SECTION:                  Computing, Information, and Data

SUBJECT:                 Computer Access of Obscene Material

EFFECTIVE DATE:   January 1995

PAGE(S):                   1

                                       AD HOC COMMITTEE PROPOSAL

                            Accepted as University Policy by Executive Staff

                                                        January 1995

                          For use until formally issued as a University policy.

Our group has been charged with recommending a policy to the Executive Committee for

Academic Computing (ECAC) regarding the use of University computer resources to

access, display, post, and print materials which have possibly obscene and/or sexually

explicit content.  There exist both Federal and Pennsylvania statutes which govern

obscene and/or sexually explicit material.  Pitt is a state- related University, and, as such,

must support and protect First Amendment rights.

1.   We suggest that University of Pittsburgh Policies 10-02-05 (Computer Access and

      Use) and 07-06-04 (Sexual Harassment Policy), and CIS' "Computing Ethics and

      Guidelines," be reviewed by the University to make sure that they adequately deal with

      issues such as the display of obscene and/or sexually explicit materials on computer


2.   There are approximately 10,000 USENET news groups on the Internet, the vast

      majority of which do not deal with obscene and/or sexually explicit material.  CIS

      resource limitations prevent us from carrying all of those groups, even if we would

      want to do so. While the topics discussed by a group are generally assumed to be

      well described by the group's name and statements about its purpose, a group is the

      electronic analogue of a large bulletin board with open access.  Anyone may post

      anything he/she wishes on the board; thus obscene and/or sexually explicit material

      may well exist in news groups with innocuous titles.  It is impossible to review the

      content of all groups Pitt carries, even if we wished to do so.  We propose that the

      University form a standing committee, with student, faculty, staff, and Office of

      General Counsel representation, which will draft, review, and update guidelines, on

      the basis of which a CIS staff member will add, delete, and retain news groups on the

      CIS system.  Except with respect to obscenity, or other speech not protected by the

      First Amendment, the guidelines will be content-neutral.  CIS currently has a process

      for selecting news groups; our proposal broadens the group involved in setting the

      policies to be followed and enhances legal safeguards to the policy-making process.

3.   We recommend that the standing committee mentioned in the paragraph above

      formulate guidelines, on the basis of which CIS will segregate news groups into two

      categories: (1) those with content which is likely to be obscene or sexually explicit and

      harmful to minors, as defined by Federal and State law, and (2) those without.

      Matriculated students, faculty, and staff, age 18 and older, would automatically be

      granted access to all news groups being carried. All those under age 18 would

      normally be granted access to only the second news group.  We recommend the

      establishment of a process and a set of guidelines by which those persons could

      apply for access to the other set of news groups under appropriate circumstances.

4.   Computing privileges may be suspended or other sanctions imposed upon anyone

      found to have used University resources to display, print, or circulate obscene

      material, where "obscene" is defined by Federal and State law; anyone who

      circulates, to persons under the age of 18, sexually explicit materials which are

      defined by law as being harmful to minors; and anyone found to have used University

      resources to use obscene and/or sexually explicit material in a way which violates

      University policies and guidelines.  The standing committee mentioned above will

      make recommendations to CIS for suspension of computing privileges or other

      sanctions in each case involving faculty or staff members.  In cases involving

      students, the existing Student Judiciary Board will have jurisdiction.  In addition, as

      noted in the August 1993 "Computing Ethics and Guidelines," "... failure to adhere to

      these guidelines can result in the suspension of computing privileges and

      prosecution under Federal and State law, where applicable."  The University will fully

      cooperate with all such prosecutions.