Association for Computing Machinery Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct Enforcement Policy/Procedure

The Association for Computing Machinery (“ACM”) expects every ACM member, ACM SIG member, ACM award recipient, and ACM SIG award recipient (referred to in this Policy as “Member” or “Members”) to commit to engaging in ethical professional conduct and abide by ACM’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct (the Code). This document describes ACM’s policies and procedure for resolving complaints alleging violations of the Code and may be used in addressing complaints brought to the ACM alleging violations of ACM's other policies. ACM’s Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE) is responsible for carrying out the complaint resolution process.

A. Complaint Resolution Procedure

Individuals may submit complaints concerning suspected violations of the Code by a Member by using the form for Reporting Violations of the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. The Chair of COPE (the “Chair”) may initiate a complaint under this procedure at any time. Any complaint should include the name and contact information of the Complainant, the name and contact information (as best as it can be determined) of the Member charged with violating the Code (referred to as the Respondent), and a concise statement of the facts of the case. The Complainant must identify why those facts indicate a violation of the Code, identify the Principles of the Code that were allegedly violated, and provide sufficient factual evidence to support the violation claim. To enable a fair and timely resolution, a complaint must typically be submitted within 180 days after the alleged violation occurred. Complaints submitted more than 180 days after the alleged violation occurred will be considered at the Chair’s sole discretion. The privileges for the Respondent that are described in this policy only apply when the Respondent of the complaint is a Member at the time the complaint is filed.

A.1. Initial Review

The Chair and at least one other member of COPE designated by the Chair will review the complaint to determine whether it is within the scope of this Policy. The determination of whether the complaint falls within the scope of the Policy is at their discretion. The Chair may seek clarifying information before deciding whether to pursue a complaint. The Chair makes the determination whether to pursue the complaint. A complaint ordinarily will not be pursued if: (i) it lacks sufficient factual allegations to conduct an investigation, (ii) the Chair has good reason to believe it was made in bad faith, (iii) the actions of the Respondent identified in the complaint have already been considered in an earlier complaint, (iv) any reason outlined in section D of this Policy applies, or (v) the complaint falls outside the scope of the Policy. If it appears that the complaint is merely a personal dispute, the Chair may determine that the complaint is to be resolved through the Complainant and Respondent addressing the issue in a manner consistent with the Code. If the complaint will not be pursued, the Chair (or the Chair’s designee) will notify the Complainant (if any) of the decision in writing. If it is the determination of the Chair that mere existence of the complaint may cause harm to the Respondent, the Chair may notify the Respondent of the complaint’s existence and the determination by COPE not to pursue it further.

When a complaint is pursued, the Chair (or the Chair’s designee) will notify the Complainant (if any) and the Respondent of the decision in writing and will simultaneously provide to the Respondent a copy of this Policy and a description of information contained in the complaint that has had identifying information about the Complainant and any potential witnesses removed. The Chair may choose to delay notification of the Respondent when such notification might interfere with the investigation.

If the Chair decides that further action under this Policy is appropriate, ACM may make an offer of remediation as described in section A.2 or commence an investigation as described in section A.3.

A.2. Offer of Remediation

If the Chair determines that the complaint will be addressed under this Policy, in consultation with the ACM CEO and at ACM’s sole discretion, the Chair may at any time offer remediation to the Respondent to resolve the complaint. An offer of remediation will typically involve the Respondent accepting responsibility for the action identified in the complaint, making amends commensurate with the action, and a mild penalty that contributes to the continuing professional growth of the Respondent. In the event this remediation offer is accepted by the Respondent, notice will be provided by the Chair to the Complainant (if any). Offers of remediation are typically not offered in egregious cases. Any recommended remediation will be overseen by the CEO or the CEO’s designee.

The complaint will otherwise be kept confidential, except to the extent necessary to effect the applicable remediation and for ACM to comply with its legal obligations.

The Chair may initiate an investigation as outlined in A.3 even when an offer of remediation is pending. An offer of remediation may be withdrawn by the Chair at any time.

A.3. Investigation

The investigation will be conducted for the purpose of determining whether the preponderance of evidence indicates that the Respondent has violated the Code. The CEO, in consultation with the COPE Chair, will lead the investigation. However, the CEO may designate a member of COPE (typically the Chair) to lead the investigation. The CEO (or designee) may hire outside investigators and select ACM staff and/or members of COPE to conduct or assist with the investigation. The investigation may at the CEO’s (or designee’s) discretion include the following steps:

  1. Interviewing the Complainant (if any), the Respondent, or other witnesses identified during the investigation.
  2. Reviewing any documents, including those prepared by other reputable investigative bodies, provided by the Complainant, the Respondent, or other witnesses.
  3. As they deem necessary, and in consultation with the CEO and the Chair, consulting with subject matter experts who are also Members.
  4. As they deem necessary, and in consultation with the CEO and the Chair, taking any other steps appropriate to aid in determining whether the Code has been violated.

Simultaneous to the investigation, the Chair will form a subcommittee of COPE for the purpose of reviewing the materials from the investigation. Should the Chair or any of the members of the subcommittee not be part of the investigation team, the CEO (or designee) will provide to the Chair and the subcommittee all materials gathered during the investigation, including minutes of any interviews conducted; all documents collected; minutes or copies of any oral or written reports by any subject matter expert(s); and video recording of any interviews. The refusal of a Respondent to cooperate in the investigation shall not delay the process. In cases where there is a threat of further harm should a sanction not be implemented in a timely manner, the CEO should take steps necessary to immediately reduce the potential for that harm.

The subcommittee of COPE will review the materials generated by the investigation and, in consultation with the CEO, will determine whether the preponderance of the evidence indicates that the Respondent has violated ACM’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. The final decision regarding whether the Code has been violated rests with the Chair. If the Chair determines that the Respondent has violated ACM’s Code of Ethics, they, in consultation with the subcommittee and the CEO, will determine what sanction to pursue. Without limitation, possible sanctions may include issuance of a letter of admonishment, barring the Respondent from attendance at conferences for a specified time, barring the Respondent from volunteering for ACM activities for a specified time, counseling, suspension from ACM for a specified time, community service, prohibiting publication in some or all ACM publications, recommending that Council revoke an ACM or SIG award or honor, or recommending that Council expel the member from ACM. Should revocation of an award or honor be under consideration as a sanction, the Chair must consult with the chair of the Awards Committee to determine the appropriateness of such a measure. ACM Council has sole authority to revoke an award or honor or to expel a member from ACM.

If the Chair determines that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that the Respondent violated ACM’s Code of Ethics, no further action will be taken by ACM, except to notify the Respondent and Complainant (if any) of the determination and notify witnesses that the investigation is complete.

Otherwise, the Chair will notify the Respondent in writing of the decision and will simultaneously provide to the Respondent written explanation of the determination that the preponderance of evidence indicates that the Code has been violated and of the sanction being imposed. The names of complainants and witnesses are not to be shared with the Respondent.

ACM will endeavor to come to a determination on each complaint within 6 months after the Chair’s determination that an investigation is warranted.

If the Chair determines that the Code of Ethics was violated and imposes a sanction, the Respondent may appeal the determination under section A.5 or request sanction reconsideration under section A.4 below.

The implementation of sanctions will be overseen by the CEO or the CEO’s designee.

A.4. Sanction Reconsideration

Should the Respondent agree with the determination that the Code of Ethics has been violated, the Respondent may request a reconsideration of the sanction. The request for reconsideration of sanction must be submitted to the Chair in writing within thirty (30) days of when the Respondent is notified of the decision. In the request for reconsideration of the sanction, the Respondent must clearly indicate acceptance of the determination that they violated the Code of Ethics and propose an appropriate sanction or remedial action for the Respondent. Upon receipt of a request for consideration of sanction the Chair, in consultation with the subcommittee and CEO, will make the determination whether to adopt the sanction/remedial action proposed by the Respondent or a different sanction or remedial action in light of the Respondent accepting responsibility for the action that constituted the violation of the Code. The Chair will notify the Respondent and the CEO of this determination. Additionally, the Chair will provide to the Complainant and those determined to be harmed by the actions of the Respondent a written explanation of the determination that the preponderance of evidence indicates that the Code had been violated, notice that the Respondent indicated acceptance of that determination, and the sanction/remedial action imposed. The names of witnesses are not to be shared with the Complainant (if any) and Respondent.

Respondents choosing this option will not be allowed to appeal the determination that they had violated the Code.

A.5. Appeals

Any appeal of a determination or sanction must be submitted within thirty (30) days of when the Respondent is notified of the decision. The appeal must include an explanation as to why the determination by COPE was in error and why the sanction is not commensurate with that determination. It must be submitted in writing to the President and will be decided by the President based on their consideration of the applicable record as a whole. The President will communicate their decision on the appeal in writing to the CEO, the Chair, and the Respondent, and, if the appeal results in a change in determination or sanction, they will additionally report the outcome of the decision along with justification for the change to the Complainant and members of COPE involved in the investigation or on the subcommittee.

The President’s decision on an appeal is final. The President will endeavor to resolve appeals within sixty (60) days of the day the appeal is made.

Upon conclusion of the appeal process, the COPE Chair will notify all witnesses that the case has been closed.

B. Conflicts of Interest

No member of COPE, ACM, or ACM’s staff may participate in resolving a complaint if they have a conflict of interest. Conflicts of interest may include, but are not necessarily limited to, a personal or financial relationship with the Complainant or Respondent; a personal or financial interest in the outcome of the complaint; or personal involvement in or knowledge of the conduct at issue in the complaint. If a member of COPE, ACM, or ACM’s staff believes they have conflict of interest, they should promptly recuse themself from involvement in the complaint resolution process and disclose the nature of the conflict to the CEO.

If the President has a conflict of interest, their respective duties will be performed by another Member selected in the following order: immediate past President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, member of the Council (selected at random).

If the Chair of COPE has a conflict of interest, the CEO will appoint another member of COPE to perform the Chair’s duties. If the CEO has a conflict of interest, the President will appoint ACM’s Chief Operating Officer or a member of Council to fill the CEO’s role.

C. Confidentiality and Document Retention

Although the results of an investigation and the sanction determination (section A.3) may be announced to ACM’s membership, ACM endeavors to keep proceedings under this Policy as confidential as is reasonably possible. Participants in any proceeding under this Policy, including the Complainant, Respondent, witnesses, members of COPE and ACM staff involved in resolving the complaint, are expected to adhere to this confidentiality policy. However, participants may, at their own expense, consult legal counsel and discuss the matter with immediate family members, provided they have first agreed to keep the proceedings confidential. Violation of this expectation of confidentiality may be considered a violation of the Code of Ethics.

The CEO may disclose information regarding the proceedings to ACM staff, ACM members, and third parties as necessary for ACM’s business purposes, including, but not limited to, facilitating proceedings, implementing sanctions, or satisfying ACM’s legal obligations. ACM may also, at its sole discretion, disclose information obtained during the course of any proceeding for safety or security purposes. In addition, ACM may, at its discretion, make legal counsel available to consult with its staff and COPE and Council members concerning any aspect of any complaint or proceeding under this Policy.

ACM maintains a secure database that contains details of complaints filed with respect to suspected violations of ACM policies. This includes complaints alleging violations of the ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. Information about complaints and their resolution will remain in this database as described in ACM’s Privacy Policy.

Once a complaint has been finally resolved, the CEO will notify all participants that they should delete or destroy, without retaining copies of, all documents and information in their possession relating to the proceeding. All participants are expected to comply with this Policy and, to the extent they believe they are unable to do so due to competing legal or other obligations, should discuss the matter with the CEO.

Participants should keep in mind that documents and communications sent via (or stored in) personal or institutional e-mail, networks, or cloud services may not be kept confidential, and they should endeavor to exercise good judgment in sending, storing, and retaining documents relating to proceedings under this Policy.

D. Policy Applicability

While ACM members, ACM SIG members, ACM Award winners, and ACM SIG Award winners are expected to abide by the Code in all of their professional activities, the CEO and Chair may decline to consider any complaint at their sole discretion, including but not limited to complaints that concern conduct or a dispute in which another organization or institution has a more substantial interest, or in which the Respondent is under threat of legal action or a governmental investigation. The CEO and Chair may also decide to defer consideration of any complaint until another organization or institution has addressed the matter internally, or until any legal action or governmental investigation has concluded.

Further, complaints regarding conduct that falls under ACM’s Conflict of Interest Policy, Plagiarism Policies or Policy Against Harassment at ACM Activities will ordinarily be first addressed under those policies. ACM may, at its discretion, also treat such a complaint (or a complaint made pursuant to those policies) as a complaint under this Policy. Complaints will be considered using this policy when the respondent was a Member at the time of the alleged incident.

If at any point the Chair or the CEO determines that a complaint raises or may raise a criminal matter, then ACM may inform the appropriate authorities. In this event, the Chair or CEO may suspend further consideration of the complaint until after the appropriate authorities have completed their investigation or any other actions. After the involvement of the appropriate authorities is complete, whether such involvement results in any criminal or civil sanctions, a complainant may request that ACM continue its consideration of the complaint under this Policy, or ACM may choose to do so without prompting.

E. No Retaliation

It is inconsistent with the Code to make threats or engage in acts of retaliation against individuals who in good faith report suspected violations of the Code. A Member who believes that they have been retaliated against for making a good-faith complaint under this Policy may use the procedures in section A to report the pertinent facts to the Chair, who will consider the report as a complaint made under this Policy.

Guiding Members with a Framework of Ethical Conduct

Learn more about ACM’s commitment to ethical standards: the ACM Code of Ethics, Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice, and Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE), which is guiding these and other intiatives.

Enforcement of ACM Policies

ACM has adopted several key policies that span across its many computing disciplines and research practices. To enforce these policies, ACM has developed procedures for adhering to and reporting violations and measures for addressing suspected cases of violation.

Supporting the Professionalism of ACM Members

The ACM Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE) is responsible for promoting ethical conduct among computing professionals by publicizing the Code of Ethics and by offering interpretations of the Code; planning and reviewing activities to educate membership in ethical decision making on issues of professional conduct; and reviewing and recommending updates to the Code of Ethics and its guidelines.

Guidance in Addressing Real-World Ethical Challenges

The Integrity Project, created by ACM's Committee on Professional Ethics, is a series of resources designed to aid ethical decision making. It includes case studies demonstrating how the principles can be applied to specific ethical challenges, and an Ask an Ethicist advice column to help computing professionals navigate the sometimes challenging choices that can arise in the course of their work.

Ask an Ethicist

Ask an Ethicist invites ethics questions related to computing or technology. Have an interesting question, puzzle or conundrum? Submit yours via a form, and the ACM Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE) will answer a selection of them on the site.

Using the Code

With the release of the updated Code of Ethics, ACM has created companion case studies that demonstrate how the principles of the Code can be applied to specific ethical challenges. Illustrative examples of hypothetical violations of or adherence to specific principles found in the Code—highlighting key nuances and directives—form the basis of the case studies.