Accountability in a computerized society

Helen Nissenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This essay warns of eroding accountability in computerized societies. It argues that assumptions about computing and features of situations in which computers are produced create barriers to accountability. Drawing on philosophical analyses of moral blame and responsibility, four barriers are identified: 1) the problem of many hands, 2) the problem of bugs, 3) blaming the computer, and 4) software ownership without liability. The paper concludes with ideas on how to reverse this trend.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-42
Number of pages18
JournalScience and engineering ethics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1996


  • Accountability
  • Bugs
  • Computer ethics
  • Liability
  • Moral responsibility
  • Standard of care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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