Journal of the Association for Information Systems


Extant research has shown that neutralization processes can enable potential IS security policy violators to justify their behavior and overcome the deterrence effect of sanctions in order to engage in unethical behaviors. However, such sanctions are typically moderate and not career ending. We test the boundary conditions of this theory by evaluating whether neutralization plays a role in overcoming the impact of extreme levels of deterrence. We extend the Siponen and Vance (2010) framework within a professional context that assigns extreme sanctions to violators. Using the scenario-based factorial survey method common in IS security research, we collected data from future auditors who understand these extreme sanctions. We test the reasons that auditors may use to form intentions to falsify information concerning an information security issue with a company’s accounting information system, thereby jeopardizing data integrity and security by modifying working papers to hide irregularities and, by doing so, violating their professional standards, which could result in career-ending sanctions. We empirically validated and tested the theoretical model. Our results show that sanctions play an important role in reducing employees’ intentions to violate policy but that, even under extreme boundary conditions, employees might seek to rationalize their unethical behavior by denying responsibility for their actions through, for example, arguing that their supervisors pressured them into performing the violations. We also establish that messages heightening the awareness and perceptions of the certainty and severity of organizational punishment are likely to attenuate such deviant behaviors. We discuss the implications of these findings and suggest future avenues for research.





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