"Women, Children, Animals and the Like":
Protecting an Unwilling Electronic Populace

L. Jean Camp
Donna M. Riley

driley@email.smith.edu, jean_camp@ksg.harvard.edu
at the time of publication both had the same affiliation:
Engineering and Public Policy
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA
Proceedings of the Fifth Conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy, March 28-31, 1995; Burlingame, CA; pp 120-139

The removal of sexually explicit information from the Usenet news feeds at Carnegie Mellon University has generated broad interest and great concern. Media coverage of the debate at Carnegie Mellon University has focused on the most sensational elements.[2] This case study offers a detailed description of events, policies and players.

We begin with a description of the events surrounding the removal of the newsgroups. We then discuss the organization of a committee charged with formulating a policy on Usenet newsgroups and local Andrew bboards.[3] We will show that the University's actions were not consistent with its stated goals. We then propose reasons for the mismatch between stated motivations and actions, identifying interacting parties and their goals in the series of events surrounding the removal of the newsgroups. Finally we discuss the implications for other organizations.

1 A Brief History

In the past there was no written policy for Usenet and local newsgroups. Computing Services has always removed child pornography as soon as its presence was identified; otherwise there was no monitoring or removal of newsgroups.

On local bboards Computing Services removes posts on a case by case basis. Right now there are no electronic areas for free, protected debate. Every student association newsgroup, regardless of name or purpose, is addressed by the same ad hoc Computing Services policies.

In the past, the Administration could become involved in an electronic conflict on any newsgroup or bboard. Right now, anyone can initiate University Disciplinary Committee action against anyone else for any post anywhere. There are no electronic spaces where hateful and harassing speech is protected. Clearly, you cannot communicate threats, like "I am going to murder you, Joe Bloggs," electronically. Hate speech is both important for the political dialogue and inappropriate in a working environment. Hate speech is not protected everywhere at CMU, but there is no official policy recognizing an electronic town square, where all speech is protected.

Carnegie Mellon, like most organizations [4], did not have clear, comprehensive policies about the use of information systems. Thus a conflict over electronic information was, in some sense, inevitable.

1.1 The Administration Acts

On November 3, 1994, William Arms, Vice President of Computing Services, distributed a memo describing a newly instituted policy for Usenet newsgroups around Carnegie Mellon University. The memo appears quite reasonable as a policy statement, reading in part:

Regardless of the level and modest intent expressed in the memo, the actual decision was to remove the following hierarchies:

All of these newsgroups were to be removed on November 8, 1994. [6]

The scope of the action planned was far beyond anything suggested by the limited policy. For example, the newsgroup alt.sex.NOT, which discusses abstinence, is, ironically, the antithesis of what the University was trying to censor. Several other groups (e.g., alt.sex.fat, alt.sex.motss, alt.sex.wizards, alt.sex.safe) are support groups where people discuss their questions about sexuality. Posts on the latter groups are rarely sexually explicit and appropriate posts would never be legally obscene.

The memo identifies a Pennsylvania law prohibiting distribution of pornography to minors as the reason for the deletion of newsgroups. [7] The Pennsylvania law was passed over a decade ago; the newsgroups under review have been around for a similarly long time. The obvious question became: why now? Querying the Administration yielded the response that a student's application for an undergraduate research grant identified the existence of pornography on the Internet. The student, Martin Rimm, suggested in his work that the Internet is overwhelmed with pornography. That impression was created in part by the fact that Rimm's work does not distinguish between Usenet newsgroups and commercial BBS which focus solely on the distribution of pornography.

The University Counsel stated Rimm's research had shown that there were over 6,000,000 pornographic downloads from Usenet newsgroups. In actuality the abstract stated that a total of 6,432,297 images from the BBS and Usenet newsgroups were downloaded, with only 10,000 images clearly identified as being from Usenet.[9] This application for a research grant and the successful prosecution of a BBS operator for disseminating pornography in Tennessee were the stated motivations for the Administration's actions.

1.2 The Campus Responds

The response on campus was immediate; minutes after the announcement was made via a local andrew bboard an electronic petition flooded the mailboxes of key administrators. In fact, these administrators received so much email that several completely stopped reading their messages. The petition objected to: the decision-making process which was closed to input from the campus community and relevant legal experts; the arbitrary selection of newsgroups for elimination; and the decision's effective classification of all sexually explicit material as obscene. The petition demanded that a committee be appointed that represents the entire University community to review the initial decision, and that the University restore all newsgroups until the committee made its recommendations. [10]

By the end of the day a local andrew bboard was created as a central organizing space for anti-censorship activism. Members from all groups in the University took part in the electronic petition drive. The various groups also protested within their representative organizations (e.g., students to Student Senate, staff to Staff Council, etc.)

1.2.1 Student Response

Students were the most active in the petition drive. The Student Senate (Carnegie Mellon's student government) passed a resolution condemning the censorship. Student leaders also organized a rally.

At a meeting called to address the issue of censorship, the Student Senate passed the following resolution:

On November 9, 1994, a noontime rally brought national media focus to the University censorship issue. With the theme "Freedom in Cyberspace," speakers included Mike Godwin, Electronic Frontier Foundation; Vic Walczyk, American Civil Liberties Union; a local alumnus involved with legal issues on the Internet; the editor of the University's student paper; Erwin Steinberg, representing the Administration; and Donna Riley was asked to speak and offer the "women's perspective" on the issue.

The rally was advertised with the slogan "Free Speech is Yummy and Nutritious." All speakers not from the Administration focused on the issue of speech. The students addressed the Administration's focus on sexuality only to denounce it as a foil. The rally was well attended (300-500 students is an incredible turnout for Carnegie Mellon).

One group of students organized a "Porn Fest". The festival organizers purposefully selected the most offensive material with the intent of provoking the Administration into over-reacting to material that has stronger legal protections than Usenet groups. The Porn Fest was never addressed by any member of the Administration in public announcements or in Bboard Committee meetings.

1.2.2 Faculty Responses

On Thursday, November 10, the Faculty Senate of the University passed a resolution condemning the Administration's decision:

Faculty Senate passed the resolution almost unanimously with a single opposing vote from a member of the Administration. The Chair of Faculty Senate, Harold Paxton, volunteered to represent the faculty on the Bboard Committee.

1.2.3 Staff Response

The following Thursday, Staff Council passed a resolution almost identical[13] to the Faculty Senate resolution. However, because the members of Staff Council are more concerned with labor issues than students and faculty, the debate in Staff Council focused on hostile work environments for female support staff. After discussion distinguishing between access to information and the display of pornographic images in workspaces, the resolution was accepted. [14]

1.2.4 Feminist Response

Clearly there are feminists among the students, faculty, staff, administration, and computing services personnel. Here we consider those feminists who came together to act as feminists against censorship.

Campus feminists felt that an additional burden was placed upon women by the use of patronizing justifications for censorship. In fact, at the November 9 rally, Steinberg made reference to images of "forcible sex with women, children, animals, and the like," as a justification for censorship.

To feminists, lumping women, children, and animals together as objects of male sexuality begged the question: exactly what are women like? The implication that women are "like" disenfranchised individuals incapable of meaningful consent combined with the Bboard Committee's unwarranted focus on sexual harassment galvanized the University's feminist community.

Several women felt that censoring newsgroups in a stated effort to protect women from harassment was patronizing to women. Removing the newsgroups robs women of our own agency by limiting our ability to confront and discuss issues of pornography and sexuality on the Internet. At that point, two concerned women contacted Susie Bright, a lesbian sex activist and writer, to ask for suggestions. Bright recommended forming a women's group to address specific issues related to women, sexuality, and censorship on campus. The group named itself "The Clitoral Hoods" and held its first meeting December 5.

At this meeting the Hoods designed a dozen controversial flyers which focused on three main ideas:

Some flyers were factual and textual; others were graphic and provocative. The Hoods selected a banned image as a logo -- a line drawing parody of Ariel (Disney's Little Mermaid), naked and clearly enjoying her own sexuality.

This provoked much discussion, particularly in the School of Computer Science. One female professor tore a flyer down because she assumed men had put it up. Some Conservative Christian graduate students were offended by the image's suggestion of masturbation. The action was an overall success in that it raised the level of debate. The posters and later discussion brought attention to the fact that the Bboard Committee was inappropriately focusing on the supposedly harmful effects of newsgroups on women, and the University's supposed responsibility to make sexually explicit material inaccessible to members of the community under the EEOC (Equal Opportunity Employment Commission) sexual harassment code.

1.3 The Administration Responds

1.3.1 Text Groups

The Administration responded to the outcry on November 7 by agreeing to remove only the sexually explicit binaries hierarchies and forming a committee to review the decision.

The Administration responded swiftly to student complaints in retaining all text-based groups. However, the Administration continued to deny that there is a difference between the text and image groups through February.[15] This suggests that the retention of the textual groups is not secure. It is possible that the Administration's response is only temporary.

1.3.2 The Bboard Committee

At the first Committee meeting, the Chair-- the only voting member from the Administration-- arrived with a mission statement and an agenda. Neither the mission statement nor the agenda had been approved -- or even reviewed -- by any other Committee member.

The first action of the Committee was to reject the mission statement offered by the Chair. The first mission statement focused on the issue of obscenity over issues of liability. It read:

No representative from faculty, staff or students wanted to sit on a committee charged with removal of newsgroups. Note that the Human Relations Commission handles issues of harassment and work environments, not broader legal issues relevant to on-line liability.

The Committee voted to delete "to formulate a recommendation as to which, if any, of these bboards should be stored on the Andrew bulletin board system" and add the following paragraph:

However, the mission statement approved by the President had only the addition. The sentence about removing bboards remained in the mission statement contrary to committee vote. Despite this fact, the final mission statement was sufficient to allow the members to sit on the Committee in good conscience.

The Chair passed around a closed folder of images, including images of nonconsensual sex, bondage, bestiality, and consensual gay anal sex. The Chair maintained that these images were representative. The points on the agenda associated with these pictures read:

There were no questions about the liability of the University in terms of providing access to minors. The agenda and the resulting meeting focused on the content of images selected by the Chair. There was no discussion of whether the content was obscene from a legal perspective, only whether individual members of the Committee found them offensive. This was the first time sexual harassment was brought into the debate; the focus again was on content, not liability.

The Committee voted on full disclosure. The Chair volunteered and was charged with writing minutes reflecting the Committee's discussions for full disclosure.

In all meetings the Committee was divided by the fundamental issues. The University representative and University Counsel focused upon the obscenity of the pictures. The faculty, staff and student representatives focused on the fact that the Administration's decision was arbitrary and that there remained inadequate protection for speech.

The University maintains that the primary reason for acting against the sexually explicit newsgroups was liability. Therefore the Bboard Committee decided to explore other possible issues of liability. However, the speakers that were contacted did not represent the full range of questions on liability. The Committee decided to bring in a series of speakers on the issues of copyright, obscenity, and media types to issues of liability and Usenet. However neither specialists in on-line services nor experts on sexual harassment, despite its (unwarranted) centrality to the debate, were invited to speak.

The first speaker to address the Bboard Committee was Pamela Samuelson of the University of Pittsburgh Law School. She addressed the issue of copyright. Violations of copyright were identified as a legal hazard far greater than obscenity to universities because copyright violations are subject to strict liability,[18] and it is quite possible that the majority of images in the binaries hierarchy are copyrighted. Also, university libraries do not have an explicit exception in copyright law, as in the obscenity law identified as a concern.

The Bboard Committee invited the local District Attorney to speak to the Committee. This speaker reflected the Administration's opinions in two ways: by focusing on selected photos, and by declining to answer certain questions. He stated that some of the material he was shown was clearly obscene. He maintained, in fact, that in order to avoid the possibility of prosecution the University would have to cease carrying all Usenet news. The entire presentation was based upon a five minute description of the Internet by the University Counsel, who has neither been able to subscribe and unsubscribe to newsgroups nor used ftp.

For a more technically coherent discussion, the Bboard Committee invited A.S. Hammond, IV from the New York School of Law. He discussed the issue of University liability from the perspective of media types. A discussion of media types is relevant because the University is liable if it is a distributor of pornography, not if it is a common carrier. He stated that Usenet feeds are like private network providers in four ways (a private network provider is a special case of common carrier). The University's provision of Usenet feeds are common carriage in that Usenet feeds are provided to other sites:

A policy later proposed by the Graduate Student Organization representatives on the Committee recommended that the University investigate the option of obtaining common carriage status for Usenet news feeds. This proposal stated:

The minutes of the meeting released, written by the Chair, did not reflect this contention on common carriage on the part of the speaker. A single sentence about the responsibilities of free speech was selected to be presented as the focus of the speaker's visit. University Counsel dismissed Hammond's advice on media types on the grounds that he did not practice law in Pennsylvania.

At the very next Committee meeting the debate again returned to questions of obscenity.

Next, the Committee invited Frederick Schauer, First Amendment Professor at Harvard's Kennedy School, to address obscenity issues. Professor Schauer stated,

Schauer did not disagree with the Administration's sexual harassment claim that women are underrepresented on the Internet because the presence of pornography creates a hostile environment.

Throughout the Committee meetings, the debate about the provision of pornography to minors in the Committee was minimal to nonexistent. The debate continued to focus on specific lewd images while skirting the issue of liability.

2 The University as an (ir)Rational Organization

A classic model of organizational behavior[21] assumes that an organization is a single entity acting in its own best interest. The administration's original announcement ("censor only what is legally necessary") is a policy which balances the University's interests. A university needs to protect both academic freedom and its own legal status.

However, the Administration's actions clearly illustrate that the University was not acting rationally given its stated purpose. Here we have identified four cases where the University's actions were not rational.

2.1 Stated Policy vs. Actions

The stated policy was extremely limited in its application, stating that the only reason to remove newsgroups was that they are illegal. The move to censor entire hierarchies containing groups that have very little chance of being considered obscene is not rational.

The law simply does not seem to be a real motivation for the University's actions. In thirteen questions presented in a paper by the Chair, the letter of the law was considered once, academic freedom not at all, and various groups whose opinions need to be considered -- for example the parents of CMU students -- dominated.[22]

The University's behavior might be considered rational if the University misunderstood the law, made the decision to ban whole hierarchies without full information about their content, or reacted to pressure from a block of donating alumni and trustees who favor censorship.

2.2 Defining the Debate: Sexuality vs. Legality

The original policy and various community responses all respected the fact that the University has a reasonable need to avoid liability. Yet in the first meeting liability per se was not presented as the focal topic on the agenda. The topics presented for discussion by the Committee were prurient interests and the question of whether the removal of the groups from the University system constituted censorship.

The focus on sexually explicit material set the tone at the first Committee meeting, when images selected by the Chair were passed around for optional viewing. (Female members of the Committee were required to examine the images, even though the other members were given a choice.) Prurient interests were continually returned to the agenda, often in the form of questions as in the first meeting, although such discussions were never requested by any Committee members.

Prurient interest was even brought forth in the debate about media types, in the following single question proposed by the Committee Chair: "On cable in a California city that I visited recently there is a sex channel on which attractive nude young women bring each other to writhing, moaning orgasm by visible digital manipulation." [23]This was followed by a question on liability. However, the question on liability in no way depended upon the specifics of the content of the sexual episode mentioned.

The existence of censorship was also repeatedly addressed by the Chair. It was his contention that as long as the newsgroups exist on some server and the University provides access to the Internet, there is no censorship. Although this contention was soundly rejected, it was also repeatedly presented as truth by the Chair at meetings and at a conference on the First Amendment.[24]

2.3 Liability Fears: Obscenity

As previously stated, the debate in the Bboard Committee spent a trivial amount of time on the issue of providing obscenity to minors. This reflects the fact that the Andrew File System is capable of providing targeted censorship for selected newsgroups for up to two hundred accounts without suffering performance degradation. Therefore, that the issue of providing pornography to minors had a technical fix was obvious by the second meeting. Yet this simple technical fix was not installed on one of the two high school group accounts which had been introduced as the focal point of concern over liability.

2.4 Liability Fears: Copyright

In later meetings of the Committee, other rational concerns emerged. Violations of copyright law are a reasonable rationalization for the removal of binaries newsgroups. Copyright violations were identified as perhaps the most serious threat to University, but the Committee continued to focus on the content of the potentially obscene groups. If the University were acting rationally, it would focus more seriously on potential copyright violations and worry less about obscenity.

2.5 Information and Expertise

In its attempt to define the debate, the Committee showed symbolic interest in certain kinds of information to aid its decision. Yet much of the information offered by experts was dismissed. For example, a university rationally interested in academic freedom would investigate the explicit exemption made for libraries under the Pennsylvania law. Yet the University Counsel and Committee Chair remained disinterested in investigating transferring the news feeds to the library.

The University Counsel did not heed the advice of any counsel with which she disagreed. The Chair and the University Counsel repeatedly stated that the advice the Committee received was a function of the individual invited. In fact, a representative of the administration referred to A.S. Hammond, IV as a "radical" based entirely upon the fact that he was selected by a student representative. Consider the improbability of a "radical" media lawyer.

The disregard for Hammond's expertise on media law is symptomatic of the Committee's disregard for context. This is key in defining issues about both harassment and obscenity ("I know it when I see it"). Defining the debate in terms of content asks the question "Should these images exist?" while examining context asks the question "Where should these images exist?".

Coaching speakers to offer advice that would complement the opinion of a member of the group would clearly indicate a desire to be validated, as opposed to a desire to obtain information. The questioning of the District Attorney clearly identified the fact that he had been coached before speaking to the group. During the discussion, the District Attorney turned to the University Counsel and said, "I do not think you want me to answer that."

This coaching was also evident at Schauer's lecture, where the image of a "bound woman being penetrated by a ski pole" emerged in his talk.

2.6 A Comfortable Environment?

Another concern identified during Bboard Committee meetings is curbing hate speech in order to make the University a more comfortable climate for women, underrepresented minorities and queer students. The University has had difficulties in attracting women and members of underrepresented minority groups.[25] Creating a welcoming climate could assist the University in attracting top people in technical fields who may be less comfortable in comparable institutions, thereby giving the University a competitive advantage. Furthermore, failing to protect University employees from sexual harassment is now punishable by federal law. The University would be acting rationally if it made the University more welcoming for some members of the community; in reality, a comfortable climate is not a major concern of Carnegie Mellon University.

First, if the University were interested in preventing sexual harassment, the Committee should have reviewed the University's standing policy against the public display of sexually explicit images in workspaces and its efficacy to date. If the University is motivated to create a more comfortable climate, then it has not acted rationally in the past and continues to be irrational. A gay staff member who was receiving messages from an anti-gay individual ("Fag Hater") every few days for 3 months in his personal mailbox was told there was nothing to be done. No support was offered to assist the staff member in creating a kill file, and no effort was made to stop the harassment at the source, even though the poster's userid and home machine was known. The staff member was told to "just ignore it."[26] The implementation of kill files, arguably the best way to protect a victim of electronic harassment, is not a priority in University-supported mail readers. The use of kill files is not taught in the mandatory Computing Skills Workshops.

Not only does the University do little to prevent harassment on-line, years of rapes and sexual assaults next to Schenley Park (a Pittsburgh park bordering University's campus) resulted in no action until a male was a victim of a sexual assault. The University does comparatively little to educate students about sexual harassment and assault, and offers no advocacy to victims. The University clearly does not consider a comfortable environment for all members of the community a priority.

3 The University as an Organization of Groups

The clear disjoint between stated University motivations and actions has been shown. A model of the University as a rational decision maker acting in its own best interest does not explain the University's behavior. A second model, which goes further to explain the policy process at the University, is the group interaction model.[27] Using this model, one can analyze the actions and needs of various groups and, assuming the groups are acting rationally, hypothesize about their motivations.

3.1 Faculty

Faculty has a primary interest in preserving academic freedom, something that is especially important to faculty at Carnegie Mellon. For example, debates about why ROTC leadership should not be granted membership status on Faculty Senate focused on the effect of the "don't ask don't tell" policy on academic freedom.[28] Faculty are in a unique position because they command respect in the community and are free to speak their minds on issues without concerns about evaluations from University administrators.

There is a widespread suspicion among members of this group that the censorship is based solely on content, and that other concerns brought up are bogus excuses for the policy. Idealistic faculty who believe the Administration is genuinely concerned about the state obscenity law fully expect the University to challenge the law and volunteer to be a test case.

3.2 Students

For most students, free speech is an absolute, and any censorship is met with a strong reaction. Therefore the original policy memo, as well as the sweeping implementation, were met with immediate opposition.

Students are not afraid to raise a voice because their performance is evaluated by the faculty, not the administration. Illegal activities like a sit-in are unlikely because it would bring students under the jurisdiction of the administration's disciplinary committee.

No students have truly come forward in defense of the comfortable climate argument. In fact, for many male students, this argument is especially threatening. Even the recent case of a Michigan student who was removed from campus for posting a fantasy about raping and killing a classmate has not swayed the Carnegie Mellon student conception of free speech, notwithstanding the obvious application of nuances like "clear and present danger" or concerns for the privacy of the classmate.

3.3 Staff

Staff at the University offer a mix of interests which played out at the Staff Council meeting; there are library workers and computing staff who are concerned about academic freedom and use the Internet heavily. Because staff is the group with the highest proportion of women, it voiced the loudest expression of concern over a link between access to the newsgroups and a hostile work environment. In all, the staff has motivation to balance the need to ensure the safety of work environments with the need to protect freedom of expression.

Unlike faculty and students, many staff members operate under a dynamic of accountability to the administration. In order to ensure the security of their positions, many staff members choose not to voice their opinions on controversial campus issues. This dynamic is likely to be present at other institutions which may face similar issues in the future.

Staff would also be more responsive to attempts to address liability concerns. If the University were to suffer great economic loss due to liability, the staff is the most likely group to see a reduction in quality of life as a result. Therefore, liability issues such as copyright concerns seem more reasonable to this group.

3.6 Feminists

Women's rights activists at the University are concerned about reducing the danger of male violence as women expand our possibilities for pleasure. Because of the potential of the Internet for a safe(r) dialogue between women and men about sex and sexual violence, it is especially important to keep this forum available.

Feminists would love to see the University become a more positive environment for women; therefore, they condemn the Committee's tactic of using the stereotypical fragility of women as an excuse to stop open discourse. A university which patronizes its women with protective policies does not treat them as equal members of the community or equal participants in the dialogue about sex and censorship. Feminists would love to see workplaces free from sexual harassment; punishing faculty and teaching assistants for unwanted sexual solicitation of students, or enforcing the University's current rules about inappropriate public displays of images would find support among feminists. Blanket censorship does not.

More education -- more speech -- is necessary at the University to change the underlying attitudes which make the climate hostile; less speech cuts off this dialogue and sets up a barrier to education.

3.4 Computing Services

Computing Services is motivated to provide the best service at the lowest cost without putting the University at legal risk. One possible rationale for Computing Services banning entire hierarchies of sex-related groups is that it was easier than banning the text groups only. (Easier because the existence of cross posts to banned and maintained newsgroups recreate the banned groups, making it necessary to delete the banned groups every day.

A second rationale would be that Computing Services is especially risk averse; it does not want to be blamed if the University gets into legal trouble due to the services it provides. Since it cannot police the entire system, or even the entire alt.sex hierarchy, the most risk averse action is to remove the entire hierarchy.

A third explanation is that entire hierarchies were removed due to administrative oversight; no one bothered to review the content of the newsgroups to determine whether any material contained within might subject the University to legal liability.

Computing Services is motivated to encourage the University to clarify all liability issues, not just focus on the content of certain posts or sex-related material in particular. It would additionally favor any move that minimizes system administrator liability.

Computing Services is motivated to support exploration of copyright law and the University's liability. Unlike in obscenity law, ignorance can not protect the University.

Computing Services does not have a large stake in the work environment arguments around censorship. Under the current policy, Computing Services addresses the display of images and other harassment complaints with Campus Police as necessary. Since not providing certain newsgroups will not prevent the display of offensive images in the workplace, providing news feeds does not affect their responsibilities in any meaningful way.

Thus it would appear that Computing Services is neutral in this battle over censoring newsgroups. The position of Computing Services depends upon the predisposition of the senior administrator. Computing Services is unlikely to support complex technical solutions which require highly selective group deletion or solutions which require active monitoring.

3.5 University Counsel and the Administration

University Counsel and the Administration can be seen as acting as one organizational unit. Counsel has a client in the Administration. Because Counsel is primarily involved in labor disputes, the standard role of Counsel is to support Administrative policy decisions contrary to the demands of staff and faculty. There is therefore no incentive for University Counsel to consider the needs of students, faculty and staff. Furthermore, University Counsel is not part of the University culture but a consultant and therefore does not share the commitment to academic freedom.

University Counsel and the Administration are risk averse. University Counsel may therefore be overly concerned about the University's legal vulnerability. The Administration has a desire not to be a test case for Pennsylvania's obscenity law and its application on the Internet. Recently it has backed down in several legal cases, settling out of court when it was on much stronger legal ground than in a tenuous obscenity case. Recent investigations from the Department of Defense have added to the concern about the University's legal budget.

The original memo should accurately explain the concerns of the University and its Counsel. It is unclear how extending the ban to legal but offensive groups would meet the goals of the administration. A risk-averse lawyer would limit access to any image which could be construed as illegal under the law. By this criterion only the bondage, snuff, and child pornography images would be banned. Legal Counsel and the Administration should be interested in acting on the expertise of Professors Samuelson and Hammond, and the District Attorney.

University Counsel should seek to frame the issues in terms of legal liability and risk to the University. Focusing on content would only be useful in swaying members of the Committee to a predetermined point of view. If legal liability is the real issue at stake, University Counsel should be much more concerned with copyright liability than with obscenity law, due to the risks involved.

University Counsel has been concerned recently about the EEOC requirements in creating a workspace free from harassment. The University does take a strict view of its liability in terms of supervisor regulations and the like. However, construing sex-related material as creating a hostile work environment is not consistent with previous decisions in which the University refused to take action against harassment via personal mail or against posting of hate speech.

University Counsel has not always acted consistently with its motivations as stated above. Considering both models presented here, the University's actions can only be explained by: extreme risk aversion on the part of University Counsel and Computing Services; personal concerns about the offensiveness of the material; outside pressure from alumni or trustees; or simple oversight and misunderstanding of the issues.

4 Predictions

At this time it is pure conjecture to state that the University will not restore all binaries. However, as we have faith in our organizational model, we feel comfortable in making this prediction.

We also suspect that University policy will in fact continue to be ad hoc. The written policy may be ignored if it does not complement traditional practices. For local bboards, the policy proposed by students would declare certain spaces off limits for Computing Services actions. The lack of clear policy or definition for local newsgroups has created serious conflicts between individual students. Computing Services has acted responsibly in the past, but it is equally responsible to remove certain electronic student spaces from the realm of Computing Services. A clear policy would undoubtedly be welcomed by Computing Services.

Many students oppose the proposed policy because it also creates a subset of bboards for which Computing Services would be required to respond to complaints. In fact, Computing Services responds to all complaints now, although the response to many of them is dismissal. Many students advocate the current ad hoc policy, because they feel the current policies are easier to manipulate. Similarly some students feel more comfortable with allowing the Administration to become involved in all electronic spaces because current policy combined with an administrative tool, the No Contact Directive, can effectively silence opponents who fight flames with flames. A student can levy an attack on a bboard, then prevent the attacked from responding in kind by asking the Administration to intervene.

For Usenet news, the students have proposed a policy which encourages the Administration to investigate the possibility of being classified as a private network provider. This classification would remove the threat of liability from Carnegie Mellon created by the provision of Usenet feeds. Ideally, it would place the responsibility for contents of posts on the authors of those posts.

The private network provider may only apply to those organizations which carry all newsgroups, because of the characteristics listed in Section 1.3.2. This could set a powerful precedent for other institutions that institutional control implies institutional liability. However, it is unlikely that the administration will pursue this course of action because it is expensive in the short run, and promises only a possibility of protection in the long run. Also, University Counsel is very hostile to this part of the student proposal.

A simple technical fix on high school accounts would address the legal problem in the provision access of obscene materials by minors. As with the telephone company, students under 18 could be limited in their access upon parental request.

5 Conclusions

This case study has identified the forces that brought censorship to CMU. Simple observation illustrates that these forces are not unique. These conditions for censorship existed at CMU: the lack of a coherent policy on newsgroups, risk averse management, conflict averse information services, and staff occupied with labor issues critical to their daily lives. These groups exist in most organizations.

In any organization there will be information and computing services, other employees and a management structure; these correspond roughly to the computing services, staff and administration at CMU. Two of the three parties which provided critical opposition to the removal of the newsgroups at CMU, students and faculty, are not present in most organizations.

Feminists exist in almost every organization, but may be less likely to fight censorship in a corporate environment. Unlike student and faculty feminists, corporate feminists will be evaluated by the very individuals to whom they would protest. Furthermore, the focus on feminist issues involving sexuality -- often to the exclusion of economic equality -- that exists in a university environment is unlikely to be duplicated in a corporate environment. Feminists in corporate organizations are more likely to be too involved in immediate economic issues, such as availability of day care, equal pay, or improved maternity leave, to be concerned with the long term effects of creeping censorship.

Censorship does not require that any member of the administration/management group be an extremist. In fact, the Bboard Committee Chair is an English professor and a self-described "liberal and card-carrying member of the ACLU"[29]. He is the perfect choice to head the Committee in that he has an historical commitment to civil liberties; yet he will not apply the same arguments used to defend Ulysses and Light in August to an electronic forum.

The policy of arbitrary removal of Usenet newsgroups at CMU could well be defeated. However, Carnegie Mellon will certainly not be the last institution to promote arbitrary removal of offensive newsgroups.

Clearly the parties and forces which created the drive for censorship are common to every large organization, while those that opposed it may be unique to universities and high schools. This implies that the censorship that occurred at Carnegie Mellon University may happen in other organizations. Therefore, although we may have won the battle, the prognosis for the war is grim indeed.