The Gray Spectrum: Ethical Decision Making with Geospatial and Open Source Analysis

Report by The Stanley Center for Peace and Security: “Geospatial and open source analysts face decisions in their work that can directly or indirectly cause harm to individuals, organizations, institutions, and society. Though analysts may try to do the right thing, such ethically-informed decisions can be complex. This is particularly true for analysts working on issues related to nuclear nonproliferation or international security, analysts whose decisions on whether to publish certain findings could have far-reaching consequences.

The Stanley Center for Peace and Security and the Open Nuclear Network (ONN) program of One Earth Future Foundation convened a workshop to explore these ethical challenges, identify resources, and consider options for enhancing the ethical practices of geospatial and open source analysis communities.

This Readout & Recommendations brings forward observations from that workshop. It describes ethical challenges that stakeholders from relevant communities face. It concludes with a list of needs participants identified, along with possible strategies for promoting sustaining behaviors that could enhance the ethical conduct of the community of nonproliferation analysts working with geospatial and open source data.

Some Key Findings

  • A code of ethics could serve important functions for the community, including giving moral guidance to practitioners, enhancing public trust in their work, and deterring unethical behavior. Participants in the workshop saw a significant value in such a code and offered ideas for developing one.
  • Awareness of ethical dilemmas and strong ethical reasoning skills are essential for sustaining ethical practices, yet professionals in this field might not have easy access to such training. Several approaches could improve ethics education for the field overall, including starting a body of literature, developing model curricula, and offering training for students and professionals.
  • Other stakeholders—governments, commercial providers, funders, organizations, management teams, etc.—should contribute to the discussion on ethics in the community and reinforce sustaining behaviors….(More)”.