The RISKS Digest
Volume 14 Issue 19

Tuesday, 22nd December 1992

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann, moderator

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o Computer error leaves Bundestag speechless
Debora Weber-Wulff
o Doctor service phone logs skewed
Steen Hansen
o Statistical biasing
Clay Jackson
o Solution found to risks of computers in elections!
Jan I. Wolitzky
o Overheard by Don Knuth on recent trip
Phyllis Winkler via Les Earnest
o Flying Books Threaten Computer Inventory
Bill McGeehan
o Navy Cancels Jammer System
o Public information
Phil Agre
o Call for Comments on Computing and the Clinton Administration
Gary Chapman
o Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Computer error leaves Bundestag speechless

Debora Weber-Wulff <>
Fri, 11 Dec 1992 09:02:51 GMT
The German Bundestag, which had just moved into its brand-new, expensive
quarters in Bonn (they'll be moving to Berlin someday, but this building was
started when the Wall was still up), has been forced to move back into its old
plenary building because of computer errors.

The new building was installed with a special sound control system that was
specifically designed to eliminate all the problems with feedback, screeching,
volume adjustments and such that had plagued the old system.  During the big
budget debate (where the cost overruns in the new building were to be
discussed as well :-) the sound system turned itself down to a whisper - no
one could follow the speeches. After a 5 hour pause while technicians searched
for the cause, the Bundestag moved back into the old building to resume the

The cause: The architects had worked out an extremely symbolic form and used
symbolic materials to create the building. The plenary chamber is round and
completely enclosed in (bullet-proof) glass, to underline the transparancy of
the parliamentary process. This glass, however, does not absorb the sound, but
rather it bounces it back. The computers, detecting feedback, turn down the
volume to avoid this problem. A steady state is only achieved when the
microphones are turned off. It will take until March to either replace the
computerized system or put carpeting over the glass walls.

Debora Weber-Wulff             
Institut fuer Informatik                 +49 30 89691 124
Nestorstr. 8-9                           (INCLUDE "standard.disclaimer")
D-W-1000 Berlin 31                       (PRINTN (WITTY-MESSAGE TODAY))

Doctor service phone logs skewed

Fri, 11 Dec 92 13:13:26 EST
A new central system is being tested in Denmark for people to call a doctor
service at off hours, and possibly get a housecall (this is for non-emergency
cases, i.e., not the equivalent of 911).  The patients in the Danish city of
Odense complained loudly that the waiting for a phone call to be answered was
too long, while the provider said their computerized logs showed no caller had
to wait more than 10 minutes.  After many complaints they tested the
equipment, which showed it was not able to register waits longer than 10
minutes!  Steen Hansen

If you are interested in further details, please e-mail (Leif Erik
Andersen), who quotes the danish radio news on Dec 9, 1992.

  Den nye laegevagt paa Fyn har maattet erkende, at systemet ikke var
  saa velfungerende som laegerne haevdede. Paa trods af gentagne klager
  fra patienter over lange ventetider paa telefonen, haevdede
  laegevagtens ansatte at ingen havde ventet i mere en ti minutter. I
  gaar kom det saa frem, at edb-registreringen ikke kunne registrere
  ventetider laenger end de ti minutter! Laegerne stolede blindt paa
  udstyr, som slet ikke var beregnet til at registrere ventetid, ifoelge
  Fyns Telefon. Laegevagtens leder, Per Holm Pedersen, har givet
  fynboerne en 'uforbeholden undskyldning'. [DR, onsdag]

Statistical biasing (Re: Moore, RISKS 14.18)

Clay Jackson <uswnvg!cjackso@uunet.UU.NET>
Fri, 11 Dec 92 17:39:28 GMT
 |A couple of items in RISKS touched upon computer systems and technology
 |affecting people's behaviour and causing changes in our society.  There is
 |a risk that some changes may be undesirable and unintended.

When I was a supervisor in a large phone-in technical support operation (a few
years back now), we introduced a metrics program that recorded a number of
statistics about the calls the techicians were processing. Two of those
statistics were "Available Time" (time spent being available to take calls,
even if there were no calls coming to your phone) and time per call.  One of
the other managers decided to set minimum standards for all of the metrics.
So, an enterprising tech wrote a program on a PC to dial home (where no one
was there to answer the phone), wait some random time and then hang up and
dial again.  Until we caught on, that person's statistics were the best in the
group; and the others in the group (who knew what was going on) were
grumbling. Fortunately, we caught it before permanent damage (i.e., a changed
performance rating or some sort of salary adjustment) was done.

Clay Jackson - N7QNM, US WEST NewVector Group Inc, Bellevue, WA

Solution found to risks of computers in elections!

Fri, 18 Dec 92 16:43 EST
According to the Associated Press today, officials in South Korea decided to
use the abacus to tabulate 24 million votes in Friday's presidential
elections.  The abacus was used to avoid a recurrence of charges in the 1987
presidential race that the computer count was electronically manipulated.  The
Central Election Management Committee employed about 300 abacus experts to
oversee the counting.

It's curious that these people find manual manipuation — an unnecessary
backformation, since manipulation MEANS movement by hand — of an election to
be preferable to electronic manipulation.
Jan I. Wolitzky, AT&T Bell Laboratories, 600 Mountain Avenue, Room 3D-590,
Murray Hill, NJ 07974-2070  1-908-582-2998  Fax: 1-908-582-5417

   [A Deutsche Press-Agentur news item quoted a Committee official who said,
   "We are sorry we can't use the fast and economical way of tallying
   with computers but we like to be fair and accurate above all."  PGN]

Overheard by Don Knuth on recent trip

Les Earnest <>
Tue, 15 Dec 92 14:48:18 -0800
From: Phyllis Winkler <>
Subject: Overheard by Don Knuth on recent trip

  Q. What kind of computer music will President Clinton play on his

  A. Al Gore rhythms.

                             ---  Cornell U Linguistics Department

Flying Books Threaten Computer Inventory

Mon, 14 Dec 92 10:51:19 EST
     A story in the Washington Post on 7 Dec 92 entitled "Va. Book Vendor
Rescued from a Storied Ending" ended with lessons in both safety in the
library and computer security. The following is a summary of that article:

     Mike Keck was nearly buried alive in his Alexandria Virginia bookstore,
From Out of the Past. Mike was working in the "aviation" section when a metal
shelf attached to a wall came "flying" loose, tipped over and started a domino
effect that quickly toppled almost one million magazines. "As I fell, I
twisted to protect myself; the twisting broke the socket of my hip." His wife,
Barbara said, "Once it started, there was no stopping it. All the racks gave
way". The rescue squad had to use a torch to cut away the twisted metal that
was trapping Mike.

     Barbara also said "I videotaped it ... for insurance purposes.  Right now
the computer doesn't look like it was damaged. ALL MY INVENTORY IS IN IT, AND

     I was struck by this thought: would that be a MILLION records?  Wouldn't
some offsite backup be appropriate?

Bill McGeehan, Smithsonian Institution, OIRM Computer Security Manager
IRMTAQA2@SIVM.SI.EDU     IRMTAQA2@SIVM.BITNET       Voice: (202) 633-9035

Navy Cancels Jammer System

"Peter G. Neumann" <>
Sat, 19 Dec 92 14:52:17 PST
   WASHINGTON (AP, 15 Dec 92)
   The Navy on Tuesday canceled $835 million worth of contracts for an
electronic radar-jamming system criticized for years inside the Pentagon and
on Capitol Hill.  The Airborne Self-Protection Jammer was being developed by
the Navy for a variety of carrier-based warplanes, such as the F-14, F/A-18
and the E/A-6.  The Pentagon had spent more than 15 years and $1.5 billion to
develop the system. It had ordered 136 of the devices, which were supposed to
confuse enemy surface-to-air missile radars.  But the system, which was being
developed by a number of firms, never passed its flight tests.  At one point,
the Navy acknowledged that testing standards on the system had been relaxed,
but the system was unable to meet even the lowered standards.  Over the years,
the jammer became a symbol of weapons kept in development before the bugs were
ironed out.
   In its statement, the Navy said, "The decision to terminate ...  was made
because it was determined in operational testing that the system was not
operationally effective and not operationally suitable."  The Navy said it was
canceling nine production contracts with: Consolidated Electronic
Countermeasures, which is composed of I.T.T.  of Nutley N.J., and Westinghouse
of Baltimore., Md.; I.T.T. and Westinghouse, operating separately;
Westinghouse Electronic Systems Co., (Welsco) of Baltimore, Md., and Smith
Industries of Florham Park, N.J.  ...
   Earlier this year, Sens. David Pryor, D.-Ark., and William V. Roth Jr.,
R-Del., charged that the Pentagon had manipulated its testing data to minimize
the system's problems, but the Navy promised it would apply toughened

public information

Phil Agre <>
Thu, 17 Dec 92 17:17:47 -0800
A number of advocacy groups have recently been involved in efforts to make
public information, for example from the Congress, available electronically.
One of the reasons frequently cited for such efforts is the desire for open
government.  This notion of open government is normally opposed to a set of
images of behind-closed-doors government in which politicians cut deals with
cigar-smoking lobbyists.  Although open government is a good thing in the
abstract, I wonder if many of the motivations for it are misplaced, leading to
false solutions to deeper problems.  As evidence for this possibility, I would
cite the following article:

Robert L. Heath, Working through trade associations and public information
organizations, in Robert L. Heath, ed, Strategic Issues Management: How
Organizations Influence and Respond to Public Interests and Policies, San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1988.

This is a brief description of NAMNET, a computer network that has been
operated by the National Association of Manufacturers since 1987.  NAM, of
course, has long been famous for its aggressive and well-funded lobbying on
issues such as labor organizing and workplace health and safety regulations.
(It opposes these things.)  Among the many features of NAMNET is software
support for what has become known in business as "grassroots lobbying", in
which a special interest with substantial infrastructure (whether in-house or
contracted from commercial firms) mobilizes its allies in a highly selective
and focused way on very short notice to influence the proceedings of, for
example, a legislature.

Now, some people argue that electronic open government will level the
playing field by giving The People access to the same information as special
interests.  But maybe it doesn't work that way.  Techniques like NAM's
(and others, such as direct mail techniques based on the application of
massive computing power to databases of personal information) have brought
a quiet revolution to the day-to-day conduct of politics.  Far from being
run behind closed doors, information technology now allows politics to be
conducted through the rapid, top-down, real-time mobilization of massive
"constituencies".  And these methods quickly come down to money: it is now
entirely feasible to purchase a precise, measurable amount of pressure on any
given issue on any Senator of your choice.  The more money you have, the more
pressure you can buy.  (For more of this, see Wm. Greider's book "Who Will
Tell the People?")

So how about it?  If we wish to strengthen democracy, should we welcome
electronic "open government" or oppose it?  What alternative models of
information technology's relationship to government would be less amenable
to high-powered manipulation and more amenable to the electronic cultures
within which we might reinvent democracy?

Phil Agre, UCSD

Call for Comments on Computing and the Clinton Administration

Gary Chapman <>
Wed, 16 Dec 92 12:43:20 -0500


This is Gary Chapman, director of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, office
of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.  I edit The CPSR
Newsletter, a quarterly publication that goes to all CPSR members and
about 400 other people, including a lot of policymakers, members of
Congress, administration officials, etc.

We're going to try something unusual for the next CPSR Newsletter, and
I'm putting out a call for help.  We're going to publish a special issue
 on "What the Clinton Administration Can Do For The Computing Profession
 and the Public."  I'm sending out this message to ask people to send me
 SHORT contributions to this issue, just brief comments about what the
new administration can do to help support computing in the United
States, or perhaps the world.

Here are a few basic guidelines for these submissions:

1.  SHORT MEANS SHORT — In order to publish as many of these as we can,
 we need to keep each contribution to about 100-150 words, max, one or
two paragraphs.  In fact, anything longer will probably be eliminated
out of fairness to others.

2.  YOU MUST IDENTIFY YOURSELF — Again, briefly, with just your name
and one line that says something about you, such as Joe Blow or Sally
Smith, Programmer, BillyBob Corporation, or Centerville, Ohio, or
something like that, whatever you prefer.

3.  ADDRESS ISSUES OF PUBLIC POLICY — In order to make these
contributions relevant to the Clinton administration, they should
concern issues about which government can or should do something, or
stop doing, whatever.  These include major issues such as privacy,
access to information, computer networks like the Internet or NREN, R&D
priorities, equitable access to computers, intellectual property,
defense policy, risks to the public, etc.  We're not really interested
in contributions that are self-serving, parochial, excessively arcane or
 trivial, belligerently and unconstructively critical, and so on.  We
will favor messages that discuss the intersection of computing and major
 issues of concern to the public at large.

back to you about the text.  We won't publish e-mail addresses, I

5.  GET ALL CONTRIBUTIONS TO ME BY JANUARY 15, 1993.  My e-mail address

This is not limited to people in the United States, although overseas
contributors will have to make a case for what the Clinton
administration should do to help international computing — the focus
will be on U.S. government  policy.

We're going to try and get this issue into the hands of the key players
on computing and high tech policy in the new administration.  For the
most part we already know who those people are, and we're talking to
them about the issues that CPSR is working on.  This newsletter will
give them a good impression, we hope, of the concerns of the computing
profession and people who use computer networks.  Consider this an
opportunity for a kind of "hard copy" town hall.

Thanks for your help!  Get those messages coming!

Gary Chapman, Coordinator     The 21st Century Project
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
Cambridge, MA     

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