CFP95 Conference Report

Lorrie Faith Cranor's CFP95 Conference Report

Copyright 1995 by Lorrie Faith Cranor. Permission to distribute this report electronically is granted, provided you do not distribute it for direct commercial advantage. This report is a description of CFP95 as I experienced it. The unattributed opinions liberally sprinkled throughout are, of course, my own.

I attended the Fifth Conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy ( March 28 through 31 at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Hotel. Having thoroughly enjoyed the previous two CFP conferences, I had been looking forward to CFP95 for quite some time -- and I was not disappointed.

The conference began on March 28 with a full day of tutorial programs. I arrived too late to attend the tutorials, but in time to enjoy an evening ice cream reception and meet some of the other attendees. The informal discussions I began that evening and which I continued between sessions throughout the conference proved to be as valuable as the formal sessions.

The main part of the CFP95 program got off to a slow start on March 29 with keynote speaker John Morgridge, chairman of the board of Cisco systems. Morgridge described the current status of computer networks as "the era of use," in which we will have to address more difficult issues than we faced while we were just concentrating on "the plumbing." But he failed to shed much light on what these issues are or how we might face them.

The next session, "Student Databases: For Education and For Life," proved more enlightening and quite controversial. Barbara Clements, Council of Chief State School Officers, outlined the advantages of electronic student records databases over the traditional paper filing systems. She argued that electronic systems are more accurate, take up less space, and are more secure. In addition, if these systems follow standard conventions they can make it much easier for information to be transfered between schools. But panelist Anita Hoge, was quite critical of standardized student information databases, especially those that contain information obtained through standardized tests. She described an exam given to her son in a Pennsylvania public school. Hoge said this "Educational Quality Assessment" was designed to measure predispositions of students towards certain types of behaviors. For example, the exam described a hypothetical situation in which the student's friends were planning an outing to spray paint graffiti around town. The student is asked whether he or she would go along. A negative response is interpreted as a predisposition towards anti-social behavior. According to Hoge, the results of this exam can be used to identify students with mental and behavioral disorders, classify them as special education students, send this information to the government, and make the students eligible for Medicaid. While most of the audience probably agreed with Hoge that such exams are inappropriate, many people were not convinced by Hoge's conclusion that the use of standardized exams and standardized student information databases was the first step in the government's effort to sneak socialized health care through the back door.

Stanford Law Professor Margaret Jane Radin gave an interesting lunch time presentation that inspired fish jokes throughout the rest of the conference. Radin described two property rights paradigms and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of applying them in cyberspace. Traditionally, intellectual property has been considered a form of economic property that could be bought and sold in a free market. However, land (especially the land on which the family home is built) has been considered a form of property that has personal value beyond the monetary value that can be obtained by selling it. She also speculated that as more people flock to cyberspace, the Internet may evolve into something similar to what broadcast TV has become. She described the TV audience as "potential customers delivered to advertisers for a fee." Thus, she explained, the TV broadcast industry is a giant commercial fishing industry. "It would be good if cyberspace doesn't turn us into fish," she concluded.

A panel discussion on Intelligent Transportation Systems raised some important privacy considerations, but was not nearly as provocative as the next two sessions of the day: "Transaction Records In Interactive Services" and "A Case Against Computers." The transaction records panelists debated a variety of issues including who owns personal information records (the person who provides them or the organization that collects them), the merits of "opt-in" and "opt-out" privacy protection systems, and where the responsibility for privacy violations should rest.

The Case Against Computers session, dubbed the "luddite session," featured four panelists critical of computer technology. Jerry Mander began by reminding everyone that people used to get along just fine without computers. He suggested that contrary to what electronic activists claim, computers help people feel more powerful, but are not actual instruments of empowerment. Rather, he argued, computers enforce centralized power structures that take power out of the hands of individuals. In addition he was critical of the fact that computer professionals do not receive training on how to critique computers. Finally, he expressed dismay at the way computers and other new technologies have been accepted by the public without debate or consideration of their downsides. Panelist Ted Roszak then discussed the fact that most computer users are not computer experts -- and don't wish to be. He urged computer experts to remember that when designing computer systems. Panelist Chet Bowers gave a very academic presentation that was probably lost on most of the audience. The point of his presentation seemed to be that we were not properly considering the cultural impact of computers. Richard Sclove, the only panelist with an email address (or at least the only one who mentioned it), reminded us that information technology effects everyone, even people who don't use computers. Although the panelists raised some excellent points, I don't think this panel did a very good job of addressing their audience. The panelists came across as a bunch of middle-aged (or older) academic luddites, a characterization that won them little respect or credibility with the techies in the audience. In fact, during the Q & A period one audience member (who seemed to have missed the point of the presentation entirely) asked the panel, "Are you guys not getting it? What are you missing?"

The day's panel discussions were followed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation ( Pioneer Awards presentation, an EFF-sponsored reception, and dinner. At dinner each table was given a question to discuss and answer, with prizes being awarded for the best answers. Some tables took this quite seriously while others resented being told what to talk about and submitted answers more humorous than insightful (my own table taking the latter approach).

The next day of conference sessions began with a panel titled "Defining Access Paradigms: Libraries, Rural Areas, and International Aspects." While not particularly controversial, the panel addressed some interesting problems. Karen Coyle of the University of California described the free lending library as a product of the print world. She explained that libraries generally purchase books but lease electronic materials -- sometimes on a per-use basis. If libraries had to pay per-use fees on all their materials, they would likely have to pass some of these fees onto their patrons. In addition libraries face problems in distributing electronic information to patrons who want to take the information with them. Panelist Christine Borgman's warning against causing a situation in which only the elite have access to knowledge, led one audience member to question whether technology really widens the knowledge gap. He cited as evidence the fact that he as access to as much information as a millionaire has. Apparently it didn't occur to this gentleman (probably a member of the middle class) that he is a member of the information elite, not the information poor.

The next session, "A Net for All: Where Are the Minorities?", featured an interesting discussion of efforts to bring the Net to minority and underprivledged populations. Art McGee of the Institute for Global Communications described the famous New Yorker cartoon featuring one dog introducing another dog to the Internet. The cartoon caption reads, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." This led McGee to comment that the second dog should have asked, "What's wrong with being a dog?". He added that technology gives people the power to express themselves in their own voices, without having their messages spun by the media. But he reminded the audience that there are still a lot of illiterate people and "all the computers in the world won't help them if they can't read." Panelist Barbara Simons added that the computer revolution has had a negative impact on uneducated people because there are now fewer unskilled jobs.

An afternoon of discussion on "Freedom and Responsibility of Electronic Speech" followed lunch, an address by Esther Dyson, and a panel discussion on online activism. The electronic speech discussion began with presentations from three individuals who have been involved in freedom of electronic speech disputes. Brock Meeks, who was sued for defamation because of something he posted as part of an online newsletter (, discussed his case. Because the case was settled out of court, it sets no legal precedent, but Meeks proposed that people who enter into a discussion on the Internet should be considered "public figures" who cannot be easily libeled. He suggested the public figure characterization is appropriate because Internet discussion participants have easy access to the same public forum as those who might try to defame them. Jean Camp (, a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University discussed CMU's censorship of sexually explicit Usenet newsgroups ( Roger Karraker, a journalism professor who maintained an electronic conferencing system at Santa Rosa Junior College, described a case in which a female student filed a sex discrimination complaint against him after hearing that derogatory remarks had been made against her on a men-only discussion group. Karraker said one of the mistakes he made with the conferencing system was in describing it as an extension of the student newspaper, because newspaper publishers are responsible for their content. Karraker said individuals should be responsible for their own speech in electronic discussion groups.

The second half of the electronic speech discussion took the form of a "Socratic forum" (somewhat like a TV talk show) led by Stanford Law Professor Kim Taylor-Thompson. Taylor-Thompson described hypothetical situations and posed questions to the nine panelists. The discussion was animated and brought out some interesting ideas. However, too much of the debate was between the lawyers on the panel. CMU student Donna Riley -- whose introduction as the founder of the feminist Clittoral Hoods
( organization brought a startled reaction from the audience -- and Ira Kaufman of the Anti-Defamation League could hardly get a word in.

The second day of the conference concluded with a dinner speech by Roger Wilkins and an evening of Birds of a Feather sessions. Probably the most well-attended BOF was the public forum on cryptography policy. Members of the National Research Council cryptography committee listened and took notes as conference attendees expressed their concerns.

The final day of CFP95 began too early in the morning with an 8 am talk by Willis Ware. The audience was sparse and sleepy from two nights of BOFs which ran until midnight (followed by informal discussions which ended early in the morning). Most of the conference attendees had dragged themselves out of bed in time for the next session: Can We Talk Long Distance? Removing Impediments to Secure International Communications. This panel was of particular interest to many of the audience members. While most of the discussion centered around issues which have been brought up repeatedly over the past few years, Cypherpunk Tim May summed things up nicely by characterizing the encryption controversy as a debate between those who feel that their communication is "none of your damn business" versus those who ask, "What have you got to hide?".

A session on copyright and the Net included an interesting discussion about how copyright should be enforced in cyberspace. In response to often-repeated claims that it is not possible to enforce copyright laws on the Net, Attorney Lance Rose pointed out that intelligent software agents that can be programmed to search the Net for certain types of news can also be programmed to search the Net for copyright infringements. Michael Kepplinger of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Law Professor Pamela Samuelson debated the "Green Paper" produced by the Working Group on Intellectual Property Rights. Samuelson criticized the Green Paper authors for assuming that there will not be any useful content on the Internet until Congress passes strict intellectual property laws. However, she said that people are already finding useful information on the Internet. She was also critical of the Green Paper for suggesting that online service providers should be held strictly liable for copyright infringement. Kepplinger denied that the Green Paper included strict liability language. Brad Templeton of ClariNet Communications Corp. followed up by asserting that most people respect copyright, regardless of whether or not it is enforced. Templeton, whose company provides Associated Press and other news feeds over the Internet, said that ClariNet has been profitable under the current copyright laws.

Lenny Foner (, a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab and the winner of the CFP95 Student Paper Competition, presented his research on agents during lunch. Foner described a "matchmaker" system he is developing that is designed to demonstrate the feasibility of a large scale distributed system in which it is essential to build in privacy. Lenny's research is interesting for its technological goals as well as its political goals.

By the afternoon of the last day of the conference, a large portion of conference attendees had migrated from their chairs to the floor in the back of the conference hall. Students, journalists, long-haired hackers, and libertarians camped out with backpacks and laptops on the audio platform and the surrounding floor space. One gentleman fell asleep, but was woken by a journalist when he started to snore. At one point Conference Chair Carey Heckman pointed out that there were plenty of empty seats towards the front, but nobody in the back moved forward.

A session titled "It Oughta Be a Crime" kicked off an afternoon filled with some of the most interesting sessions of the conference. Scott Charney of the Justice Department opened his remarks by reminding the audience that "there is always a percentage of the population up to no good." Although only a small percentage of those up to no good are currently computer literate, 30 years from now everyone is likely to be computer literate, he said. He added that there are some types of behavior -- such as extortion and wire fraud -- that is clearly criminal conduct, however, there are other types of behavior that fall into grey areas. For example, some people don't think breaking into a computer system to look at files should be considered criminal if the intruder does not change or remove any of the files. However, Charney pointed out that companies that discover break-ins end up spending a lot of time checking all their files to make sure none have been changed or removed. This can be both inconvenient and quite expensive. Santa Clara District Attorney Ken Rosenblatt discussed statements by some people (including writer Bruce Sterling) that police have no business on the Net because electronic conflicts are more a "cultural war" than criminal behavior. However, Rosenblatt said that all laws are an expansion of cultural norms. Panelist Mark Traphagan of the Software Publishers Association concluded the session with a discussion of copyright infringement. He claimed that China has a 99 percent piracy rate making it "virtually a one-copy country." This session brought much disagreement from the audience members, some of whom interrupted the speakers. This prompted CFP founder Jim Warren to remind the audience that all sides need to be heard.

Many conference attendees anticipated that the session titled "Who Owns the Law? The Debate Over Legal Citation Form and What It Means" would only be interesting to lawyers. However this session proved to be the most animated of the entire conference. After the four panelists gave their opening statements, Glenn Tenney of Fantasia Systems Inc. gave each of them five minutes in which to question the other panelists. This format provoked a lively debate about the U.S. legal citation system. Jamie Love of the Taxpayers Assets Project complained that West Publishing's page numbers must be used when citing most court opinions. Because one cannot determine the West pagination from the official court documents, one must visit a law library or pay online charges to West to find the complete citations. With an increasing amount of legal research being conducted online, this can get very expensive. However, West argues that they spend a lot of time verifying the accuracy of the opinions they publish and should be compensated for their work. Besides, they say, it is not their fault that the courts do not provide accurate copies of their opinions that can be cited in legal proceedings.

The final CFP95 session featured several presentations about anonymity, pseudonyms, and the technologies that make such things possible. To illustrate the use of pseudonyms, some of the panelists replaced the names on their name badges and exchanged name cards. Leading moderator Roger Clarke to introduce panelists Gary Marx and Kent Walker as "Kent and or Gary." David Chaum described the electronic cash products being developed by his company, DigiCash. Writer Steven Levy then gave an excellent presentation on anonymous remailers. Science Fiction Writer David Brin wrapped things up with some thoughts on the conference as a whole. After this session, the chairs of all five CFP conferences commented on the past and future of CFP.

Plans are already underway for CFP96 ( to be held March 27-30, 1996 in Boston.

                    -- Lorrie Faith Cranor (
                       April 3, 1995

Lorrie Faith Cranor                 Engineering and Policy, Computer Science
Washington University         
1 Brookings Dr Box 1045
St. Louis, MO 63130        "UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot,   nothing is going to get better. It's not." -Dr.Seuss

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