From The Hacker Crackdown
, by Bruce Sterling
See: The Hacker Crackdown: Preface to the electronic release
for copying info
My book on the Hacker Crackdown is almost over now. I have deliberately saved the best for last.
In February 1991, I attended the CPSR Public Policy Roundtable, in Washington, DC. CPSR, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, was a sister organization of EFF, or perhaps its aunt, being older and perhaps somewhat wiser in the ways of the world of politics.
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility began in 1981 in Palo Alto, as an informal discussion group of Californian computer scientists and technicians, united by nothing more than an electronic mailing list. This typical high-tech ad-hocracy received the dignity of its own acronym in 1982, and was formally incorporated in 1983.
CPSR lobbied government and public alike with an educational outreach effort, sternly warning against any foolish and unthinking trust in complex computer systems. CPSR insisted that mere computers should never be considered a magic panacea for humanity's social, ethical or political problems. CPSR members were especially troubled about the stability, safety, and dependability of military computer systems, and very especially troubled by those systems controlling nuclear arsenals. CPSR was best-known for its persistent and well-publicized attacks on the scientific credibility of the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars").
In 1990, CPSR was the nation's veteran cyber-political activist group, with over two thousand members in twenty-one local chapters across the US. It was especially active in Boston, Silicon Valley, and Washington DC, where its Washington office sponsored the Public Policy Roundtable.
The Roundtable, however, had been funded by EFF, which had passed CPSR an extensive grant for operations. This was the first large-scale, official meeting of what was to become the electronic civil libertarian community.
Sixty people attended, myself included -- in this instance, not so much as a journalist as a cyberpunk author. Many of the luminaries of the field took part: Kapor and Godwin as a matter of course. Richard Civille and Marc Rotenberg of CPSR. Jerry Berman of the ACLU. John Quarterman, author of *The Matrix.* Steven Levy, author of *Hackers.* George Perry and Sandy Weiss of Prodigy Services, there to network about the civil-liberties troubles their young commercial network was experiencing. Dr. Dorothy Denning. Cliff Figallo, manager of the Well. Steve Jackson was there, having finally found his ideal target audience, and so was Craig Neidorf, "Knight Lightning" himself, with his attorney, Sheldon Zenner. Katie Hafner, science journalist, and co-author of *Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier.* Dave Farber, ARPAnet pioneer and fabled Internet guru. Janlori Goldman of the ACLU's Project on Privacy and Technology. John Nagle of Autodesk and the Well. Don Goldberg of the House Judiciary Committee. Tom Guidoboni, the defense attorney in the Internet Worm case. Lance Hoffman, computer-science professor at The George Washington University. Eli Noam of Columbia. And a host of others no less distinguished.
Senator Patrick Leahy delivered the keynote address, expressing his determination to keep ahead of the curve on the issue of electronic free speech. The address was well-received, and the sense of excitement was palpable. Every panel discussion was interesting -- some were entirely compelling. People networked with an almost frantic interest.
I myself had a most interesting and cordial lunch discussion with Noel and Jeanne Gayler, Admiral Gayler being a former director of the National Security Agency. As this was the first known encounter between an actual no-kidding cyberpunk and a chief executive of America's largest and best-financed electronic espionage apparat, there was naturally a bit of eyebrow-raising on both sides.
Unfortunately, our discussion was off-the-record. In fact all the discussions at the CPSR were officially off-the-record, the idea being to do some serious networking in an atmosphere of complete frankness, rather than to stage a media circus.
In any case, CPSR Roundtable, though interesting and intensely valuable, was as nothing compared to the truly mind-boggling event that transpired a mere month later.