Thursday, October 16, 2008

Free Speech, the Election, and FIRE

Thank God for FIRE. Can you imagine how bad things would be without them?

With the presidential race between John McCain and Barack Obama the focus of national attention, political speech on our nation's campuses has come under sharp attack. In recent weeks, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has investigated open and blatant attacks on political expression at colleges and universities across the country, from a previously unreported case at Oklahoma, to better-known cases at Illinois and Texas, to cases at smaller schools across the country. This alarming trend towards silencing political expression has prompted FIRE to release a Policy Statement on Political Activity on Campus today.

At the University of Oklahoma, students and faculty were notified last month that "the forwarding of political humor/commentary" using their university e-mail accounts was prohibited. In response to a letter from FIRE, the university has modified its stance, stating that the prohibition is only applicable "to the extent discussions are attributable to the University as endorsing or opposing a political candidate." However, the university has not communicated this change to the community at large, leaving many under the impression that such private e-mail forwards are forbidden. At the University of Illinois, the university Ethics Office issued a newsletter warning faculty against engaging in political expression on campus, including attending political rallies, wearing buttons, and even placing bumper stickers on cars. After widespread criticism and a letter from FIRE, President B. Joseph White issued a clarification, assuring faculty members that the university would allow them to engage in such expression.

"Political expression is exactly the speech the First Amendment was designed to protect. Our nation's colleges and universities do their students and faculty a grave disservice when they stifle the ability to engage the crucial issues of the day," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "While colleges and universities may not institutionally endorse candidates, they have a societal duty to foster and encourage debate and discussion about those issues most important to our nation. Any blanket ban on 'political speech' betrays one of the academy's most important functions."

In addition to the situations at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Illinois, FIRE has monitored bans on political expression at several other institutions in the past few weeks.

Go read the whole thing--and keep in mind that this will get worse if Democrats run the presidency and both houses of Congress.


Ellen K said...

Such is the political climate that those who do support McCain are fearful of having stickers on their cars or signs in their yards. The ambient violence expressed by the left, their diatribes, their willingness to breech laws and to believe that the end justifies the means, is frankly frightening. If you can justify hacking into emails, publishing private information and violating HIPA just to make your guy look better, then maybe your guy didn't look so good to begin with.

Unknown said...

I don't understand why people keep harping on the "hacker" and his "hacking" of Sarah Palin's email. No credible person is saying it was justified, but sadly most people don't seem to see how easy it was to do. The college student who did it did it on his own without encouragement of any political community, yet he is being treated like hes some master political agent rather than a person interested in the unbelievable weak security of web-based email. If anything it shows the flaw in having no external email address confirmation needed for the resetting of passwords. Web based email is notoriously unsafe due to technical and security problems, if there should be outrage it should be at the continued use of such poor security practices. No one argues that it was justified, but on a purely technical view I see bringing the problem to the public light as being a very important process, although the public seems far less interested than it should be.

Pomoprophet said...

I think some people have been in academia so long they forget what the real world (including the 1st amendement) is like!

Anonymous said...

It's easy to throw a rock through a window. Don't expect to be patted on the head for demonstrating the fact though.

Criminal law exists to put a high price on actions that aren't all that difficult to perform. How tough is it to knock down an old lady and steal her purse? Not tough at all so the law is there raise the ante on the decision.

I wouldn't have any qualms about sticking the kid with a felony label. He knew what he was doing was wrong, he probably knew it was a crime. He didn't care so let's give him a reason to care and maybe some other industrious lad will decide to not emulate our little social engineer.

Unknown said...

I have no problem with felony charges since it was a felony, but calling him a "little social engineer" is like saying a person who shoplifts is an "agent of anarchy." The run of the mill person who exploits computer security flaws do so to a) see if it could be done and b) show that they could do it. The issue isn't should there be a price for breaking simple security, but if robbing a house is as easy as turning the door knob or really having to pick a lock, and in this case it's sadly more like turning a door knob. Locks on houses exist since cheap security prevents the more casual criminal, which is all he was.

Ellen K said...

This "college kid" happens to be the son of a Democrat elected official. You want to tell me there was no political malice intended, then go ahead and live in that fantasy world, but deep in your heart you know better. And Obama hasn't actually said anything chastising him either.

Anonymous said...

No, in this case social engineering is, I believe, the correct term.

The kid didn't crack Palin's e-mail account using some arcane technical knowledge so it wasn't a technical exploit. He did it by guessing the answers to some of the security questions that are asked when a password reset is requested.

I'm not sure what else you'd call this type of exploit but social engineering.