Notes for remarks on receiving the CPSR Norbert Wiener Award, 4 October 1997, Peter G. Neumann, Principal Scientist, Computer Science Lab, SRI International, Menlo Park, CA 650-859-2375

I am enormously grateful to CPSR for this recognition. Perhaps in the tradition of the Academy Awards, I would like to acknowledge a few individuals who have been particularly instrumental -- but first would like to mention an event that occurred forty years ago today -- the launching of the Soviet Sputnik. That started us thinking not locally, not nationally, not globally, but universally. But it also had a RISKS connection, because whenever went overhead, remotely controlled garage doors opened and closed -- reminding us how remote "remote" can be.

I have derived great inspiration from some of the early CPSR activists -- particularly Severo and Laura, Marc Rotenberg, and Gary Chapman, and want to thank them in particular for all of their encouragement. Dave Parnas' extraordinary stand on StarWars was wonderful, and very important at the time. And Dave Redell has played a very important long-standing role in CPSR, going back even before the 1989 report that we wrote for a strong supporter of CPSR causes, Congressman Don Edwards of San Jose -- a former FBI agent -- who was Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights. That CPSR/ACLU joint report, which also involved Jim Horning, Janlori Goldman and Dinny Gordon, evaluated the FBI's plans for the NCIC 2000 upgrade of the National Crime Information system. I think our report had a role in getting the FBI to back off on some of their more offensive plans. Dave Redell has kept that intensity going in his involvement with the CPSR Palo Alto Chapter's civil rights group. All of these folks have set high standards for us to follow.

There have also been some other valuable efforts along the way -- for example, relating to the Social Security Administration's PEBES database system and the Equifax Lotus Marketplace Households database. I continue to be active in bird-dogging uses of computers in elections -- which other CPSR folks are also pursuing -- for example, Eva Waskell, Rebecca Mercuri, and Erik Nilsson. I served for two and one-half years on the IRS Commissioner's Advisory Group, primarily as a privacy advocate, but also as an outspoken critic of the nasty practices relating to taxpayers -- some of which are finally coming to light in Congress. I think that was my most frustrating encounter with Government. On the other hand, perhaps I am just a sucker for difficult causes, because I am now on the General Accounting Office's new Executive Council on Information Management and Technology. (The GAO is characterized as the Congressional Watchdog. In addition to trying to keep the IRS, FAA, and other agencies honest, one of the problems it is watching is the computerized watch that will run out at the beginning of the year 2000.)

I've been very active in the crypto wars, as a coauthor of the USACM report, the National Research Council CRISIS report, and the recent 11-authored report on key recovery, as well as testifying in July for the Senate Judiciary Committee. You'll find details on my Website ( The FBI Director told our NRC study two years ago (and others as well) that if the computer and communications system vendors did not go along with his demands for surreptitious access to everything encrypted (that is, ability to covertly obtain keys for communications, e-mail, and local storage), he would ask Congress to outlaw the use of all crypto that had not been approved by the FBI. He has indeed gone to Congress with that demand, and he may still succeed -- especially if the current legislation gets to conference committee where things can be done behind closed doors. Senator Feinstein even appears to be poised to help him -- despite her protestations that she represents her computer-technology constituents. This is an ongoing battle, and one of the most important technological issues facing our nation and the world today.

Perhaps the most important realization is that these are never-ending battles and that we must maintain eternal vigilance -- no matter how trite that may sound. CPSR must continue to play a vital role in a many important areas. However, it might be useful to find ways to coordinate some of the efforts with EPIC, EFF, and CDT (among other groups), and with Barbara Simons' USACM Committee and my ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy. I'm on Barbara's committee, and she's on mine, so talk with either one of us. (Incidentally, it may not be surprising to you that most of the 11 members of my ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy are also CPSR members.)

Most of you never knew Norbert Wiener, although some of you may have read his ground-breaking 1950 book, The Human Use of Human Beings. He was a truly extraordinary human being, and it is very rewarding that CPSR has chosen to honor me in his name -- although the award carries with it a huge challenge to live up to his insights and vision. You have probably heard stories of his total preoccupation with what was most on his mind -- such as the time he drove to Philadelphia from Boston to attend a meeting, and took the train home because he forgot that he had driven. My first encounter with him was sitting in the audience at an Information Theory conference at MIT in the mid-1950s, when he wandered down the left aisle of the auditorium, stood directly in front of the podium for several minutes observing Peter Elias giving a talk, perhaps figured out the main result for himself, and then walked out up the right aisle, oblivious to everything else.

His 1950 book anticipates many of the struggles we face today, so I would like to offer you a few quotes from almost 50 years ago. At the very beginning of his book, we find this statement:

That we shall have to change many details of our mode of life in the face of the new machines is certain; but these machines are secondary in all mattters of value that concern us to the proper evaluation of human beings for their own sake and to their employment as human beings, and not as second-rate surrogates for possible machines of the future. [Page 2]

He was also an inveterate holist. His chapter on progress and entropy is remarkable, and contains this quote:

We cannot afford to erode the brains of the country as we have eroded its soil.

His chapter on the role of the intellectual and the scientist is a pithy plea that scientists must be humanists, and that intellectuals must understand science.

The loyalty to humanity which can be subverted by a skillful distribution of official sugar plums will be followed by a loyalty to official superiors lasting just so long as we have the bigger sugar plums to distribute. The day may well come when it constitutes the biggest potential threat to our own security. [Page 142]

And at the very end of the book, we find this sentence:

For a man to be alive is for him to participate in a world-wide scheme of communication. [Page 217]

And finally, again written almost fifty years ago:

The hour is very late, and the choice of good and evil knocks at our door. [Page 213]

I wish he were around today to tell us how we are doing.


J.J. Horning and P.G. Neumann and D.D. Redell and J. Goldman and D.R. Gordon, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, A Review of NCIC 2000 (report to the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States House of Representatives), February 1989.

S. Landau, S. Kent, C. Brooks, S. Charney, D. Denning, W. Diffie, A. Lauck, D. Miller, P. Neumann, and D. Sobel, Crypto Policy Perspectives, Communications of the ACM, 37, 8, August 1994, pp. 115-121.

K. Dam et al., Cryptography's Role In Securing the Information Society (a.k.a. the CRISIS report), Final Report of the National Research Council Cryptographic Policy Study Committee, National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Ave., Washington, D.C. 20418, 1996.

Hal Abelson, Ross Anderson, Steven M. Bellovin, Josh Benaloh, Matt Blaze, Whitfield Diffie, John Gilmore, Peter G. Neumann, Ronald L. Rivest, Jeffrey I. Schiller, Bruce Schneier, The Risks of Key Recovery, Key Escrow, and Trusted Third-Party Encryption, May 27, 1997, World Wide Web Journal (Web Security: A Matter of Trust), 2, 3, O'Reilly & Associates, Summer 1997, 241-257. Also on-line ( or .ps;