ACM slams proposed software law

By Dorte Toft, Computer World |  Business

The head of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has voiced her organization's concerns over the proposed Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA). She warned that, should the act become law, it could have detrimental consequences on the software market.

"I fear that this law, if passed, will create pressure on our members [computer professionals] to cut some corners in order to get software out as fast as possible," said Barbara Simons, president of ACM. "It may result in reduced software quality and increased risk to the general public."

Simons was explaining why, on behalf of ACM's 80,000 members last week, she sent a letter to more than 300 lawyers, judges and law professors.

The recipients of the ACM letter constitute the " target=NEW>National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Law (NCCUSL) and are expected to vote on the proposed software law July 29.

According to Simons' letter, the UCITA will make it too easy for software publishers to avoid facing any legal consequences for producing defective software, even for defects they knew about in advance prior to the product shipping.

Such a situation, according to Simons, may tempt software vendors traditionally concerned about software quality to press their employees to get products out if a less conscientious competitor is about to begin shipping its products first.

ACM members are obliged to honor a code of ethics stating, "The computing professionals must strive to achieve quality and to be cognizant of the serious negative consequence that may result from poor quality in a system."

"The UCITA will hinder this pursuit, and result in possible harm to the general public," the ACM letter stated.

Simons, who recently retired after many years working at a major IT company, stressed that she is not worried about minor bugs in software. "We all know it is not possible to write bug-free programs," she said.

However, the ACM letter also noted that the proposed law could make it impossible to develop antivirus software, because the technique of reverse engineering is banned.

Such a ban will prevent computer professionals from unraveling the code in software produced with malicious intent, a security expert said.

According to Peter G. Neumann, author of the book Computer-Related Risks, security professionals may as well pack up and close up shop, if the ban on reverse engineering is upheld. He assisted ACM in the writing of the part of the letter related to security.

"The situation will be absurd," said Neumann, principle scientist at SRI International, based in Menlo Park, Calif.

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