Computer Professionals Say Y2K Exposes Need for Code of Ethics

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Adoption of professional standards, or a code of ethics, for computer programmers could be one consequence of the Y2K computer problem, says the leader of a group called Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR) Inc.

'We have always dodged that bullet, but I think Y2K is bringing it to a head,' said Marsha Woodbury, chair of the not-for-profit alliance of computer scientists and people interested in the impact of computer technology on society.

'The public is going to ask, 'Who are you people?' and we'll have to do something,' said Woodbury. 'I want CPSR to have a voice in how that develops, and to help define the standards. After all, I want the good guys, and not just the bad guys, to be in the debate.'

With computer programming as a profession still in its infancy, there are no formal guidelines for what responsibilities are expected of programmers. Unlike many trade and professional organizations, CPSR does not require its members to sign a code of ethics.

'Now, anyone who says he or she is a computer programmer is recognized as one. We need to develop a statement of responsibility, such as 'I won't use my skills to do any harm,'' Woodbury said.

Norman Kurland, a consultant from Delmar, N.Y., and member of CPSR's Y2K Working Group, agreed. 'Programmers have never had to take responsibility, and we are now witnessing the consequences,' Kurland said. 'There need to be efforts to develop standards and see that they are adhered to.'

This may not be the universal view within CPSR, however. An organization of 1,600 people worldwide, CPSR covers a spectrum of perspectives, from those