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Pornography

The recent Computer Decency Act (CDA) has changed much with regard to computing. There are numerous newsgroups, Web sites, etc., devoted explicitly to adult pornography that have not been removed/banned from HSEAS systems because of our concerns for free speech. However, if we provide the means of access, or if we store one image or text file that is deemed pornography, and a minor has access to that file, we (the poster, the system admins, the department, the School, and the UR) are in serious legal trouble. At the time of this writing, there is an injunction against this provision in the law.

However, pornography still presents a problem. Recently several employees of Chevron won a two million dollar sexual harassment lawsuit. The company had permitted a newsgroup that contained pornographic images of women to be carried on their systems. Some employees chose to display those images as screen savers. The offended employees charged that this created a hostile environment, and that hostile environment was condoned and fostered by the company, specifically because the company's actions had facilitated that environment. The courts agreed with the offended employees.

Child pornography is a different matter. It is not protected by free speech concerns. It is blatantly illegal. Several recent (early 1996) cases in Monroe County have resulted in serious fines and jail time ($250,000 and ten years if we remember correctly) for individuals receiving child pornography on their home computers. We in the systems staff recently realized that newsgroups devoted to child pornography (and others intended to illegally distribute commercial software) were being automatically created on our local HSEAS news server. By allowing those groups to exist, we had placed the HSEAS in jeopardy. We have removed those groups, and altered our newsgroup creation process so that no group under the 'alt' hierarchy is automatically created on the server we manage.

Because we do not have ``common carrier'' status, we are responsible for what our computers and network are used for. Thus if you choose to make child pornography images available via your home page, we are going to be spending a lot of time in court as co-defendants. This is especially true if we have not made our policy clear, if we have not made our Acceptible Use Policy (AUP) available, and so on. This responsiblity is often the basis for our hesitance to permit uncontrolled PPP/SLIP connections, uncontrolled ftp or home page vending, etc..


next up previous contents
Next: Summary Up: Some Computing Related Legal Previous: Unauthorized Use

Del Armstrong
Fri Oct 25 16:31:41 EDT 1996