Moylan was ethically wrong: CSU expert

1 JANUARY 2003

Identity theft and information corruption do not justify civil disobedience for a 'higher cause', says a leading ethicist from CSU, Dr Edward Spence.

CSU's Dr Edward Spence
Identity theft and information corruption do not justify civil disobedience for a ‘higher cause’, says a leading ethicist from Charles Sturt University (CSU), Dr Edward Spence.
“Whether or not he broke any law, Jonathon Moylan certainly did something that is ethically wrong,” said Dr Spence, who was commenting on an article by former Greens leader, Dr Bob Brown, in the Sydney Morning Herald on 11 January.
Anti-coal activist, Mr Jonathan Moylan, issued a media release with an ANZ Bank letterhead reporting that ANZ had withdrawn a $1.2 billion loan to Whitehaven Coal, which is developing a project in Maules Creek near Gunnedah in northern NSW.
The hoax wiped $314 million from the value of Whitehaven Coal before the company and ANZ confirmed the hoax, although the share prices quickly recovered after the ruse was revealed.
“Dr Brown seems to endorse Jonathan Moylan's ‘activism’ as a form of civil disobedience, echoing the sentiments expressed earlier last week by current Greens leader, Senator Christine Milne, who also endorsed Moylan’s actions as being ‘part of a long and proud history of civil disobedience, potentially breaking the law, to highlight something wrong’,” Dr Spence said.
“Senator Milne is right: Moylan has highlighted ‘something wrong’. However, Moylan engaged in identity theft by creating a false identity for ANZ Bank and then falsely impersonating an ANZ employee. Stealing someone else’s identity for whatever misguided reason for whatever ends is ethically wrong. I presume that neither Senator Milne nor Dr Brown would appreciate having their own virtual identities stolen and misused to embarrass them or damage their personal or political reputations, for that would also be ethically wrong.
“And Moylan also engaged in information corruption. He purposely used false information or disinformation to corrupt the integrity of the digital informational environment.
“We rely on the reliability and trustworthiness of this environment to conduct our legitimate informational transactions for travel, education, sport, play, politics, health, finance, socialising, shopping and the whole web of activities as citizens of a modern, democratic, capitalist state.” 
Dr Spence said that Mr Moylan, a self-confessed environmentalist, chose to corrupt that environment is ironic and paradoxical.
“The informational environment, our shared ‘infosphere’, is just as valuable and indispensable as our natural environment. It is equally worthy of protection from misinformation pollution and vandalism by so called ‘activists’ willing to undermine its integrity to advance their own ideologies, whether the rest of society agree with them or not,” Dr Spence said.
“I am personally sympathetic to Moylan’s concerns about the impact of greenhouse gases on the natural environment. However, the use of unethical and nefarious means destructive to the integrity of our informational environment to promote concerns about the natural environment is not justified.
“We should welcome and engage in open, transparent and rational debate and action on how to tackle this complex issue, rather than engage in informational disinformation and vandalism that does no one any good.
“Moylan’s action is ultimately self-defeating and as such not only ill-conceived and irrational but also, because of its destructiveness to our informational environment, unethical and grossly irresponsible, and deserves public condemnation and sanction.”

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