A Computer and Information Technologies Platform
A COMPUTER AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES PLATFORM
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
Peace and Justice Working Group
As computer and information technologies become all pervasive,
they touch more and more on the lives of everyone. Even so, their
development and deployment remains unruly, undemocratic and
unconcerned with the basic needs of humanity. Over the past 20
years, new technologies have dramatically enhanced our ability to
collect and share information, to improve the quality of work, and
to solve pressing problems like hunger, homelessness and disease.
Yet over the same period we have witnessed a growing set of
problems which are eroding the quality of life in our country. We
have seen the virtual collapse of our public education system.
Privacy has evaporated. Workplace monitoring has increased in
parallel with the de-skilling or outright disappearance of work.
Homelessness has reached new heights. Dangerous chemicals poison
our environment. And our health is threatened by the growing
pandemic of AIDS along with the resurgence of 19th century
diseases like cholera and tuberculosis.
As a society, we possess the technical know-how to resolve
homelessness, illiteracy, the absence of privacy, the skewed
distribution of information and knowledge, the lack of health
care, environmental damage, and poverty. These problems persist
only because of the way we prioritize research and development,
implement technologies, and distribute our social wealth.
Determining social priorities for research, development,
implementation and distribution is a political problem.
Political problems require political solutions. These are, of
course, everyone's responsibility. As human beings, we have tried
to examine these problems, and consider possible solutions. As
people who design, create, study, and use computer and information
technologies, we have taken the initiative to develop a political
platform for these technologies. This platform describes a
plausible, possible program for research, development, and
implementation of computer and information technologies that will
move towards resolving our most pressing social needs. This
document also unites many groups and voices behind a common call
for change in the emphasis and application of these technologies.
This platform addresses Computer and Information Technologies,
because we work with those technologies, and we are most familiar
with the issues and concerns related to those technologies. We do
not address other key technologies like bioengineering or
materials science, although some issues, for example, intellectual
property rights or research priorities, apply equally well to
those areas. We would like to see people familiar with those
fields develop platforms as well.
Finally, we do not expect that this platform will ever be
"finished." The rate of scientific and technical development
continues to accelerate, and new issues will certainly emerge.
Likewise, our understanding of the issues outlined here will
evolve and deepen. Your comments are necessary for this document
to be a relevant and useful effort.
We encourage candidates, organizations and individuals to adopt
the provisions in this platform, and to take concrete steps
towards making them a reality.
Peace and Justice Working Group
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, Berkeley Chapter
The goals of this platform are:
* To promote the use of Computer and Information Technologies to
improve the quality of human life and maximize human potential.
* To provide broad and equal access to Computers and Information
* To raise consciousness about the effects of Computer and
Information Technologies among the community of people who create
and implement these technologies.
* To educate the general public about the effects Computers
and Information Technologies have on them.
* To focus public attention on the political agenda that
determines what gets researched, funded, developed and distributed
in Computer and Information Technologies.
* To democratize (that is, enhance the public participation in)
the process by which Computer and Information Technologies do or
do not get researched, funded, developed and distributed.
A. ACCESS TO INFORMATION and INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES
1. Universal access to education
2. Elimination of barriers to access to public information
3. An open National Data Traffic System
4. Expansion of the public library system
5. Expansion of public information treasury
6. Freedom of access to government data
7. Preservation of public information as a resource
8. Restoration of information as public property
B. CIVIL LIBERTIES and PRIVACY
1. Education on civil liberties, privacy, and the implications
of new technologies
2. Preservation of constitutional civil liberties
3. Right to privacy and the technology to ensure it
4. Community control of police and their technology
C. WORK, HEALTH and SAFETY
1. Guaranteed income for displaced workers
2. Improved quality of work through worker control of it
3. Emphasis on health and safety
4. Equal opportunity to work
5. Protection for the homeworker
6. Retraining for new technologies
D. THE ENVIRONMENT
1. Environmentally safe manufacturing
2. Planning for disposal or re-use of new products
3. Reclamation of the cultural environment as public space
E. INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
1. Replacement of "national competitiveness" with "global
2. Global distribution of technical wealth
3. An end to the waste of technical resources embodied in the
international arms trade
4. A new international information order
5. Equitable international division of labor
F. RESPONSIBLE USE OF COMPUTERS and INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES
1. New emphasis in technical research priorities
2. Conversion to a peacetime economy
3. Socially responsible engineering and science
A. ACCESS TO INFORMATION and INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES
The body of human knowledge is a social treasure collectively
assembled through history. It belongs to no one person, company,
or country. As a public treasure everyone must be guaranteed
access to its riches. We must move beyond the division between
information "consumer" and "provider" -- new information
technologies enable each of us to contribute to the social
treasury as well. An active democracy requires a well-informed
citizenry with equal access to any tools that facilitate
democratic decision-making. This platform calls for:
1. UNIVERSAL ACCESS TO EDUCATION: "23 Million adult Americans
cannot read above fifth-grade level." We reaffirm that quality
education is a basic human right. We call for full funding for
education through the university level to insure that everyone
obtains the education they need to participate in and contribute
to the "Information Age." Education must remain a public resource.
Training and retraining to keep skills current with technology,
and ease transition from old technologies to new technologies must
be readily available. All people must have sufficient access to
technology to ensure that there is no "information elite" in this
society. Computers should be seen as tools to accomplish tasks,
not ends in themselves. The public education system must provide
students with access to computers, as well as the critical and
analytical tools necessary to understand, evaluate and use new
technologies. Staffed and funded computer learning centers should
be set up in low-income urban and rural areas to provide such
access and education to adults as well as children. Teachers
require an understanding of the technology to use it effectively,
and to communicate its benefits and limitations to students. These
skills must be an integral part of the teacher training
curriculum, and must also be available for teachers to continue to
upgrade their skills as new tools become available. Finally, to
learn, children need a nurturing environment, including a home, an
adequate diet, and quality health care. Pitting "welfare" versus
"education" is a vicious prescription for social failure. We call
for adequate social services to ensure that our children have the
environment in which they can benefit from their education.
2. ELIMINATION OF BARRIERS TO ACCESS TO INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY:
Democracy requires an informed public, with generous access to
information. However, access to information increasingly requires
tools such as a computer and a modem, while only 13% of Americans
own a personal computer, and of them, only 10% own a modem. In
addition, requiring fees to access databases locks out those
without money. We must assure access to needed technology via
methods such as a subsidized equipment program that can make basic
computer and information technologies available to all. We call
for the nationalization of research and public information
databases, with access fees kept to a minimum to ensure access to
the data. In many cases, the technology itself is a barrier to use
of new technologies. We strongly encourage the research and
development of non-proprietary interfaces and standards that
simplify the use of new technology.
3. AN OPEN NATIONAL DATA TRAFFIC SYSTEM: An Information Society
generates and uses massive amounts of information. It requires an
infrastructure capable of handling that information. It also
determines how we communicate with each other, how we disseminate
our ideas, and how we learn from each other. The character of this
system will have profound effects on everyone. The openness and
accessibility of this network will determine the breadth and depth
of the community we can create.
We call for a "National Data Traffic System" that can accommodate
all traffic, not just corporate and large academic institution
traffic, so that everyone has access to public information, and
has the ability to add to the public information. This traffic
system must be accessible to all. The traffic system will include
a "highway" component, major information arteries connecting the
country. We propose that the highway adopt a model similar to the
federal highway system -- that is, a system built by and
maintained publicly, as opposed to the "railroad" model, where the
government subsidizes private corporations to build, maintain and
control the system. The "highway model" will guarantee that the
system serves the public interest. At the local level, the
existing telephone and cable television systems can provide the
"feeder roads", the "streets" and the "alleys" and the "dirt
roads" of the data network through the adoption of an Integrated
Services Digital Network (ISDN) system, along the lines proposed
by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The features proposed by
EFF include affordable, ubiquitous ISDN; breaking the private
monopoly control of the existing communication networks; short of
public takeover of the networks, affirmation of "common carrier"
principles; ease of use; a guarantee of personal privacy; and a
guarantee of equitable access to communications media.
4. EXPANSION OF THE PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEM: The public library
system represents a public commitment to equal access to
information, supported by community resources. Yet libraries, in
the era of Computer and Information Technologies, are having their
funding cut. We call for adequate funding of public libraries and
an extension of the library system into neighborhoods. Librarians
are the trained facilitators of information access. As such,
librarians have a unique, strategic role to play in the
"information society." We call for an expansion of library
training programs, for an increase in the number of librarians,
and for additional training for librarians so that they can
maximize the use of new information-retrieval technology by the
general public. Every public library must have, and provide to
their clientele, access to the national data highway.
5. EXPANSION OF THE PUBLIC INFORMATION TREASURY: A market economy
encourages the production of those commodities that the largest
market wants. As information becomes a commodity, information that
serves a small or specialized audience is in danger of not being
collected, and not being available. For example, the president of
commercial database vendor Dialog was quoted in 1986 as saying "We
can't afford an investment in databases that are not going to earn
their keep and pay back their development costs." When asked what
areas were not paying their development costs, he answered,
"Humanities." Information collection should pro-actively meet
broad social goals of equality and democracy. We must ensure that
the widest possible kinds of social information are collected (not
just those that have a ready and substantial market), while
ensuring that the privacy of the individual is protected.
6. FREEDOM OF ACCESS TO GOVERNMENT DATA: Public records and
economic data are public resources. We must ensure that the
principles of "Freedom of Information" laws remain in place.
Government agencies must comply with these laws, and should be
punished for non-compliance. Government records that are kept in a
digital format must be available electronically to the general
public, provided that adequate guarantees are in place to protect
7. PROTECTION OF PUBLIC INFORMATION RESOURCES: Recently, we have
seen a dangerous trend in which the Federal government sells off
or licenses away rights to information collected at public
expense, which is then sold back to the public at a profit. Access
to public data now often requires paying an information-broker
look-up fees. Public resources must be public. We call for a
halt to the privatization of public data.
8. RESTORATION OF INFORMATION AS PUBLIC PROPERTY: "Since new
information technology includes easy ways of reproducing
information, the existence of these [intellectual property] laws
effectively curtails the widest possible spread of this new form
of wealth. Unlike material objects, information can be shared
widely without running out." The constitutional rationale for
intellectual property rights is to promote progress and
creativity. The current mechanisms -- the patent system and the
copyright system -- are not required to ensure progress. Other
models exist for organizing and rewarding intellectual work, that
do not require proprietary title to the results. For example,
substantial and important research has been carried out by
government institutions and state-supported university research. A
rich library of public domain and "freeware" software exists. Peer
or public recognition, awards, altruism, the urge to create or
self-satisfaction in technical achievement are equally motivators
for creative activity.
Authors and inventors must be supported and rewarded for their
work, but the copyright and patent system per se does not ensure
that. Most patents, for example, are granted to corporations or to
employees who have had to sign agreements to turn the ownership
over to the employer through work-for-hire or other employment
contracts as a condition of employment. The company, not the
creating team, owns the patent. In addition, in many ways, patents
and copyrights inhibit the development and implementation of new
technology. For example, proprietary research is not shared, but
is kept secret and needlessly duplicated by competing companies or
countries. Companies sue each other over ownership of interfaces,
with the consumer ultimately footing the bill. Software developers
must "code around" proprietary algorithms, so as not to violate
known patents; and they still run the risk of violating patents
they don't know about. We call for a moratorium on software
patents. We call for the abolition of property rights in
knowledge, including algorithms and designs. We call for social
funding of research and development, and the implementation of new
systems, such as public competitions, to spur development of
socially needed technology.
B. CIVIL LIBERTIES and PRIVACY
Advances in Computer and Information Technologies have facilitated
communications and the accumulation, storage and processing of
data. These same advances may be used to enlighten, empower and
equalize but also to monitor, invade and control. Alarmingly, we
witness more instances of the latter rather than of the former.
This platform calls for:
1. EDUCATION ON CIVIL LIBERTIES, PRIVACY, AND THE IMPLICATIONS OF
NEW TECHNOLOGIES: New technologies raise new opportunities and new
challenges to existing civil liberties. In the absence of
understanding and information about these technologies, dangerous
policies can take root. For example, police agencies and the news
media have portrayed certain computer users (often called
"hackers") as "pirates" out to damage and infect all networks.
While some computer crime of this sort does take place, such a
demonization of computer users overlooks actual practice and
statistics. This perception has led to an atmosphere of hysteria,
opening the door to fundamental challenges to civil liberties.
Homes have been raided, property has been confiscated, businesses
have been shut down, all without due process. Technology skills
have taken on the quality of "forbidden knowledge", where the
possession of certain kinds of information is considered a crime.
In the case of "hackers", this is largely due to a lack of
understanding of the actual threat that "hackers" pose. We must
ensure that legislators, law-enforcement agencies, the news media,
and the general public understand Computer and Information
Technologies instead of striking out blindly at any perceived
threat. We must also ensure that policy caters to the general
public and not just corporate and government security concerns.
2. PRESERVATION OF CONSTITUTIONAL CIVIL LIBERTIES: The U.S.
Constitution provides an admirable model for guaranteeing rights
and protections essential for a democratic society in the 18th
century. Although the new worlds opened up by Computer and
Information Technologies may require new interpretations and
legislations, the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights must
continue no matter what the technological method or medium. Steps
must be taken to ensure that the guarantees of the Constitution
and its amendments are extended to encompass the new technologies.
For example, electronic transmission or computer communications
must be considered as a form of speech; and information
distributed on networked computers or other electronic forms must
be considered a form of publishing (thereby covered by freedom of
the press). The owner or operator of a computer or electronic or
telecommunications facility should be held harmless for the
content of information distributed by users of that facility,
except as the owner or operator may, by contract, control
information content. Those who author statements and those who
have contractual authority to control content shall be the parties
singularly responsible for such content. Freedom of assembly
should be automatically extended to computer-based electronic
conferencing. Search and seizure protections should be fully
applicable to electronic mail, computerized information and
personal computer systems.
3. RIGHT TO PRIVACY AND THE TECHNOLOGY TO ENSURE IT: Because
Computer and Information Technologies make data collection,
processing and manipulation easier, guaranteeing citizen privacy
rights becomes problematic. Computer and Information Technology
make the job of those who use data en-masse -- marketing firms,
police, private data collection firms -- easier. We need to
develop policies that control what, where, whom and for what
reasons data is collected on an individual. Institutions that
collect data on individuals must be responsible for the accuracy
of the data they keep and must state how the information they
obtain will be used and to whom it will be made available.
Furthermore, we must establish penalties for non-compliance with
these provisions. Systems should be in place to make it easy for
individuals to know who has information about them, and what that
We must ensure that there is no implementation of any
technological means of tracking individuals in this country
through their everyday interactions. Technology exists that can
ensure that electronic transactions are not used to track
individuals. Encrypted digital keys, for example, provide the
technical means to achieve anonymity in electronic transactions
while avoiding a universal identifier. Where government financial
assistance is now provided electronically, we must ensure that
these mechanisms help empower the recipient, and do not become
sophisticated means of tracking and policing behavior (e.g., by
tracking what is bought, when it is bought, where it is bought,
The technology to effectively ensure private communications is
currently available. The adoption of a state-of-the-art standard
has been held up while the government pushes for mandatory "back-
doors" so that it can monitor communication. (Computer technology
is treated differently here; for example, we do not legislate how
complex a lock can be.) We must ensure that personal communication
remains private by adopting an effective, readily available, de-
militarized encryption standard.
4. COMMUNITY CONTROL OF POLICE AND THEIR TECHNOLOGY: New
technologies have expanded the ability of police departments to
maintain control over communities. The Los Angeles Police
Department is perhaps an extreme example: they have compiled
massive databases on African-American and Latino youth through
"anti-gang" mass detainments. These databases are augmented by FBI
video and photo analysis techniques. "But the real threat of these
massive new databases and information technologies is... their
application on a macro scale in the management of a criminalized
population." With new satellite navigational technology, "we
shall soon see police departments with the technology to put the
equivalent of an electronic bracelet on entire social groups."
We call for rigorous community control of police departments to
protect the civil liberties of all residents.
C. WORK, HEALTH and SAFETY
Computer and Information Technologies are having a dramatic effect
on work. New technologies are forcing a reorganization of work.
The changes affect millions of workers, and are of the same level
and magnitude as the Industrial Revolution 150 years ago. The
effects have been disastrous -- the loss of millions of
manufacturing jobs, a fall in wages over the past 15 years, the
lengthening of the work week for those who do have jobs, a rise in
poverty and homelessness. Employed Americans now work more hours
each week that at any time since 1966, while at this writing 9.5
million workers in the "official" workforce are unemployed, and
millions more have given up hope of ever finding work. Too
often, products and profitability are given priority over the
needs and health of the workers who produce both. For example,
research is done on such matters as how humans contaminate the
clean room process, not on how the chemicals used in chip
manufacturing poison the handlers. Or new technologies are
implemented before adequate research is carried out on how they
will affect the worker. This misplaced emphasis is wrong. This
platform calls for:
1. GUARANTEED INCOME FOR DISPLACED WORKERS: New technologies mean
an end to scarcity. Producing goods to meet our needs is a
conscious human activity. Such production has been and is
currently organized with specific goals in mind, namely the
generation of the greatest possible profit for those who own the
means of production. We can re-organize production.
With production for private profit, corporations have implemented
robotics and computer systems to cut labor costs, primarily
through the elimination of jobs. Over the last ten years alone,
one million manufacturing jobs have disappeared in the U.S.
Workers at the jobs that remain are pressured to take wage and
benefits cuts, to "compete" in the global labor market made
possible by digital telecommunications and modern manufacturing
techniques. Most new jobs have been created in the low-pay service
sector. As a result, earnings for most workers have been
falling. The corporate transfer of jobs to low-wage areas,
including overseas, affects not only low-skill assembly line work
or data entry, but also computer programming and data analysis.
Wages and benefits must be preserved in the face of automation or
capital flight. Remaining work can be spread about by shortening
the work week while maintaining the weekly wage rate. At the same
time, steps must be taken to acknowledge that the nature of work
is changing. In the face of the new technologies' ever-increasing
productivity utilizing fewer and fewer workers, the distribution
of necessities can no longer be tied to work. We must provide for
workers who have lost their jobs due to automation or job flight,
even if no work is available, by guaranteeing a livable income and
retraining opportunities (see #6 below).
2. IMPROVED QUALITY OF WORK THROUGH WORKER CONTROL OF IT: Millions
work boring, undignified jobs as a direct result of computer and
information technology. Work is often degraded due to de-skilling,
made possible by robotics and crude artificial intelligence
technology; or by job-monitoring, made simple by digital
technology. (Two-thirds of all workers are monitored as they
work.) Workers face greater difficulties in organizing to
protect their rights. Technologies are often foisted on the
workers, ignoring the obvious contributions the workers can make
to the design process. The resulting designs further deprive the
worker of control over the work process. In principle, tools
should serve the workers, rather than the workers serving the
But new technologies could relieve humans of boring or dangerous
work. Technology enables us to expand the scope of human activity.
We could create the possibility of "work" becoming leisure. We
call for the removal of all barriers to labor organizing as the
first step toward giving workers the power to improve the quality
of their work. Workers must be protected from intrusive monitoring
and the stress that accompanies it. We must ensure worker
involvement in the design process. We must also improve the design
of user interfaces so that users can make full use of the power of
Furthermore, it is not enough just to "participate" in the design
process -- worker involvement must correspond with increased
control over the work process, goals, etc. In other words, we must
ensure that there is "no participation without power." Computer
and Information Technologies facilitate peer-to-peer work
relationships and the organization of work in new and challenging
ways. Too often, though, in practice we see a tightening of
control, with management taking more and more direct control over
details on the shop floor. We must ensure that new technologies
improve rather than degrade the nature of work.
3. EMPHASIS ON HEALTH AND SAFETY: Technologies are often developed
with little or no concern for their effect on the workers who
manufacture or use them.
Electronics manufacturing uses many toxic chemicals. These
chemicals are known to cause health problems such as cancer, birth
defects and immune system disorders. Workers are entitled to a
safe working environment, and must have the right to refuse unsafe
work without fear of penalty. Workers have the right to know what
chemicals and processes they work with and what their effects are.
We call for increased research into developing safe manufacturing
processes. We call for increased research into the effects of
existing manufacturing processes on workers, and increased funding
for occupational safety and health regulation enforcement.
The rate of repetitive motion disorders has risen with the
introduction of computers in the workplace -- they now account for
half of all occupational injuries, up from 18% in 1981.
Musculo-skeletal disorders, eyestrain and stress are commonly
associated with computer use. There is still no conclusive study
on the harmful effects of VDT extremely low frequency (ELF) and
very low frequency (VLF) electromagnetic field emissions.
Together these occupational health tragedies point to a failure by
manufacturers, employers and government to adequately research or
implement policies that protect workers. We call for funding of
major studies on the effects of computers in the workplace. We
call for the immediate adoption of ergonomic standards that
protect the worker. We must ensure that pro-active standards exist
before new technologies are put in place. Manufacturers and
employers should pay now for research and worker environment
improvement rather than later, after the damage has been done, in
lawsuits and disability claims. We must ensure that worker safety
always comes first, not short-sighted, short-term profits that
blindly overlook future suffering, disabilities and millions in
4. EQUAL OPPORTUNITY TO WORK: Computer and Information Technology
institutions are overwhelmingly dominated by white males. Programs
must be adopted to increase the direct participation of under-
represented groups in the Computer and Information Technology
5. PROTECTION FOR THE HOMEWORKER: Computer and Information
Technologies have enabled new patterns of working. "Telecommuting"
may be preferred by many workers, it may expand opportunities for
workers who are homebound, and it would reduce the wastefulness of
commuting. At the same time, homework has traditionally increased
the exploitation of workers, deprived them of organizing
opportunities, and hidden them from the protection of health and
safety regulations. We must guarantee that crimes of the past do
not reappear in an electronic disguise. Computer and Information
Technologies make possible new forms of organization for work
beyond homework, such as neighborhood work centers: common spaces
where people who work for different enterprises can work from the
same facility. Such alternative structures should be supported.
6. RETRAINING FOR NEW TECHNOLOGIES: As new technologies develop,
new skills are required to utilize them. Workers are often
expected to pay for their own training and years of schooling at
no cost to the employer. Training workers in new skills must be a
priority, the cost of which must be shared by employers and the
government, and not the sole responsibility of the worker.
D. THE ENVIRONMENT
We share one planet. While our understanding of the environment
increases, and the impact of previous technologies and neglect
become more and more apparent, too little attention is paid to the
effects of new technologies, including Computer and Information
Technologies, on the environment, both physical and cultural. The
creation of a global sustainable economy must be a priority. This
platform calls for:
1. ENVIRONMENTALLY SAFE MANUFACTURING: The manufacture of
electronics technology is among the most unhealthy and profoundly
toxic human enterprises ever undertaken. The computer and
information technology industries must be cleaned up.
Manufacturers cannot continue their destruction of our environment
for their profit. They must be made to pay the actual cost of
production, factoring in environmental cleanup costs for
manufacturing methods and products that are environmentally
unsafe. Priority must be placed on developing and implementing new
manufacturing techniques that are environmentally safe, such as
the "no-clean" systems which eliminate ozone-shredding
chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from the production of electronic
circuit boards. We must ensure that these standards are
adopted globally, to prohibit unsafe technologies from migrating
to other countries with lax or non-existent environmental
protection laws. No manufacturing technique should be implemented
unless it can be proven to be environmentally safe. We must ensure
industry's responsiveness to the communities (and countries) in
which they are located. Neighborhoods and countries must
participate in the planning process, and must be informed of the
environmental consequences of the industries that surround them.
They must have the right to shut down an enterprise or require the
enterprise to cleanup or change their manufacturing processes.
2. PLANNING FOR DISPOSAL OR RE-USE OF NEW PRODUCTS: As new
technologies become commodities with a finite life-cycle, new
questions loom as to what happens to them when they are discarded.
Little is known about what happens to these products when they hit
the landfill. We must ensure that manufacturers and designers
include recycling and/or disposal in the design and distribution
of their products. Manufacturers must be responsible for the
disposal of commodities once their usefulness is exhausted.
Manufacturers must make every effort to ensure longevity and re-
use of equipment. For example, product specifications might be
made public after a specified period of time so that future users
could continue to find support for their systems. Or manufacturers
might be responsible for ensuring that spare parts continue to be
available after a product is no longer manufactured. Manufacturers
could sponsor reclamation projects to strip discarded systems and
utilize the components for training projects or new products, or
they could facilitate getting old equipment to people who can use
3. RECLAMATION OF THE CULTURAL ENVIRONMENT AS PUBLIC SPACE: We
live not only in a natural environment, but also in a cultural
environment. "The cultural environment is the system of stories
and images that cultivates much of who we are, what we think, what
we do, and how we conduct our affairs. Until recently, it was
primarily hand-crafted, home-made, community-inspired. It is that
no longer." Computers and information technologies have
facilitated a transformation so that our culture is taken and then
sold back to us via a media that is dominated by a handful of
corporations. At the same time, new technologies promise new
opportunities for creativity, and new opportunities for reaching
specific audiences. But both older (e.g., book and newspaper
publishing) and newer (e.g., cable television and computer games)
media throughout the world are controlled by the same multi-
national corporations. We advocate computer and information
technology that fights the commodification of culture and nurtures
and protects diversity. This is only possible with a rigorous
public support for production and distribution of culture. We must
use new technologies to ensure the diverse points of view that are
necessary for a healthy society. We must ensure a media that is
responsive to the needs of the entire population. We must ensure
true debate on issues of importance to our communities. We must
ensure that our multi-faceted creativity has access to an
audience. And we must also recognize that in many cultural
instances computer and information technology tools are intrusive
E. INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
Historically, information flow around the world has tended to be
one-way, and technology transfer from developed countries to
underdeveloped countries has been restricted. These policies have
reinforced the dependency of underdeveloped countries on the U.S.,
Japan and Western Europe. As international competition for markets
and resources intensifies, "national competitiveness" has become a
negative driving consideration in technology policy. This platform
1. REPLACEMENT OF "NATIONAL COMPETITIVENESS" WITH "GLOBAL
COOPERATION": The most popular rationale for investing in high
technology in the United States is "national competitiveness."
This is an inappropriate rhetoric around which to organize
technology policy. It ignores the fact that the largest economic
enterprises in the world today are international, not national.
"National competitiveness" is also inappropriate in a world of
increasing and accelerating global interdependence and a detailed
division of labor that now routinely takes in the entire planet's
workforce. Finally, "national competitiveness" is inappropriate in
a world in which two-thirds of the world's population lives in
abject poverty and environmental collapse -- the rhetoric of
"national competitiveness" should be replaced by a rhetoric of
"global cooperative development."
2. GLOBAL DISTRIBUTION OF TECHNICAL WEALTH: The global division of
labor is fostering a "brain drain" of scientists and engineers,
transferring badly-needed expertise from the developing world to
the industrialized world. Fully 40% of the engineering graduate
students in American universities are from foreign countries,
typically from countries with little or no advanced technological
infrastructure. A large majority of these graduate students stay
in the U.S. when they complete their studies. American immigration
laws also favor immigrants with advanced scientific or technical
education. This intensifies the disparity between the advanced
countries and those with widespread poverty. This concentration of
technical expertise reinforces a global hierarchy and dependence.
Expertise on questions of international import, such as global
warming, toxic dumping, acid rain, and protection of genetic
diversity becomes the exclusive domain of the developed countries.
With so much of the world's scientific and technical expertise
located in the monoculture of the industrialized world, the
developing world has the disadvantage not only of meager financial
resources and dependence on foreign capital, but the added
disadvantage of living under the technical domination of the rich
countries. This platform calls for a conscious policy of
distributing scientific and technical talent around the world. For
example, incentives can be given to encourage emigration to
countries in need of technological talent.
3. AN END TO THE WASTE OF TECHNICAL RESOURCES EMBODIED IN THE
INTERNATIONAL ARMS TRADE: The world currently spends about $1
trillion annually on weapons. This is a massive transfer of wealth
to arms-producing countries, and especially the United States, the
world's largest arms exporting nation. Weapons of interest to
all countries are increasingly high tech, so a continuing
disproportion of international investments in high technology will
be in weapons systems. Weapons sales not only increase
international tensions and the likelihood of war, but they also
reinforce authoritarian regimes, deter democratic reform, support
the abuse of human rights, divert critical resources from urgent
problems of human and environmental need, and continue the
accelerating disparity between rich and poor nations. We call for
a complete and permanent dismantling of the global arms market.
4. A NEW INTERNATIONAL INFORMATION ORDER: The growing disparity
between "information rich" and "information poor" is by no means
limited to the U.S. Disparities within industrialized countries
are dwarfed by international disparities between the
industrialized countries and the developing world. A global
telecommunications regime has developed that favors the rich over
the poor, and the gap is growing steadily. As a simple example,
rich countries are able to deploy and use space-based technologies
such as earth-surveillance satellites and microwave
telecommunications links to gather intelligence and distribute
information all over the globe. The concentration of information
power in single countries is even more advanced when viewed
internationally. We call for the placement of international
information collection and distribution under international
5. EQUITABLE INTERNATIONAL DIVISION OF LABOR: Improved
communication and coordination made possible by Computer and
Information Technologies has accelerated the development of a new
global division of labor where dirty manufacturing industries are
moved to developing countries, and "clean" knowledge industries
are promoted in the developed countries. This pattern of
development ensures that underdeveloped countries remain
underdeveloped and turns them into environmental wastelands. We
must ensure a truly new world order that equitably distributes
work, and ends the destruction and enforced underdevelopment of
vast sections of the world's population.
F. RESPONSIBLE USE OF COMPUTERS and INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES
Computer and Information Technologies were born of the military
and to this day are profoundly influenced by the military. People
often talk of the "trickle down" or "spin-off" effect, in which
money spent on military applications yields technology for
general, non-military applications. This makes little sense when
the military pursues absurd or irrelevant technology such as
computer chips that will survive a nuclear war. There are very
few, if any, cases of military technology producing tangible
commercial breakthroughs. At the same time, various studies have
shown that money invested in non-military programs creates more
jobs than money invested in military hardware. Also, new
technologies are developed with little or no public discussion as
to their social consequences. Technologies are developed, and then
their developers go in search of problems for their technology to
solve. Pressing social needs are neglected, while elite debates
about technology focus on military applications or consumer
devices like high definition television (HDTV). Or pressing social
problems are approached as "technical" problems, fixable by new or
better technology. This platform calls for:
1. NEW EMPHASIS IN TECHNICAL RESEARCH PRIORITIES: Current research
planning is either in private hands, or closely controlled by
government agencies. As a result, research priorities are often
shielded from public discussion or even knowledge. New
technologies are often developed as "tools looking for uses, means
looking for ends" or to serve destructive rather than
constructive goals. HDTV and the Strategic Defense Initiative
(SDI) are examples. Substantial university research on new
technologies is still financed and controlled by the Department of
Defense. While military-based research has occasionally led to
inventions which were of general use, this effect has been mostly
coincidental, and the gap between the interests of military
research and the needs of society has widened to the point that
even such coincidental "public good" from military controlled
technology research now seems unlikely. These misguided research
priorities not only waste financial resources, but drain away the
intellectual resources of the scientific community from pressing
social problems where new technological research might be
particularly useful such as in the area of the environment. We
must ensure that Computer and Information Technology research is
problem-driven and is under the control of the people it will
affect. We must ensure that new technologies will not be harmful
to humans or the environment. We must ensure that human and social
needs are given priority, as opposed to support for military or
police programs. We must ensure that technical research is
directed toward problems which have a realistic chance of being
solved technically rather than blindly seeking technical solutions
for problems which ought to be addressed by other means.
2. CONVERSION TO A PEACETIME ECONOMY: There is no justification
for the power the Pentagon holds over this country, particularly
in light of recent international developments. We must dismantle
our dependency on military programs. We must realign our budget
priorities to focus on social problems rather than on exaggerated
military threats. The released research and development monies
should be redirected toward solving pressing social and
environmental problems. We must move towards the goal of the
elimination of the international market in weapons. Job re-
training in socially useful skills must become a priority.
3. SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE ENGINEERING AND SCIENCE: "Proposed
technological projects should be closely examined to reveal the
covert political conditions and artifact/ideas their making would
entail. It is especially important for engineers and technical
professionals whose wonderful creativity is often accompanied by
appalling narrowmindedness. The education of engineers ought to
prepare them to evaluate the kinds of political contexts,
political ideas, political arguments and political consequences
involved in their work." To this list we can add developing an
appreciation for the interconnectedness of the environments -- the
natural, social and cultural -- we work in. We call for an
increased emphasis on training in social education in the
engineering and science departments of our schools and
universities, public and private research laboratories and
manufacturing and development facilities in order to meet these
goals. Engineers must be exposed to the social impact of their
work. This could be done through work-study projects or special
fellowships. We need to also expand the body of people who "can do
technology", that is, not only "humanize the hacker", but
"hackerize the humanist" or "engineerize the worker."
1. Patricia Glass-Schuman, "Reclaiming Our Technological Future."
Whole Earth Review. Winter, 1991. p. 76.
2. Ibid, p. 76.
3. See the Kapor, Berman, and Weitzner article in the Further
Reading section, also available electronically from firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Roger Summit, Information Today, May, 1986, as cited in
Schiller, Culture, Inc., p. 81.15. Hayes, p. 65.
5. New York Times, December 26. 1991.
6. Michael Goldhaber, Reinventing Technology: Policies for
Democratic Values. Routledge, 1986.
7. Mike Davis, CovertAction Information Bulletin. Summer, 1992. p.
8. Ibid, p. 19.9. San Francisco Examiner, June 28, 1992.
10. Dennis Hayes, Behind the Silicon Curtain. South End Press.
1989. p. 79.
11. U.S. Bureau of Census, Statistical Abstract of the United
States 1991. p. 413.
12. VDT Coalition, Berkeley, CA.
13. New York Times, December 16, 1989.
14. Macworld, May, 1990.
15. Hayes, p. 65.
16. New York Times, December 18, 1991.16. New York Times, December
17. George Gerbner, "The Second American Revolution." Adbusters.
Vol. 2, Number 1.
18. E.g., a CD-ROM rendition of a Shoshone ritual can never
substitute for the ritual itself.
19. With the end of the Cold War, there will be increasing
interest in the sale of weapons to developing nations because of
the decline of the U.S. defense budget.
20. Langdon Winner, Whole Earth Review. Winter, 1991. p. 24.
Alice Carnes and John Zerzan, Eds. Questioning Technology. Left
Michael Goldhaber, Reinventing Technology: Policies for Democratic
Values. Routledge, 1986.
Dennis Hayes, Behind the Silicon Curtain. South End Press, 1989.
Mitch Kapor, Jerry Berman, and Daniel Weitzner, "We Need a
National Public Network." Whole Earth Review. Spring, 1992.
Roger Karraker, "Highways of the Mind." Whole Earth Review.
League for Programming Freedom, "Against Software Patents." LPF,
League for Programming Freedom, "Against User Interface
Copyright." LPF, 1991.
Vincent Mosco and Janet Wasko, Eds. "The Political Economy of
Information." University of Wisconsin Press, 1988.
Herbert Schiller, Information and the Crisis Economy. Oxford
University Press, 1986.
Herbert Schiller, Culture, Inc.: The Corporate Takeover of Public
Expression. Oxford University Press, 1989.
Whole Earth Review, "Questioning Technology" special issue,
This version of the platform was compiled by:
The Peace and Justice Working Group
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility/Berkeley Chapter
P.O. Box 40361
Berkeley, CA 94704
Write to the above to for more information on the platform, or to
obtain printed copies ($4 each, postage paid).
We have relied on the work of many other people for ideas and
assistance, including Gary Chapman of the 21st Century Project,
Jim Warren's work on computers and civil liberties, the authors of
the works cited in the Further Reading section, and the very
helpful and willing participants of the various workshops that we
held in Berkeley over the past year.
Copyright (c) 1992 by Computer Professionals for Social
Responsibility/Berkeley Chapter. You may use, share or reproduce
all or any part of this, but may not restrict others from doing
<end of A COMPUTER AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES PLATFORM>