Overview of Your Rights and Responsibilities Online

The Internet is a powerful tool for communication. With access to the Internet, anyone can effectively be an international publisher and broadcaster. Many Internet users, however, do not realize that they are publishing to the world and the Internet has potential for misuse. Free access to computing resources is often mistakenly thought to be the equivalent of free speech, and where free speech rights are in turn often mistakenly thought to include the right to do whatever is technically possible.

The rights of academic freedom and freedom of expression do apply to the use of University computing resources. So, too, however, do the responsibilities and limitations associated with those rights. Thus, legitimate use of University computing resources does not extend to whatever is technically possible. In addition, while some restrictions are built into the University's computer operating systems and networks, those restrictions are not the only restrictions on what is permissible. Users of University computing resources must abide by all applicable restrictions, whether or not they are built into the operating system or network and whether or not they can be circumvented by technical means. Moreover, it is not the responsibility of the University to prevent computer users from exceeding those restrictions; rather, it is the computer user's responsibility to know and comply with them. When you're pulled over to the side of the Information Superhighway, "I'm sorry officer - I didn't realize I was over the speed limit" is not a valid defense.

So just what are the applicable restrictions? The answer is - the same laws and policies that apply in every other context. "Cyberspace" is not a separate legal jurisdiction, and it is not exempt from the normal requirements of legal and ethical behavior within the University community. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that conduct that would be illegal or a violation of University policy in the "off-line" world will still be illegal or a violation of University policy when it occurs online. Remember, too, that the online world is not limited to Tufts University. Computer users who engage in electronic communications with persons in other states or countries or on other systems or networks may also be subject to the laws of those other states and countries and the rules and policies of those other systems and networks.

It is impossible to list and describe every law and policy that applies to the use of University computing resources and the Internet - since, by and large, they all do - but the following are some of the ones that most frequently cause problems:

This Overview was adapted from material prepared by Steven J. McDonald, Associate Legal Counsel for Ohio State University. We wish to thank Mr. McDonald and Ohio State University for permission to use the material.