December 17, 2008 | By Cindy Cohn

EFF, FIRE and Others Urge Michigan State to Respect Student Speech in "Spammer" case

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) and ten other civil liberties organizations today sent an open letter today to Michigan State University (MSU) President Lou Anna K. Simon in defense of MSU student government leader Kara Spencer. Ms. Spencer was formally warned by MSU and labeled a "spammer" for sending e-mails to 391 faculty members raising concerns about a controversial change in the university's calendar.

MSU's email policy prohibits the sending of unsolicited e-mail "for personal purposes, advertising or solicitations, or political statements or purposes" to more than about 20-30 recipients without prior approval of University officials. EFF and the other organizations noted that, especially by prohibiting "political statements" such as Ms. Spencer's based on their content, the public university policy is constitutionally suspect. The policy also improperly grants unfettered discretion to MSU in selecting which messages can be sent to multiple students and faculty by requiring prior administration approval.

In signing today's open letter, EFF and the other organizations agree that MSU's actions against Ms. Spencer is "egregiously wrongheaded." They ask that President Simon immediately overturn the finding that Ms. Spencer is a spammer, since that label implies criminal wrongdoing. The organizations also offered to assist MSU in developing a constitutional acceptable use policy for the university.

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