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Censorship Education Spam

Student Faces Suspension For Spamming Profs 516

Posted by kdawson
from the how-free-the-speech dept.
edmicman sends word of a Fox News report about a Michigan State University student who is facing suspension for bulk emailing a number of professors at the university about a proposed change to the school calendar — an e-mail that the university is labeling spam. The article contains links to a copy of the original email, the allegations against the student, and the university's Email Acceptable Use Policy. The student, Kara Spencer, asked a Philadelphia rights organization, FIRE, to get involved. The article quotes the FIRE defense program director: "The fact that MSU is considering punishment of Spencer simply for exercising her right to contact selected faculty members by e-mail shows a disturbing disregard for students' freedom of expression. ... Threatening a member of the student government with suspension for sending relevant, timely e-mails to faculty members is outrageous." Spencer is awaiting the school's judgement after a hearing, and vows to take to the courts if suspended.
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Student Faces Suspension For Spamming Profs

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @03:54PM (#26050337)

    How could the sysadmin not have seen this:
    http://lct.msu.edu/guidelines-policies/bulkemail.html

    "
    # Permitted uses for broad cross-University mailing. Bulk e-mailing may be used only by University offices to send communications necessary to the normal course of business and which typically require some official action be taken individually by recipients. Such permitted uses include:

            * Dissemination of urgent information of health and safety concern for students and University employees.
            * Communication of information regarding changes of University policies or procedures, or actions that affect employment or compensation status, or status as a student.
            * Regular communications (for example, to University employees) that are required by law, regulation or University policy for which bulk e-mail may largely replace paper transmittal.

    "

    So, according to their own policy, mass emailing of "...information regarding changes of University policies or procedures, or actions that affect employment or compensation status, or status as a student..." falls within acceptable use. That is assuming that this change to the university schedule is a "change in policy" or "affects employment". I don't see how that wouldn't be the case.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @03:55PM (#26050363)

    Just the same, the MSU Bulk email policy:

    Permitted uses for broad cross-University mailing: Bulk e-mailing may be used only by University offices[.]

    is pretty clear on whether or not this was ok.

  • Re:Mass mailing (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @03:59PM (#26050437)
    The details of the case, with analysis, are here: http://www.thefire.org/index.php/case/773.html [thefire.org].

    MSU's anti-spam policy is clearly unconstitutional (see blog post at http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/10012.html [thefire.org]).

    Adam Kissel
    Director, Individual Rights Defense Program
    Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

  • by kinthalas (102827) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @04:04PM (#26050505)

    http://lct.msu.edu/guidelines-policies/bulkemail.html [msu.edu]

    It's not like it's hard to find or follow.

  • Re:Personally (Score:4, Informative)

    by clone53421 (1310749) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @04:12PM (#26050603) Journal

    The comma shouldn't be there.

  • Re:Mass mailing (Score:3, Informative)

    by jellomizer (103300) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @04:34PM (#26050955)

    Back in the day. The students had problems with student government spamming the students. I was always trying to fight it. But they are convinced that the information was important (Like reporting a snow day class cancelation at 9:30am (after have walked back from my 8:30 class covered with snow, realizing it was canceled) ) But the most of it was X type of Party Here, Y party there. Z club is doing B. Sometimes in the middle they may toss some useful information like if you plan on graduating please get C signed before D, just so you have to read everything. I think I started to make bounce-back requests just to get them to stop. Asking them was fruitless.

  • by Chyeld (713439) <chyeld@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @04:38PM (#26051025)

    Namely, one Mr Randall Hall, Information Technology Director. Who was it who said the more words in your job title, the more useless/power hungry you were?

    After receiving Spencer's e-mail, Katherine Gross, biology professor at Michigan State, sent the mass e-mail to Information Technology Director Randall Hall asking him if Spencer had accessed a university listserv, Spencer said.

    Hall wrote Spencer an e-mail on Sept. 16 telling her about the complaint and asking to discuss the matter. He filed a Disciplinary Allegation Form with the school's Judicial Affairs Office the next day.

    In that form he alleged Spencer had refused to comply with school policies on sending bulk e-mail and said she would continue to do so. He charged her with violating three school policies on sending un-solicited e-mails.

    Nutshell: Big bad IT manager gets whinged because student figures out how to send email to people without needing to go through the 'offical' listserv which would require someone's (probably his) approval. Tells student to stop emailing professors, and is told to take a hike. Decides to use the big stick.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @04:43PM (#26051139)

    The MSU Student newspaper [statenews.com] has a more interesting take on this then the Fox News one. It looks more like she pissed someone off something horrible.
    From the State News:

    "Of the 391 e-mails Spencer sent, Spencer said she didn't receive any negative responses. All responses asked for more information regarding Provost Kim Wilcox's Welcome Week proposal."

    "Dr. Katherine Gross, director of the Kellogg Biological Station, initially approached ATS in September with concerns as to how Spencer had e-mailed what she believed was the deans, directors and chairs list. Hall said that response led to ATS approaching Spencer."

  • Re:Mass mailing (Score:5, Informative)

    by sjames (1099) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @05:05PM (#26051453) Homepage

    RTFA! It is alleged that the student violated the policy. However, reading the policy, there is a clause that specifically permits bulk emailing communications regarding changes to university policies of procedures. There is room to interpret that as permission to bulk email about the changed academic calendar.

    However, it is premature to cry foul yet as there has been no ruling on the matter. For all we know, it'll be dismissed with no action at all.

  • Wrong. (Score:4, Informative)

    by maillemaker (924053) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @05:12PM (#26051541)

    Whatever her opinion on the matter was, she WAS emailing the faculty about a change in university policy that affects everyone.

  • I work in a higher education institution and I can confirm that spam in universities is every bit as bad as commercial spam. I have missed "critical" correspondence amid the deluge.

    Sports games, concerts, seminars, grant funding, research opportunities, exhibitions, astronomical events, workshops, training programs, lectures, presentations, groups, religious services, bereavements, marriage announcements, faculty announcements, announcements for faculty positions, calls, recalls, talks, reminders, forwards, art exhibits, cancellations, car lights, missing animals, missing people, missing USB keys, HR notices and every manner of newsletter, weekly, monthly or per semester ... do battle for my inbox day after day. And this is all before people start using the internal email to buy, sell, solicit, advertise, as a soapbox on just about any conceivable issue (this is a university), or indeed as an instant messaging replacement for people who couldn't be bothered to type in several names and instead hit "reply all", or the sysadmin send us emails to tell us that the email system and/or internet is/was down... again.

    Not a single part of this post is an exaggeration or fabrication. I've gotten all this and more. I imagine it's the same everywhere else.

  • Re:Mass mailing (Score:5, Informative)

    by Firethorn (177587) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @05:27PM (#26051783) Homepage Journal

    While UBC/UCE* is indeed spam, I'd say that the chain letter is INDEED SPAM as well.

    Google's [google.com] list of definitions.

    Unsolicited Email, like electronic junk mail
    Unwanted, usually advertisement email. Spam are usually sent in bulk and the recipient addresses are obtained by illegal means (eg by tapping the network communication).
    Spam is the term widely used for unsolicited e-mail; spam is also referred to as junk mail. Spam is usually sent indiscriminately to hundreds or even hundreds of thousands of inbox's simultaneously.
    Spamming is the abuse of electronic messaging systems to indiscriminately send unsolicited bulk messages. ...
    A collection of unsolicited bulk electronic messages; Any undesired electronic content automatically-generated for commercial purposes; (rare) An unsolicited electronic message sent in bulk, usually by email or newsgroups; Alternative form of SPAM; : To send spam (i.e. unsolicited electronic ...
    An obnoxious practice of mass advertising to clients through e-mail, IRC, a browser, or any other communication device.

    Basically, UBC is SPAM, but SPAM isn't necessarily UBC.

    *Unsolicited Commercial Email

  • Re:Mass mailing (Score:3, Informative)

    by bigstrat2003 (1058574) * on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @05:33PM (#26051879)
    Except for the fact that the government doesn't actually have rights (and is the only party who can do something unconstitutional, since the constitution binds only them). Individuals in the government have rights, the government itself does not.
  • Re:Mass mailing (Score:3, Informative)

    by Bastard of Subhumani (827601) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @05:41PM (#26051991) Journal

    If you had email back in the day, then by definition that wasn't back in the day.

  • Re:Mass mailing (Score:3, Informative)

    by Bastard of Subhumani (827601) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @05:51PM (#26052099) Journal

    It seems the only person calling the MSU policy 'unconstitutional' is you. This us usually a matter determined by the courts, so it appears you are being a bit presumptuous.

    I'm not qualified as a doctor. My opinion on whether someone is alive or not might not carry legal weight and I would have no authority to sign a death certificate.

    However, if I observed that someone had been decapitated, my opinion that he was in a non-viable state would be correct.

    Holding a qualification or being appointed to a position are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions to having the right answer. Shame on you.

  • Re:That's stupid. (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @07:01PM (#26052909)

    How is that insightful?

    Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail that "One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty."

    I've never heard him called blubbering, and he didn't "whine bitch and moan about the consequences" either.

    Judging from civil rights history, I'd say the guy knew what he was talking about.

  • Re:Mass mailing (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @07:08PM (#26053001) Journal

    Not quite [spamhaus.org]:

    Spam is an issue about consent, not content. Whether the UBE message is an advert, a scam, porn, a begging letter or an offer of a free lunch, the content is irrelevant - if the message was sent unsolicited and in bulk then the message is spam.

    Chain letters are absolutely spam. If I didn't ask for it, and I don't want it, and there's nothing specifically relevant to me in the email, then it is spam. What do I care if it's commercial or not? It still takes the same amount of space in my inbox, and the same amount of effort to get rid of.

  • Re:Mass mailing (Score:3, Informative)

    by droopycom (470921) on Tuesday December 09, 2008 @07:50PM (#26053467)

    If you read the disciplinary notice linked in the article, you'll see that the Acceptable Use Policy of this particular school indeed forbid Unsolicited, Bulk emailing (which the school calls "spam").

    Per the school policy, what she did was forbidden.
    Her defense is not about her interpretation of the policy (she knows what she did is a violation of the policy), but about the fact that this policy should be illegal.

  • Re:Mass mailing (Score:5, Informative)

    by clone53421 (1310749) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @10:54AM (#26060031) Journal

    Appropriate response in this case would simply be a warning 'email' and a remedial course in the schools acceptable use 'guidelines' and policies.

    Actually, the netadmin sent her an e-mail saying something to the effect of "this is against the rules, please stop", and her response was (again paraphrasing) "no, I'll do it again if I want to, and I dare you to do anything about it". Well, guess what... he did something. She tried to be a hero, despite being in the wrong, and it didn't turn out well.

  • Re:Mass mailing (Score:3, Informative)

    by jbezorg (1263978) on Wednesday December 10, 2008 @11:20AM (#26060469)

    Guidelines Regarding Bulk E-mailing by Internal Users on MSUnet [msu.edu]
    Computer System and Network Abuse at Michigan State University [msu.edu]

    The policy in itself utterly fails as it most improperly fails to ascribe particular levels of punishments for the degree of infringement.

    Really?

    From: Michigan State University Acceptable Use of Computing Systems, Software, and the University Digital Network [msu.edu]

    V. Enforcement and Adjudication

    1. The principal responsibility for investigation of suspected non-compliance with the provisions of this ruling rests with System Sponsors. At their discretion, they may delegate it to System Managers and/or Facility Staff.

    • 1.1 The investigation of alleged or suspected non-compliance with this ruling is to be conducted with due regard for the rights of all Users, such as the rights to privacy and intellectual property.
    • 1.2 System Sponsors may suspend service to Users without notice when reasonably necessary to the operation or integrity of the system or the networks connected to it; they may also delegate this judgment and authority to System Managers.
    • 1.3 Cessation of service, whether by network disconnection or disablement of log-in capability, shall be utilized in preference to file inspection when remedying or investigating instances of alleged disruption.
    • 1.4 The content of User files is not to be surreptitiously or otherwise examined, nor is the User-generated message content of User network transactions to be monitored, without the prior written permission of either the User involved or the Vice Provost for Libraries, Computing and Technology. However, System Managers and others charged by them with forwarding misdirected or undeliverable electronic mail and/or delivering print-outs and plots may examine such mail or hard-copy to the extent reasonably necessary for such purpose.

    2. Subject to the non-discrimination provisions herein, faculty members acting as System Sponsors for computing systems or local networks established with their own research grant funds may change, suspend, or revoke User privileges in the best interests of the research being conducted.

    3. When an instance of non-compliance is suspected or discovered in a computing system or network established by a department, college or other administrative unit, a unit administrator (typically the System Sponsor) shall proceed in accord with Section 5.6.3 of Academic Freedom for Students at Michigan State University.

    • 3.1 System Sponsors may elect to refer the issue to the Vice Provost for Libraries, Computing and Technology for handling. They must always do so if systems or networks in multiple campus units have been disrupted or compromised, or if any non-MSU system, network, or party is involved.
    • 3.2 Internal disciplinary action may be appropriate in some cases of non-compliance with this ruling. Relevant General Student Regulations include 1.05, 1.06, 2.02, 2.04, 4.03, 4.05, 4.06, and 5.02; allegations are adjudicable under Article IV of Academic Freedom for Students at Michigan State University. Disciplinary issues concerning students, faculty, or staff should be discussed with the Vice Provost for Libraries, Computing and Technology before action is taken, in the interests of consistency of treatment.
    • 3.3 Criminal or civil action against faculty, staff, or students may be appropriate in some instances. Such cases should be discussed with the Vice Provost for Libraries, Computing and Technology, in the interests of consistency of treatment.

    Approved:

    Network Communications Committee of C.C.S.A.C. (May 29, 1992)
    C.C.S.A.C. (June 8, 19

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