
(See also
quiz questions and exercises, p. 431.)

Explain the main principle or analytical approach of utilitarianism.

Why do professionals have extra ethical responsibilities?

Explain a distinction between law and ethics; give an example.

Explain a distinction between doing wrong and doing harm; give an example.

Explain the guideline "Require a convincing case for safety;" include an example.

Give two reasons for disclosing a conflict of interest if you are in a situation where you have one.