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CPSR Timeline

Working Groups
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

A Year-by-Year Review

A timeline of CPSR's history

1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984 |1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989
1990 | 1991 | 1992 | 1993 |1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 |


  • A group of computer researchers at Xerox PARC meet to discuss forming an organization that will "help them integrate their work life with their social concerns."
  • Severo Ornstein establishes an electronic discussion group on the Xerox internal electronic mail network concerned with the threat of nuclear war.


  • Several participants in the e-mail distribution list initiate a weekly discussion group to consider the merits of creating a national organization to discuss these issues.
  • Responding to a request from the discussion group, Xerox agrees to sponsor a television program on the threat posed by nuclear weapons.
  • The discussion group holds a public meeting at Stanford to define issues and goals for a new organization called Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.


  • CPSR files formal incorporation papers and becomes a nonprofit organization.
  • Two weeks after CPSR's incorporation, President Reagan announces the Strategic Defense Initiative, which becomes CPSR's principal focus for several years.
  • The first issue of the CPSR Newsletter appears.
  • CPSR opens a small office on Emerson Street in Palo Alto.
  • CPSR opens its first five chapters in Palo Alto, Boston, Madison, Seattle, and Los Angeles. Today, there are 22 chapters throughout the United States.


  • CPSR supports Dr. Clifford Johnson in a lawsuit against Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in which he argues that a defense policy of launch-on-warning is unconstitutional.
  • CPSR hires its first staff member to manage the office.
  • CPSR/Boston organizes a demonstration outside a local seminar on "Battlefield/AI Robotics." The demonstration attracts national media attention because of the inclusion among the marchers of a rented R2-D2 robot with a sign reading "Don't worry -- nothing can possibly go worng" (typo intentional, of course).
  • CPSR Board members Severo Ornstein, Brian Smith, and Lucy Suchman publish a critique of the Strategic Computing Program in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
  • CPSR holds its first Annual Meeting in San Francisco.


  • CPSR hires Gary Chapman as its first Executive Director.
  • CPSR members James Horning, Anthony Ralston, and Stephen Zilles participate in a committee of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) to "study and prepare a report on the technical considerations of computer systems reliability and risks to the public." The committee report appears in the February Communications of the ACM.
  • Following in the Trivial Pursuit craze, CPSR/Los Angeles publishes a set of question-and-answer cards about computer risk and reliability entitled "It's Not Trivial." CPSR members throughout the U.S. provided the material. 1985 (continued)
  • CPSR members publish articles on the computational problems of the SDI in Abacus magazine and the Atlantic Monthly. The SDI issue attracts major media attention when David Parnas, arguing that the task is impossible, resigns from the Eastport panel convened by the Department of Defense to evaluate the feasibility of the command and control software for the SDI.
  • CPSR/Boston organizes the first debate on SDI software at MIT, attracting an audience of over 1300.
  • CPSR establishes its first National Advisory Board. Today, that board includes four Turing Award winners and a Nobel Laureate.


  • CBS Evening News interviews Gary Chapman on the SDI.
  • Severo Ornstein appears on NPR's All Things Considered.
  • CPSR/Boston produces Reliability and Risk, a slide show about the dangers of overreliance on computing technology in national defense. The presentation wins a Gold Medal at the New England Society for Multi-Image Productions.
  • Program Director Mary-Karen Dahl and Director Marc Rotenberg initiate the CPSR Civil Liberties Program.
  • CPSR/Palo Alto forms a working group on computers in the workplace.


  • Congressman Don Edwards asks CPSR to participate in an expert panel on the civil-liberties implications of the FBI's National Crime Information Center proposal.
  • CPSR holds its first research conference on "Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing (DIAC)"; this conference is now a biannual event, with support from the NSF as well as professional and industrial supporters.
  • David Parnas is named the recipient of CPSR's first Norbert Wiener award for Social Responsibility in recognition of his courageous actions to oppose the SDI.
  • CPSR's first book, Computers in Battle, is published, edited by David Bellin and Gary Chapman.


  • CPSR holds its second DIAC conference in Minneapolis. Two computer scientists from the U.S.S.R. participate.
  • CPSR members working for IBM, along with other IBM employees, sponsor a shareholder resolution seeking to force IBM to cease its business with South Africa.
  • CPSR/Portland publishes a report on computerized vote counting and the concomitant danger of inaccuracies or even fraud.
  • CPSR opens a new Washington office under the direction of Marc Rotenberg to be the center for CPSR's work in privacy and civil liberties.
  • CPSR holds its 1988 Annual Meeting in Palo Alto shortly after the release of the Internet Worm by Cornell graduate student Robert Morris. CPSR's statement on the Internet Worm, developed at that meeting, has been extensively reprinted in a wide variety of books and periodicals.
  • Joe Weizenbaum, Professor emeritus at MIT and author of Computer Power and Human Reason, receives the 1988 Norbert Wiener award.


  • CPSR holds a conference on "Computers and Education" in Palo Alto.
  • CPSR issues its report on the FBI's NCIC computer system, with two members of CPSR appearing as witnesses before a Congressional hearing. CPSR's report strongly opposed the FBI proposal to track individuals who had not been charged with a crime. Just after the release of CPSR's report, the FBI withdrew its tracking proposal.
  • CPSR submits a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI regarding the monitoring of computer bulletin boards used by political and advocacy organizations.
  • CPSR Executive Director Gary Chapman visits the Soviet Union and writes a detailed analysis on "Computers, Perestroika, and Glasnost."
  • CPSR/New York develops the MEMBERS software package to help other non- profit organizations automate their membership processing.
  • The August issue of Communications of the ACM includes a special section dedicated to social responsibility edited by CPSR members Doug Schuler and Jon Jacky.
  • CPSR/Palo Alto initiates a study group on women in computer science.
  • Karen Nussbaum, executive director of 9to5, gives the keynote address at the Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., on workplace computer monitoring.
  • Dan McCracken receives the 1989 Norbert Wiener award for his work in the 1960s to organize computer scientists against the ABM deployment.


  • The CPSR Workplace Project organizes the first Participatory Design Conference in Seattle, attended by 180 people from nine countries.
  • CPSR files suit against the FBI over its failure to respond to the FOIA request for information about the monitoring of computer bulletin boards. CPSR receives a two-year grant of $275,000 from the newly formed Electronic Frontier Foundation to support its work in civil liberties and the protection of constitutional rights in electronic media.
  • CPSR Washington Director Marc Rotenberg testifies before Congress on such issues as computer viruses, the need for a data protection board, and access to information.
  • CPSR hosts the third DIAC conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A panel on "virtual reality" and its implications is the most talked-about event of the day.
  • CPSR members Batya Friedman and Terry Winograd publish a collection of course syllabi on "Computing and Social Responsibility" from various colleges and universities.
  • CPSR Executive Director Gary Chapman initiates the 21st Century Project to assess how science and technology policies can be redirected away from the military and toward human needs as we move into the next century.
  • Kristen Nygaard of Norway receives the 1990 Norbert Wiener award for his work in bringing workers into the design process for the systems that they will use on the job.
  • CPSR/Portland hosts the first conference on Computers and the Environment (CATE).


  • CPSR invites representatives from many constituencies to a "policy roundtable" in Washington to discuss free speech and the conduct of criminal investigations in the digital domain.
  • After intense grassroots pressure from CPSR, the Lotus Corporation decides not to market Marketplace:Households, a product that would have included personal data on 120 million Americans.
  • CPSR places an advertisement in the New York Times critical of the use of technology in the Gulf War. The headline reads "We've seen smart bombs -- let's see human intelligence."
  • CPSR sponsors the First Conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy in San Francisco.
  • Ten years after its formation, CPSR gives the 1991 Norbert Wiener award to Severo Ornstein and Laura Gould.


  • CPSR holds its fourth DIAC conference in Berkeley, focusing on electronic communities.
  • The 1992 Norbert Wiener award is given to Barbara Simons for her work on human rights, the dangers of military funding, and the U.C. Berkeley reentry program for women.
  • The second Participatory Design Conference is held at MIT.
  • CPSR leaders take part in a high-level technology summit sponsored by the Aspen Institute.
  • CPSR/Berkeley publishes a comprehensive platform on information and technology policy.


  • CPSR invites members to send electronic mail to the incoming Clinton administration about technology policy. Over 1200 messages were delivered to the White House.
  • CPSR President Eric Roberts appears on The McNeill-Lehrer News Hour on the National Information Infrastructure (NII).
  • CPSR Board member Jim Davis establishes the CPU Newsletter to discuss labor issues in the computing field.
  • CPSR activists Doug Schuler and Aki Namioka publish a book entitled Participatory Design: Principles and Practices.
  • CPSR's 21st Century Project issues a major report entitled "Setting a New Course for Science and Technology Policy."
  • CPSR gives the 1993 Norbert Wiener award to the Institute for Global Communication for their work establishing electronic communities throughout the world.
  • CPSR publishes "Serving the Community: A Public-Interest Vision of the National Information Infrastructure."


  • CPSR holds its fifth DIAC conference in Cambridge, focusing on the NII.
  • Over 50,000 people sign CPSR's electronic petition against the Clipper Chip.
  • CPSR and the Fund for Constitutional Government jointly sponsor the formation of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which takes on the work of the Washington office.
  • CPSR/Seattle establishes the Seattle Community Network.
  • The 1994 Norbert Wiener award is given to Antonia Stone for her work with Playing to Win, which seeks to provide training and access to technology for disadvantaged people.
  • The third Participatory Design Conference is held in Durham, North Carolina.


  • CPSR establishes Working Groups - inviting groups of members to work together on common issues. There are now four Working Groups in Education, Cyber -Rights, Civil Liberties, and Working in the Computer Industry.
  • CPSR/Chicago helped to organize the conference on "Technology, Jobs, and Community" in Chicago. The proceedings from the conference have been published by 21st Century Books as "Job-Tech: The Technological Revolution and Its Impact on Society".
  • CPSR activist, Coralee Whitcomb creates Telecom Post - an electronic publication that reports on legislative developments involving communications and computers in society.
  • The Annual Meeting in Chicago focuses on "The Good, The Bad, and The Internet." It is the first CPSR conference to be "cybercast'on the World Wide Web.
  • The 1995 Norbert Wiener award is given to Tom Grundner, founder of the National Public Telecomputing Network and the Cleveland Free-Net, for his work in the establishment of community networks around the world.


  • CPSR participates in a broad coalition of public-interest organizations that raises concerns over the Telecom Reform Bill of 1996.
  • CPSR honors outgoing Board members, Terry Winograd and Eric Roberts at its 15th Anniversary Dinner in Palo Alto.
  • CPSR is a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit ACLU vs. Reno that attempts to overturn the Communication Decency Act. The decisive decision against the government is currently being appealed before the Supreme Court.
  • CPSR Board Member, Steve Miller's book Civilizing Cyberspace: Policy, Power, and the Information Superhighway is published by Addison-Wesley.
  • CPSR Chair, Doug Schuler's book New Conununity Networks: Wired for Change is published by Addison-Wesley.
  • The fourth Participatory Design Conference is held in Cambridge, Massachusetts at MIT.
  • The 1996 Norbert Wiener award is given to Phil Zinunermann for authoring PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) and making it available to the public, and suffering through 3 years of legal problems from the U.S. Government as a result.


  • CPSR holds its sixth DIAC conference in Seattle, ten years after the first one was held (1986, Seattle). This conference on "Community Space and Cyber Space: What's the Connection" is the most well attended DIAC conference with almost 400 attendees.
  • CPSR launches a new program on Internet Governance and publishes an IETF draft "One Planet, One Net: Principles for an Internet Era."
  • The decision against the government in ACLU vs. Reno was decisively upheld by the Supreme Court.
  • CPSR's Annual Meeting in Berkeley "Net Worth, Net Work" focused on the emerging hot topic of E-Commerce.


  • The Ethics, Environment and Cyberlaw working groups are founded.
  • The CPSR Community Networks project is begun.
  • New Chapters, Milwaukee and Michigan are formed.
  • CPSR submits comments to the NTIA on its "Green Paper for Internet Governance."
  • CPSR's annual meeting, "One Planet, One Net: The Public Interest in Internet Governance" is held in Boston
  • Internet Engineering Task Force Wins Norbert Wiener Award.
  • CPSR publishes "Domain Name Resolutions: CPSR Proposals for the New Corporation."
  • CPSR publishes "Internet By-Laws: Ana Analysis and Critique of Three Proposals."
  • CPSR premiers the weekly television show "Everybody's Internet" on Boston Public TV.


  • CPSR holds a major conference on Internet Governance: "Governing the Commons: The Future of Global Internet Administration."
  • New Chapters are formed in Ohio, Canada, and Europe
  • CPSR, EFA, and FrEE submit comments to the World Intellectual Property Organization on Internet Domain Names.
  • CPSR's Annual Meeting, "The Internet Gold Rush of '99: Can We Pan for Gold While Serving the Public Good?" is held at Stanford University.
  • CPSR participates in founding 4CITE, a coalition opposed to the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA).
  • CPSR honors the Free Software/Open Source Movement with the Norbert Wiener Award.


  • The DIAC conference, "Shaping the Network Society--The Future of the Public Sphere in Cyberspace" is held at the University of Washington.
  • CPSR attends the ICANN meeting in Yokohama, Japan and co-founds the Internet Democracy Project and publishes a regular online update, Cyber-Federalist.
  • CPSR founds the CivSoc Project on Internet Governance.
  • A new chapter is formed in Africa.
  • CPSR begins publishing a regular organizational update, PING!
  • CPSR participates in the Virginia Internet Technology 2000 conference, speaking out against the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA).
  • CPSR's Annual Meeting, "Drawing the Blinds: Reconstructing Privacy in the Information Age" is held at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center is honored with the Norbert Wiener Award.
  • CPSR initiates the Student Essay Contest.
  • CPSR sponsors the Participatory Design Conference, "Designing Digital Environments: Bringing in More Voices" in New York City.


  • Three new chapters are formed; Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, Spain, and Uganda.
  • Theodore Postol and Nira Schwartz receive the Norbert Wiener Award for their efforts at disclosing shortcoming of the National Missle Defense system.
  • The 20th Anniversary of CPSR is celebrated in Ann Arbor, MI with the conference, "Nurturing the Cybercommons, 1981-2001.
  • CPSR submits comments on the current and future proposals to protect national security and their impact on the communications infrastructure to the Congressional Internet Caucus.
  • CPSR hosts two "Activist Roundtables" in Boston and Palo Alto, giving members an opportunity to discuss CPSR program initiatives and organization.
  • CPSR founds the Public Sphere Project to help promote civic space in Cyberspace.
  • CPSR initiates an organization wide study and analysis, "Security, Technology and Social Impact in the Aftermath of the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks, How Can CPSR Participate?"


2002 Year in Review

This page last updated March 22, 2002, by Paul Hyland.

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