ASU restores access to petition website change.org

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ASU restored access late Friday or early Saturday to change.org after restricting access to the site to protect the university's computing system. (Cydney McFarland/DD)

ASU restored Internet access to petition website change.org following claims of censorship and First Amendment violations late Friday or early Saturday.

“In order to seek a balance between those concerns and protecting the university computing environment, the university has removed the restriction against site access from university computing resources,” ASU said in a statement.

The statement said ASU blocked the website after it was used to “spam thousands of university email accounts in early December 2011.”

The university routinely blocks entire sites, regardless of content, that distribute spam in order to protect against viruses and forms of malware, a statement said.

A Tumblr blog post on Dec. 7 first stated ASU was blocking the site. The post claimed ASU blocked change.org after publishing a petition created by ASU students called “Arizona State University: Reduce the costs of education for Arizona State University students.” The petition, which had 607 signatures as of early Monday, is said to be created by reported ASU student Eric Haywood, who also said he runs the Tumblr blog.

Haywood created a second petition titled, “Arizona State University: Stop CENSORING Change.org,” which had 41 supporters as of Monday morning.

The university denied that the blocking was associated with the petition to reduce education costs.

Several organizations admonished the university on supposedly violating the First Amendment, including Free Press and FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Free Press, a nonprofit organization for media reform, released a statement and created a petition urging the university to restore access. Once ASU restored access, Free Press Internet Campaign Director Josh Levy said ASU administrators made the right decision.

“Free Press urges the university to scrutinize its Internet use policies to be sure they don’t censor free speech or interfere with student’s ability to petition the administration or the government for redress of grievances,” he said in a statement.

FIRE, a nonprofit organization committed to individual rights at universities and colleges, sent a letter directly to ASU President Michael Crow on Feb. 3.

The letter said, “The timing of ASU’s actions in this case has created the unmistakable impression that ASU has used its spam policy as a pretext to deny access to a petition because of content that is critical of the university and its administration.”

In a statement released Feb. 3, change.org said, “The fact that ASU stooped to this level is pretty shocking.”

ASU is currently drafting a message to send to the administrator of the Change.org website, ASU spokeswoman Sharon Keelor said.

Contact the reporter at josselyn.berry@asu.edu