Unsolicited spam emails from petition website change.org forced ASU to block access as well as outbound emails to the site, university officials said.
A statement released by ASU spokeswoman Julie Newberg said ASU began blocking messages from the website in December after discovering it was a source of spam emails.
Change.org is a website that tries to promote social change through online petitions.
“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, which is the definition of spam,” Newberg said.
Newberg also said ASU is blocking all outbound connections to the change.org server. ASU routinely blocks servers to reduce risk to students, faculty and staff, Newberg said, but no examples of websites ASU has blocked other than change.org had been provided by Thursday evening.
“We respect the rights of all individuals to express their opinions,” Newberg said. “However, we must reserve the right to protect the use of our limited and valuable network resources for legitimate academic, research and administrative uses.”
Newberg said the incident is not related to the ASURITE system hacking that occurred last month.
Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, a program devoted to creating innovative digital media, said he would be stunned if ASU was blocking the entire site.
“I don’t understand the rationale for blocking a website in addition to email … it just doesn’t make sense to me,” Gillmor said.
A Tumblr blog post on Dec. 7, 2011, accused ASU of censorship and blocking the freedom of expression of students, staff and faculty. The post read, in part, “Not only is this outrageous, but it is a violation of First Amendment rights of both ASU students as well as the rights of Change.org.”
The Tumblr post claimed ASU blocked change.org because of a petition created by ASU students called “Arizona State University: Reduce the costs of education for Arizona State University students.”
Jenn Ettinger, media manager for Free Press, a nonprofit organization for media reform, said the organization is investigating the matter. Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood said ASU could be in violation of the First Amendment at worst and that the decision was, at least, “extreme and wrongheaded.”
“If this is not violating the First Amendment, then definitely the spirit of the law,” he said.
Change.org said it is aware of the block, and the website will release a statement in a few days, change.org Director of Communications Benjamin Joffe-Walt said.
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