CLUH Seeks Greater Computer Freedom

Urges Explicit Rules of Network Conduct

Harvard should permit students to send obscene, annoying and anonymous electronic messages and should offer unlisted e-mail accounts, the Civil Liberties Union of Harvard (CLUH) argues in a report distributed to administrators yesterday.

The 10-page Report on Computers at Harvard also advocates the compilation of a single list of electronic communication rules and more student representation on the Committee on Information Technology (CIT).

"Computers have become such an integral part of communication on campus, and there's such a lack of clear rules," said E. Michelle Drake '97, director of CLUH, in an interview last night.

"We want to make sure that rules are public, and privacy and free speech are protected," Drake added.

Robert W. Yalen '95, who headed the CLUH subcommittee which published the report, expressed optimism that the suggestions would be imple- mented.

"We really do expect most of what we're askingfor to be endorsed by the administration," saidYalen, who served on the CLUH's Electronic RightsProject.

"Harvard is more sensitive to free speech andprivacy issues than other universities, so we'rehoping that the problem is that the computersituation has risen so quickly that Harvard hasn'thad time to respond properly," Yalen said.

"For years we've been working on scatteredissues, but we decided we needed a concerted,coordinated response" to Harvard's rules onelectronic communication, he added.

Yalen said his committee initially focused ondetermining just what constituted Harvard'spolicies.

"We were trying to look up what the rules wereand it was nearly impossible," Yalen said.

He said the pamphlet Computer Rules andEtiquette lumps real rules with suggestedetiquette, leaving students unclear about what isbanned.

"From my experience helping people, studentsoften don't know what the rules are and what theycan and can't do," said Mathew W. Williams '97.

Yalen said the committee hopes that a list ofrules will be the first outcome of the report.

"That's of basic importance," he said. "Badrules are a problem, but not even knowing what therules are leaves a student not knowing how tobehave."

Jeff C. Tarr '96, co-president of the studenttechnology group Digitas, said he supports betterpublicized rules. But Tarr said he is skepticalthat a list can be created.

"The technology changes so fast that whateverrules you make will be unnecessary or moot becauseof new developments," Tarr said.

Eugene E. Kim '96, former president of theHarvard Computer Society, said yesterday hebelieves that many of CLUH's proposals are "notall that radical."

Kim said he thinks the proposal is a reactionto ambiguous user guidelines, which may in somecases be appropriate.

"One of [HASCS's] arguments is that theguidelines are purposefully ambiguous," Kim said."That's not something I necessarily disagreewith."

Kim says vague guidelines may help to catchbehaviors which HASCS could not have anticipated.

Currently, HASCS policy forbids users fromparticipating in illegal activity; sendingharassing e-mail, chain mail or mass mailings;posting anonymous messages; using the system forcommercial use; and engaging in activity thatwould affect network usage.

Kim says CLUH has focused on narrowing thedefinition of these prohibited areas, rather thanon formulating suggestions for the implementationof their proposals.

One proposal which may be difficult toimplement is the goal of increased studentrepresentation on the CIT.

Dean of Applied Sciences Paul C. Martin, whoco-chairs the committee, said he had not readdetails of CLUH's report but that it was"unlikely" that their proposal for a 50 percentstudent committee would be enacted.

One undergraduate and one graduate studentcurrently serve on the committee.

Yalen acknowledged yesterday that restructuringthe committee may be the most difficult goal toaccomplish.

CLUH distributed its report to members of theCIT and plans to meet with committee members laterthis month, according to Drake.

"I definitely feel undergrads should have moresay," Tarr said. "It's the undergrads who use thesystems the most and in that position they have abetter sense of what's going on and a user'sperspective."

The report urges that free speech protection ofU.S. mail be applied to electronic communication.Since anonymous, annoying and mass mailings can besent through the postal system, they should not bebanned from the Internet, Yalen said.

Several computer science concentratorsexpressed agreement with that claim yesterday.

"Just because it's not pen on paper doesn'tmean it can be censored," said Michael B. Lee '97.

But technical issues may make anonymousmailings difficult, said Robert J. Klein '98, whoanalyzed a draft of the report for feasibilityconcerns.

Harvard would have to write complex programs toenable students to send mailings that leave norecord of who sent them, according to Klein.

"It would be technically difficult to do that,"he said.

But Yalen said if technical difficulties can beovercome, the option of anonymity would bebeneficial.

"There are many situations where students couldjustifiably want to keep their identityanonymous," Yalen said.

As an example, he said closet homosexuals maywant to contribute to a newsgroup discussion onsexuality without revealing their identity