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Communications of the ACM

Letters to the Editor

Deep Accountability, Beyond Even Liability

Letters to the Editor


I am a Colorado licensed professional engineer whose area of practice is software and who found no cause for disagreement with the first half of Vinton G. Cerf's "From the President" editorial "But Officer, I Was Only Programming at 100 Lines Per Hour!" (July 2013). The second half was another matter.

I concur with Cerf's statement: "I think many of you would agree that a test or questionnaire is not likely to provide assurance that a 'certified professional' programmer's work is free of flaws..." to the delight of my liability insurance provider, who repeatedly admonishes me to avoid giving guarantees or warranties against errors in my work. But "free of flaws" is an unrealistic expectation for any human being, even a licensed professional software engineer. What my professional license (together with the PE exam and years of education and decades of professional practice behind it) does provide the public is assurance that my work is relatively free of sophomoric programming errors like buffer overflows, opportunities for SQL injection, memory leaks, and race conditions that infest the products of the more junior software developers I often must clean up after. Yes, I still make mistakes, but I make them more rarely and at a much higher level than the typical "code monkey."


CACM Administrator

The following letter was published in the Letters to the Editor of the January 2014 CACM (
-- CACM Administrator

My letter "Free Ismail Cem Bakir" (Oct. 2013) concerned Istanbul Technical University computer student Ismail Cem Bakir, who had been arrested and illegally imprisoned by the Turkish government in July following anti-government protests in June. I am now pleased to say he has been released, with all charges dropped. I sent the letter to my colleague, Vladimir Lifschitz, of the University of Texas, who was to lecture at the 29th International Conference on Logic Programming in Istanbul, August 2429, and who then took time to speak on this violation of Bakir's human rights.

Several weeks later, a computer scientist, fluent in Turkish and who attended Lifschitz's lecture, informed him the Turkish government had indeed released Bakir, finding this information in a search of the Turkish website "ITU Gezi Forum #8"; Gezi is the park in Istanbul that was at the center of anti-government protests.

The translation he sent said 29 people, mostly university students, including Bakir, had been arrested and held illegally for four days, quoting Bakir saying " . . . he was in the stands to watch the graduation ceremony on July 8, and that he noticed plain-clothes police officers, summoned by the administration, taking photos of him and of many others like him. He said that might be one of the reasons he was taken into custody. He thanked his professors and friends who didn't leave him alone during his time in custody and in the alayan courthouse."

Publicizing information on and support for our colleagues can be critical when their scientific freedom and human rights are at risk. As seen from Bakir's statement, his colleagues helped his cause and improved his morale while doing no harm. Publicity in Communications and other journals is also extremely useful.

Jack Minker
College Park, MD

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