Computer Privacy May Be Jeopardized on 'Net

Students Downloading Pornography Could Be Identified

In response to a Crimson investigation into computer privacy, the University closed a loophole in its computer system yesterday which had allowed students to view other users' transfers of pornographic and obscene material.

The Crimson learned that it was possible to identify users transferring pornography and to read the names of the files they transferred by looking at a public file.

This information was logged in a file that could be read by any user who knew its location.

According to a statement by Franklin Steen, director of Harvard Arts and Sciences Computer Services (HASCS), that log file was closed to student access yesterday.

But a week-long survey of the files, conducted last month on several computers, revealed the names of 21 undergraduates who had downloaded some 500 pornographic files.

Additionally, the electronic records show that seven graduate students--some of them University teaching fellows--downloaded pornographic images. One graduate student is a house tutor.

When contacted by The Crimson and told that their actions could be monitored by reading a publicly-available file, most of the students expressed shock and dismay.

"That bothers me a lot," said a sixth-year graduate student who has transferred many pornographic images, when he was told about the availability of the log file. "That's very embarrassing. I had no idea."

"Oh my god," said another graduate student who has copied images of sadomasochistic sex and bestiality and is a course head for a large Harvard class.

"You can never print my name," a sophomore said. "I had no clue you could ever find out I did that stuff."

"I see definite blackmail possibilities," the sixth-year graduate student said. He said he has taught several classes in the social sciences to under-graduates.

"I don't see any point in monitoring people and letting others see the information," the student said.

Steen said in an interview last week that he did not know the transmission of e-mail messages and transfers of files were recorded and publicly logged by Harvard's computers.

In what he called a "minor follow-up" to the interview at which he learned of the file's existence, Steen said he had checked with his technical assistants and found that access to the file could easily be restricted.

But Steen said that he had not ordered the filechanged because he had not received any complaintsabout the log file.