Computer Professionals Say Y2K Exposes Need for Code of Ethics

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

insisting that rights such as free speech on the Internet are the most important, to

others who believe responsibility should come first.

‘Among our own ranks is an ambivalence about the millennium,’ Woodbury wrote in CPSR’s winter newsletter devoted to Y2K issues. While one CPSR member stated that Y2K ‘is absolutely the most important CPSR issue for the coming year,’ another insisted that Y2K is no different from any other issue of computer risk, and a third worried that CPSR would ‘join the media bandwagon or be seen as one of the doomsday groups.’ Because of that diversity of opinion, CPSR’s Y2K Working Group spent considerable time in developing a policy statement.

Marsha Woodbury, chairperson, CPSR, Urbana, Ill., 217-244-8259; e-mail: Norman Kurland, consultant, Delmar, N.Y., 518-439-9065; e-mail: ‘Doc’ Don Taylor, executive director, Continuum 21 Foundation, Newport News, Va., 757-877-4992; e-fax: 603-452-8749; e-mail: ; web site: Bryce Ragland, Layton, Utah, 801-777-0162; e-mail: David Eddy, president, Y2K Service Corps Inc., Babson Park, Mass, 781-455-0949; e-mail:

Computer Professions for Social Responsibility, Palo Alto, Calif., 650-322-3778; web site: Steve Davis, Y2K risk management consultant, DavisLogic LLC, Simpsonville, Md., 301-346-8623; web site: Leon A. Kappelman, associate professor of businessputer information systems, University of North Texas, Society for Information Management International Year 2000, Denton, Texas, 940-565-2000; web site:

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