Section 1 Preliminaries

The following is from Draft 2 of the ACM Policy on Complaint Process Disclosure.

If you wish to contribute to this section: Reply to this post with your suggested re-wording, justification for your proposed changes, and an indication of your support or not.

1 Preliminaries

This policy governs the disclosure of information in the context of complaints filed alleging violation of one of ACM’s policies. Examples of applicable policies are the Code of Ethics, the Policy Against Harassment at ACM Events, and various Publication Policies. While each policy has different enforcement procedures, there are generally three different types of disclosures of information that are part of complaint processes:

  • Disclosures as a matter of procedural equity, including disclosures to an accused individual and to the victim or complainant.
  • Disclosures as a matter of harm prevention, including disclosures to an affected community, to other professional societies, or to the public.
  • Disclosures as a matter of sanction, including disclosures to an employer or funder.

This policy addresses the first two types of disclosures. Generally speaking, disclosure decisions are to be made on a case-by-case basis with close adherence to the policy. Regardless of whether the disclosure is consistent with or deviates from the policy, the disclosure must be guided by words from the Preamble to ACM’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct:

Questions related to these kinds of issues can best be answered by thoughtful consideration of the fundamental ethical principles, understanding that the public good is the paramount consideration. The entire computing profession benefits when the ethical decision-making process is accountable to and transparent to all stakeholders. Open discussions about ethical issues promote this accountability and transparency.

Principles from the Code that ask us to avoid harm, be honest and trustworthy, be fair, and respect privacy are also important to bear in mind. When complaints are filed, we presume that the complaint is legitimate, and we value the reputations of all parties. From the time of the filing of a complaint to when all appeals processes have been exhausted, those involved in handling the complaint must strive to limit information releases to a need-to-know basis always bearing in mind the need to minimize harm, to maintain spaces that actively support the exchange of scientific ideas, and to support strong science.

1.1 Definitions

  • Enforcement Policy: An ACM policy that identifies the process for handling a complaint alleging violation of an ACM policy. Enforcement policies identify who is responsible for taking actions with respect to investigation of the complaint, determining whether the policy was violated, and if so, what penalty ought to be applied. ACM has enforcement policies for the Code of Ethics, the Policy Against Harassment at ACM Events, and the Publication Policies.
  • Complainant: Person filing the complaint.
  • Respondent: Person who is accused of violating an ACM policy.
  • Harmed individual: Person who was directly harmed by the violation of the policy. Often, this is the complainant, but an investigation may reveal others who were harmed. It may also be the case that the complainant was not harmed by the actions under investigation.
  • Witness: Any person knowledgeable about the alleged activities or those involved who responded to questions raised by the investigation.
  • Remediation: an outcome of a case in which the respondent has agreed to improve their actions in the future.
  • Sanction: an outcome in a case in which the ACM imposes restrictions on how the respondent interacts with ACM or takes other actions that impact how others interact with the respondent.
  • Penalty: a term that includes both remediation and sanction.
  • Minor violation: The impact of the harmful action is repairable. Generally in these cases, the respondent accepts responsibility for the action and demonstrates a willingness to engage in remediation that is intended to guide the respondent to being a better member of the computing community.

I would like to suggest two more roles:

  • Companion: Complaining can involve a great deal of emotional labor - especially if the Complainant is also the Harmed Individual. They may wish to have a trusted Companion with them for support. A secondary role for the Companion would be as the Complainant’s witness to help them remember or document what happens in their interactions with ACM.
  • Advisor: Complaining can involve legal or organizational risks. A Complainant may wish to have the real-time advice of an Advisor, who could be a faculty member, a manager, or a lawyer. The Advisor may also serve as a witness of the Complainant’s interactions with ACM.

I’m not a fan of the term “minor violation”. This carries through the titles of 2.5 and 2.6. It seems like “minor” could be seen as reducing the harm caused by the violations. I’d prefer to see “violation” and a term for more severe, serious, significant, consequential, critical, or grave violations. I don’t have a problem with the definition given for “minor violation”, but just the use of the term “minor”.


Thanks for these suggestions. We will consider them moving forward.

Thanks for gathering community input in this way.

  1. Of the three types of disclosures, this policy is said to address the first two types. Suggest you please clarify the choice not to take on type three (disclosures as a matter of sanction) in this policy.

  2. I am having a hard time with the phrase “harmed individual”. This is defined to often be the complainant, plus perhaps adjustments to this based on the investigation. But when it comes to something like reviewer collusion or data falsification, the set of harmed individuals may be an entire research community. If one person publishes an idea based on falsified data, it likely will impede others in the community from subsequently publishing that idea based on ethical approaches. Or if reviewer collusion causes certain papers to be accepted into a conference, that too might later affect who publishes on related topics. How does one enumerate the scope of harmed individuals in such cases?