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CPSR Program Highlights 1994-1995

CPSR Annual Report 1994-1995

Program Highlights

High Points:

CPSR Program Activities
Highlights from July 1, 1994 to June 30, 1995:

The National Information Infrastructure Project

CPSR continued to focus energy on the National Information Infrastructure or NII - the electronic superhighway envisioned by the Clinton administration. When the Administration took office in 1993, they made the NII a national priority. In February of that year, they presented their ideas in a briefing paper entitled "Technology for America's Economic Growth: A New Direction to Build Economic Strength." CPSR played a vital role in articulating and critiquing these ideas at meetings with senior members of the President's staff, as well as in the media and in public presentations.

Throughout the country, volunteer CPSR teams set about the task of writing a comprehensive paper on the public policy implications of the NII initiative. After several drafts the document was circulated to those who had responded to the call for input on the document. The final draft was presented at CPSR's 1993 Annual Meeting and the Board subsequently reviewed and endorsed it.

In late October 1993, CPSR released a white paper on NII policy entitled Serving the Community: A Public Interest Vision of the National Information Infrastructure, which was published in the Winter 1994 CPSR Newsletter. Copies were delivered to Vice President Al Gore and to members of the Clinton administration's Information Infrastructure Task Force (IITF) Advisory Council. CPSR's report was well-received both inside and outside the government NII process.

Following the release of the report, CPSR continued to participate in the work of the IITF. Members attended hearings, offered comments, and met with IITF officials. On several occasions CPSR representatives have offered expert official testimony and formal comments on such crucial issues as universal access and privacy protection.

CPSR continued to be a leader in the development of the NII and the IITF, as well as a coalition participant in local and national initiatives. At the close of the fiscal year, work had begun on a report examining the critical issue of universal access.

The Telecommunications Policy Roundtable

The Telecommunications Policy Roundtable (TPR), a Washington-based coalition focusing on the NII from a public-interest perspective, was officially launched in October 1993 by more than sixty organizations, including CPSR. The Roundtable's central goal is to ensure that public concerns and needs are not submerged in the rush to exploit new information technologies for entertainment and merchandising purposes, and to democratize telecommunications.

Based on seven principles that have been enumerated and expanded upon in CPSR's Serving the Community white paper, the TPR has helped to inform both Washington-based policymakers and constituents around the U.S. and the world. CPSR has maintained a solid presence within TPR by attending, organizing, and reporting extensively on TPR issues.

CPSR has continued to work with nonprofit organizations across the country to broaden support for a public-interest vision of the NII. In addition to contributing its expertise on NII policy development, CPSR has provided specific technical expertise to the Roundtable as the coalition assesses proposals for the future of the nation's telecommunications infrastructure.

CPSR has also worked to initiate several regional coalitions modeled on the TPR, including a strong group in New England that was becoming extremely active at the end of the 1993-1994 fiscal year. Northeast (TPR-NE) was born in September of 1994 from the energies of several Boston-based nonprofit organizations who were collaborating to raise questions and concerns about telecommunications policy. For the past year, the Northeast group has provided grassroots support to those working on behalf of the public interest inside the Washington beltway.

The group has also taken on the responsibility of informing others about the serious issues currently being addressed in the legislative process. TPR-NE held five well-attended forums on various aspects of these issues and TPR-NE representatives met with the staffs of Senators Kennedy and Kerry, and Representative Ed Markey to communicate our concerns and offer support. TPR-NE also hosts a very active discussion list with participants from all over the world.

Another informal regional TPR was recently established in Seattle. When the Seattle City Council released a request for proposals for an "Information Highway" without seeking public participation, CPSR/Seattle and other public interest organizations joined in coalition to inform city officials and the general public about critical public information issues. After placing several editorials in local newspapers, giving media interviews, and providing speakers for face-to-face discussions with city leaders, CPSR helped convince the city to establish a Citizen Information Highway Task Force.

At the statewide level in the Northwest, Aki Namioka was appointed to the Washington State task force on Public Information Access Policy in June, 1994, by Governor Mike Lowry. This eighteen-month task force, created by legislation, has been examining policy issues related to making state and local government information readily available to the public. Some of the issues that the task force is addressing are privacy, costs and fees, and diverse access. At the end of 1994, the task force produced an Interim Report; a final report was due to the Washington State Legislature in December of 1995.

The Seattle Community Network

In the last fiscal year, CPSR/Seattle activists launched the Seattle Community Network (SCN). This free public-access computer network is the culmination of the vision of Seattle members who had first proposed it to local educators, environmentalists, community activists, librarians and other interested citizens in fiscal year 1992.

The SCN has attempted to demystify technology and encourage public education; its project is an attempt to build an exemplary system that incorporates principles CPSR has articulated and promoted for a long time. These include commitment to access, community, democracy, and privacy. In particular, the SCN hopes to serve the community by supporting effective communication, economic development, access for special needs populations, and tools for coordination in the community. Organizers of the Network hope to provide timely information services and free public access through broad availability of public terminals.

The SCN has garnered public attention in the media, including articles in the San Diego Union, Newsweek magazine, as well as in local newspapers, radio broadcasts and other public forums. The volunteer-driven project involves participants who work both on operating and maintaining the system. Volunteers contribute hours of service as information providers, trouble-shooters, and back-up support. Working committees are organized around specific functions, such as providing outreach, fundraising, developing policy, hardware and software, etc. A coordinating council oversees the day-to-day administration of the project and an Advisory Board helps with fundraising and long-term planning.

By the end of the fiscal year, the number of registered users of the SCN had already grown to 5,000.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Project

The protection of privacy and the promotion of freedom remains a central concern for individuals in the computer age. New technologies raise far-reaching questions about the future of personal privacy, the accountability of government, and public access to electronic information. In 1994-1995 the Electronic Privacy Information Clearinghouse or EPIC, was created by Marc Rotenberg and other CPSR Washington, DC staff members. Rotenberg, now EPIC's director, is assisted by David Banisar, policy analyst, and David Sobel, legal counsel. EPIC was active in national as well as regional issues of electronic privacy and civil liberties. In addition to face-to-face meetings, EPIC maintained a strong electronic presence through their informative EPIC Alert. CPSR continued to support EPIC both financially and technologically.

EPIC is the second successful CPSR project to be spun off as an independent project. As the fiscal year closed, there was talk that the Seattle Community Network would soon do likewise, demonstrating the vitality of CPSR as a Petri dish for incubating new and important social projects.

The Internationalization of Information and Communication

CPSR has begun to explore the international implications of communications technology and computer issues which are increasingly transcending national boundaries and bringing world populations into closer contact.

Early in 1995, for example, CPSR guest editor Judi Clark focused the Winter issue of the CPSR Newsletter on "A World of Perspectives on the Growing Information Infrastructure," with featured articles on various aspects of internationalization. Erik Nilsson, a former CPSR/Portland member, described in one piece how the first multiracial elections in South Africa were conducted in terms of both the exciting and historic moment, as well as the critical implications of computer technology. Nilsson, along with CPSR member Bob Wilcox, had been "loaned" to the South African Commission by the CPSR Computers and Elections project, a project that initially focused on the U.S. alone.

There are now several organizations worldwide that are similar in spirit to CPSR and many people from around the world are interested in setting up CPSR chapters outside the U.S. CPSR has established an electronic listserv, CPSR-GLOBAL, which has become an important forum for these issues.

Electronic and Traditional Media

CPSR has been involved in several electronic periodicals in addition to the CPSR-GLOBAL mentioned above. Among these are the CPU newsletter on the topic of working in the computing industry, and Coralee Whitcomb's Telecom Post, which reports on legislative developments involving communications and computers in society.

The Cyber-Rights electronic discussion group became CPSR's first national working group. It now has several accomplishments to its credit including a discussion forum of considerable quality, an online library and a Web site with links to other important Web sites. In addition, it has formed collaborations with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, Voter's Telecommunications Watch, and other groups, and serves as a resource for lobbyists and journalists.

Last but not least, CPSR has continued publishing its well-respected quarterly newsletter and regularly distributes proceeding notes and videotapes from its Boston DIAC-94 symposium.

Working Groups

CPSR Working Groups are groups of members (and other invited people) who work together to develop ideas, issues, conversations, actions and projects related to CPSR's mission. Working groups provide their members with relative autonomy while allowing for the possibility of collaborations with national organizations and other working groups.

Currently the Cyber-Rights group mentioned above and Civil Liberties groups are the only CPSR Working Groups. The groups are backed by the national office which helps with establishing mailing lists and web pages, and through publicizing the Working Groups in the national newsletter.

Working groups are encouraged by CPSR and can be formed to address specific themes or to accomplish a single event. Working groups may be based on a specific location and related to the activities of a single CPSR chapter, or "virtual." Members interested in forming a Working Group can contact the national office or the Working Groups coordinator Doug Schuler at douglas @ . At least five CPSR members must be willing to serve; goals and a mission statement need to be written in order for Working Groups to get off the ground.

The Independent Project Fund

In order to promote grassroots activism by CPSR members while also contributing to our overall organizational development, the CPSR Board allocated $20,000 of a very generous gift received from John Romkey in 1995 to establish an Independent Project Fund. The Board hopes to replenish the fund with additional contributions and to continue to provide small grants on a regular cycle in the coming years.

To evaluate incoming proposals, the Board appointed a group of five people, all of whom were longtime CPSR members, to design a procedure and use it to provide recommendations to the Board, which will then make the final decision. Criteria for accepting proposals and funding projects were to be considered in the Fall of 1995.


CPSR members played important roles at various conferences including the first "Society and the Future of Computing" (SFC'95) conference held in Durango, Colorado. Many organizers, including the program chair and posters chair, were CPSR members; the Community Networking panel was moderated by a CPSR member.

The CPSR annual meeting was held in San Diego in October 1994 and continued the tradition of highlighting local issues. Several San Diego on-line activists described their activities. The national meeting was a culmination of a ten-week lecture series on information technology issues. CPSR also participated in the American Civic Forum, a coalition of organizations dedicated towards revitalizing civic participation in the U.S. CPSR members presented material at the "Ties that Bind" community networking conference and served as editors for the "Civic Practices Network" (CPN) Web pages. CPSR also participated in a workshop sponsored by the RAND Corporation, which led to the prominent presentation of the Seattle Community Network and CPSR principles in RAND's 1995 report on universal email.

CPSR/Chicago played a role in helping to organize the Midwest Conference on "Technology, Jobs and Community," held in Chicago on March 2-4, 1995. The conference addressed critical issues of the impact of technology on jobs, and through jobs, on communities. CPSR members initiated a virtual conference on the World Wide Web, where conference presentations, discussions, background material and digital photographs were published on the Web. The proceedings from the conference have since been published by 21st Century Books as Job-Tech: The Technological Revolution and Its Impact on Society.

Chapter Activities

CPSR activists in chapters all over the country were involved in a large number of important projects including supplying testimony on computerized vote counting in New York City, working with the Playing to Win organization in Ohio, and helping to launch Virtually Wired in Boston. CPSR/Boston's State Policy Project spent a lot of time working with legislators to help them understand the technology and to assist them in getting online. Additionally, CPSR chapter members organized and presented at many conferences, including cosponsoring a conference on Universal Design hosted by WGBH which focused on equipment design and interfaces that accommodate all people.

Other public outreach activities include members who have spoken at public meetings and hearings, such as Dave Redell's presentation at hearings of the Office of Management and Budget, and at Stanford's School of Law. Redell also worked with a concerned parent wanting to explore issues of privacy as they relate to computerized student records in the Palo Alto Schools in California.

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Technology must be questioned! And the public and politicians are easily misled.