Research or Spam?

The story:

As a member of the University's advisory committee on information technology (IT), you're more familiar with deciding what technologies to invest in than with handling legal cases. But the Vice President for IT has given your committee responsibility for solving a recent dispute between researchers and IT staff.

As part of a summer research project supervised by Prof. Rosalinda Velasquez, Midwestern University student Eric Dahl sent an unsolicited email to over 1,000 randomly selected addresses, inviting the recipients to fill out a survey questionaire on his website. After receiving complaints from some recipients and finding that the email was impairing the functioning of the University's email servers, system administrator Sam Jerrold removed unsent emails and blocked access to Eric's website.

Eric and Prof. Velasquez have been voicing loud complaints, and Jerrold equally loudly insisting that the two of them should be disciplined. Who is at fault? What punishments, if any, should be imposed? Does the University need to change its rules? Today's committee meeting needs to resolve these issues.


Statement of student Eric Dahl.

Statement of Prof. Rosalinda Velasquez.

Statement of system administrator Sam Jerrold.

Statement of anti-spam activist Ann Golding.

Midwestern University policies:

Anti-"spam"websites On "netiquette":


This is a fictionalized version of an actual case which arose at a prominent midwestern university in the summer of 1997. My thanks to the (anonymized) participants for discussing the case with me.

Copyright © 2002 Jean Goodwin
Last updated 4 September 2002