Arizona State University is reportedly blocking students’ access to the petition and advocacy site Change.org and to messages from the site to ASU email addresses. A popular website that uses petitions to create social change, Change.org is hosting a petition by ASU students to lower tuition rates. Free speech advocates and net neutrality group Free Press are concerned that it was this petition, and not the threat of 'spam mail', that led to the blockage of the site.
According to Josh Levy of Free Press:
Change.org happens to be hosting a petition created by ASU student Eric Haywood that protests rising tuition costs at the school.
This blocking could be violating the First Amendment rights of ASU students to speak freely and petition government.
When challenged about the website blocking, ASU officials claimed that Change.org is a spam site, writing that the blocking was conducted "to protect the use of our limited and valuable network resources for legitimate academic, research and administrative uses."
But Change.org is anything but spam. It's a perfectly lawful website that has helped millions take action on a host of important issues (disclaimer: I worked there as managing editor from 2008-2009).
The fact is, disabling access to any lawful site violates the spirit and principles of Net Neutrality, chills academic freedom and possibly rises to the level of a First Amendment violation. It's astonishing that ASU President Michael M. Crow would allow this to happen -- and that's why Free Press and Change.org are urging him to stop his school's censorship immediately.
And Kharli Mandeville, writing for the university newspaper StatePress.com, reports:
A Tumblr blog calling for the University to unblock the petition website Change.org began circulating the Internet Thursday, causing many students to become concerned that their First Amendment rights had been violated.
ASU removed access to the site through any University server or email network.
In the original blog post the author wrote, “ASU does not want its students, faculty, or employees signing this petition and has resorted to blatant and unlawful censorship in order to block the freedom of expression of its students and faculty.”
The petition was asking for signatures to support lowering the cost of tuition at ASU.
The Tumblr blog is dated Dec. 7, 2011, and the original author is unknown.
ASU said the University Technology Office discovered spam emails were sent from the group that originally posted the petition to change.org, according to a statement released to The State Press Thursday evening.
“ASU began blocking messages from the Change.org server in December after it was discovered as the source of such a spamming action,” said the University statement. “Although the individual who sent the email may not consider himself a spammer, he acquired a significant number of ASU email addresses which he used to send unsolicited, unwanted email.”
Change.org Senior Organizer William Winters said the organization was unaware until Thursday that its website was blocked by ASU.
And Levy offered this warning:
We're at a moment when threats to online speech are peeking around every corner. Just last month, we beat back SOPA and PIPA, two bills in Congress that would have opened the door to online censorship from big corporations.
Now Arizona State University is going after free speech. If it gets away with this, other universities could be emboldened to follow suit. We must defend ASU students' right to speak online.