[UPDATE 2/4/12] Great news. Last night, thanks to the rapid response of Free Press activists, Arizona State University lifted its blocking of student access to Change.org.
We hope ASU understands that its students' right to free speech online is paramount. Free Press has asked the university to scrutinize its Internet use policies to be sure they don't compromise our online freedoms.
This is a win in the ongoing fight to protect the open Internet. But Internet censorship like we saw at ASU is on the rise at home and around the globe. We need to fight it at every turn.
Arizona State University might need to change its name to Censorship U after deciding to block students' access to popular petition site Change.org.
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.
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.
Follow Josh Levy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/levjoy