It's worth taking a closer look at the IEEE's Code of Ethics, because of its position as the supposedly most professionally relevant guide to behavior in electronics engineering.
In researching the Code for this blog, I came across some interesting—and maybe a little disturbing—history. A good source was provided in the online notes for Prof. K.M. Passino's Ohio State University course, "Ethics in Electrical and Computer Engineering." In the course, Prof. Passino pointed out how the IEEE Code of Ethics has changed. For instance, in Article IV of the 1979 version, the IEEE Code stipulated that members shall "contribute professional advice, as appropriate, to civic, charitable, and other nonprofit organizations." The 1990 revision eliminated that stipulation. The 1979 version also directed members to "seek to extend public knowledge and appreciation to the profession and its achievements." That portion, too, was deleted in the 1990 version.
The professor then compared the new version of the IEEE Code with the codes of ethics of several other professions, and found that the other codes usually retained exhortations to serve the public. For instance, the American Bar Association's Rules of Professional Conduct call upon its members to offer a voluntary 50 hours of free pro bono publico ("for the good of the public") work every year. The American Medical Association's Principles of Medical Ethics, Section VII, says that "a physician shall recognize a responsibility to participate in activities contributing to the improvement of the community and the betterment of public health." Finally (for us, but there are many more examples), the Code of Ethics of the National Society of Professional Engineers, section III, 2, A, says, "Engineers are encouraged to participate in civic affairs; career guidance for youths; and work for the advancement of the safety, health, and well-being of their community." Many aspects of these ideas are missing from the current version of the IEEE Code.
Would it be a good idea for the IEEE to restore its more public-service oriented version of the code?