Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

15. Letter dated 28 February 2005, from The Open University

  Thank you for your letter enclosing further correspondence from the Union of Jewish Students.

  The University stands by the comments made in my original letter to you (13 January 2005) and I enclose a copy of the letter sent concurrently to the UJS from the University's Director of Communications.

  I would make the following additional points:

  1.  Mr Stone seeks to perpetuate a confusion between The Open University Website and the Students' Association conferencing facility. These are separate entities and UJS has understood and acknowledged this in previous email correspondence.

  For the benefit of members of the Committee, I must reiterate that the complaint referred to the International Affairs Board of the First Class Conferencing system. This is one of more than 1,000 student conferences covering a range of student interests and is moderated by the Open University Students' Association. These conferences are the virtual analogue for our students of the discussions that take place between students in entirely un-moderated social situations at traditional universities (eg conversations over coffee or in the bar).

  It is entirely in the spirit of the pursuit of learning and the open exchange of views that the university encourages students to manage their own interactions, but should the behaviour of participants in a particular conference prove to be out of hand, the University would certainly consider taking steps to close that conference. It is important to note that these conferences are not open to the general public.

  2.  The substantive case referred to by the Union of Jewish Students was addressed by the University and resolved in full some 18 months ago. The University does not disguise the fact that some completely repellent material was contained in the conference and appropriate disciplinary action was taken at the time. Furthermore all participants were alerted to the requirement to observe the University's Codes of Practice and Mr Stone was informed of this in a letter from Professor Allan Cochrane dated 20 October 2003.

  The final paragraph of that letter clearly states the University's position:

  "I can assure you that the university treats anti-semitism as a serious matter. I believe it has no place in a civilised society and certainly should have no place within The Open University. I have discussed the initiation of further disciplinary action with the officers of the Students' Association and am actively pursuing the possibility of disciplinary action being taken against students who have mis-used our system to pursue an anti-semitic agenda. I regret, however, that the details of action against individuals needs to remain confidential and I will not comment on the outcome of any particular case.

  This University considers it has responded fully to Mr Stone's complaints.

  3.  We do not consider a response period of three weeks (15 working days) to be excessive. The University takes all complaints very seriously and in a large and complex organisation we take pains to examine not just the content of the complaint but also the systems and procedures that underpin the context in which the complaint has arisen. In a university where all the students are located at a distance from the university centre, it can sometimes take longer to communicate and deal with a disparate group of individuals, but 15 working days is in our opinion very reasonable, and compares favourably with the service standards of similar organisations in other sectors.

  I enclose for your information a copy of the University's Code of Computing Practice together with a copy the Code of Conduct for the Use of the First Class Conferencing system. All staff and students are expected to abide by the Codes. I particularly draw the Committee's attention to Paragraph 4 and the associated footnote in the latter document.

  Finally, I note that in his letter to you Mr Stone alleges additional breaches of the Code and cites specific instances. These have not been raised directly with the University but I have referred his correspondence to the University's Director of Students, Mr Will Swann who will investigate further and take any appropriate action.

  I have written separately to the Union of Jewish Students and have suggested that they address any further correspondence on this matter to Mr Swann.

  Thank you for your assistance and for the Committee's consideration.

Kate Stephens

Head of Political Liaison

Attachment 1


  1.  University computing resources are provided to facilitate a person's duties as an employee of the University and/or for educational, training, or research purposes. Computing or network resources must not be used for any commercial or significant personal purposes, except subject to this code and where specifically authorised by the person's Head of Unit. The University has a separate statement of Policy for Attaching Equipment to the University Network, which is available from AACS and at Compliance with that Policy forms a part of this Code of Conduct.

  2.  In order to use the computing facilities of The Open University a person must first be authorised through the registration procedure operated by AACS. Registration grants authorisation to use some or all of the facilities of the University. During registration, a username and password may be allocated. These are for the exclusive use of the person applying for use of computing facilities. Unauthorised use must not be attempted or made of computing or network resources allocated to another person.

  3.  The user is responsible and accountable for all activities carried out under their username. The password associated with a particular personal username must not be divulged to another person or stored on another computer system without the written permission of the University Data Protection Officer or the Head of Unit. After authenticating themselves, users must not leave their computer unattended without password or physical protection.

  4.  Passwords used must adhere to accepted good practice. Advice on what constitutes a good password may be obtained from the Training and Support Team or the IT Security Officer in AACS.

  5.  No person shall jeopardise the integrity, performance or reliability of the computer equipment, network, software and other stored information. In this code, "software" is taken to comprise programs, routines, procedures and their associated documentation which can be implemented on a computer system, including personal computers and workstations. The integrity of the University's computer systems is jeopardised if users do not take adequate precautions against malicious software (eg computer virus programs). Users should be aware that email attachments may carry viruses and so if they are in any doubt they must not open the email but ask their local IT support person to check the attachment. Users must report to their local IT Support person when any virus has been positively identified.

  6.  Existing norms of behaviour apply to computer based information technology just as they would apply to more traditional media. The ability to undertake a particular action does not imply that it is acceptable. Examination of all files on the hard disk of a colleague is equivalent to examining their filing cabinet and seeking to find unprotected files on a multi-user system falls into a similar category. Whilst it is possible to send via the computer, communications which may be offensive, obscene or abusive, such behaviour is not acceptable. For specific services, the University may provide more detailed guidelines.

  7.  No user shall interfere or attempt to interfere in any way with information belonging to another user. Similarly, no user shall make unauthorised copies of information belonging to another user. However, staff are advised that in exceptional circumstances it may be necessary for their E-mail, Voice Mail or other files to be accessed so as to maintain operational continuity or to meet the University's legal obligations. Each such action must be authorised by the University Data Protection Officer or the Head of Unit and the user informed. The University will routinely monitor its data and voice network traffic flows (and reserves the right to monitor individual use) to maintain operational continuity, to meet the University's legal obligations or to ensure that resources are appropriately used. Staff should be aware that Internet services used via the University network are logged. Exceptionally, content of traffic in transit may be analysed on the authorisation of a Senior Officer of the University. E-mail that is clearly personal may not be opened unless there is good reason to believe that a criminal offence is being committed or a material University Regulation is being contravened. Staff who are authorised to disclose data (in storage or transit) are themselves subject to strict ethical standards as a condition of their employment. Disclosure will be the minimum needed to comply with the authorisation.

  8.  Attempts to access or use any user name which is not authorised to the user are prohibited.

  9.  Any software and/or hard copy of data or information which is not provided or generated by the user personally and which may become available through the use of computing or communications resources shall not be copied or used without permission of the University, or the provider of the software.

  10.  The user undertakes not to infringe any copyright in documentation and/or software. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998 gives copyright owners the right to bring civil proceedings for infringement and makes certain infringements of copyright criminal offences.

  11.  The user undertakes not to use any University computing or network resources to make use of or publish material that is obscene, libellous or defamatory or in violation of any right of any third part or in violation of the University's Policy on Bullying and Harassment.

  12.  Software and/or information provided by the University may only be used as part of the user's duties as an employee of the University or for educational purposes. The user agrees to abide by all the licensing agreements for software and/or information resources entered into by the University with other parties.

  13.  The user undertakes to comply with the provisions of the Computer Misuse Act (1990), Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, the Data Protection Act (1998) and other relevant statutes. Copies of these documents are available through the University Library. If further advice is required, the Data Protection Officer should be contacted.

  14.  The user must not undertake any actions that bring the name of the University into disrepute.

  15.  The user must comply with the University's policy on Internet Domain Names. Any exceptions to domain require explicit approval by a senior Officer of the University.

  16.  The user may use approved University links to other computing facilities which they are authorised to use. When using external facilities the user must also abide by their rules or code of conduct. All such use must comply with the JANET Acceptable Use Policy

  17.  Persons who break this code of conduct may find themselves subject to University disciplinary and/or criminal procedures.

  Approved by the University Secretary, December 2003

Attachment 2



Conditions of Use and Code of Conduct for First Class

  You must read the Conditions of Use and Code of Conduct set out below. FirstClass users are expected to abide by these and breaches may result in restrictions for offenders.

  If you feel that other users are not following the Code of Conduct, a complaints procedure has been set up which is explained online in a conference named "Conditions of Use" inside the "OU Service News" conference on your desktop. The first time you use the FirstClass client, the most up-to-date versions of all these documents will automatically open for you to read.

Conditions of use for the Open University's FirstClass System

  By registering on the FirstClass System each user accepts and agrees to abide by the conditions set out below. The Open University, through the Director of Learning and Teaching Solutions (LTS), reserves the right to exclude from FirstClass anyone who fails to comply.

  1.  FirstClass is provided for education, research and administration. Commercial use of FirstClass is forbidden. Those using FirstClass are personally responsible for their contributions to the system (as they would be for any written communication which is sent to others) and shall indemnify the University against any liability incurred by the University including liability in defamation and for breach of copyright), which arises out of any such contribution.

  2.  Contributions to conferences should be regarded as the intellectual property of the authors. If they are to be quoted by another person in a publication (electronic or printed), proper acknowledgment must be given.

  3.  Where the contribution of any FirstClass user to a conference incorporates material of which that user is not the author, proper acknowledgment to the author of that material shall be given in the contribution.

  4.  Contributions must not consist of, or contain, illegal or offensive material. Any material which is considered by the Director of LTS, or a nominee to be illegal or offensive may be removed from the system. For this purpose the expressions "illegal" and "offensive" include (without limitation):

    —  Material the publication of which is defamatory.

    —  Would infringe the copyright of a third party.

    —  Which contravenes Data Protection legislation or the Telecommunications Act.

    —  Material which constitutes incitement to racial hatred or which is offensive or obscene (see also the footnote below)[2].

  The originator of any such material may be excluded by the Director of LTS from further participation in FirstClass.

  5.  Each FirstClass user undertakes that he or she will not hold the University liable for any material contributed to a conference by another person, which is defamatory of that FirstClass user.

  6.  Each individual is responsible for the security and use of their Username and password. The use of someone else's account, Username (or password) is not allowed. Any user found using someone else's Username, or impersonating another user of the system, may be excluded by the Director of LTS from further participation in FirstClass. Any user whose account is repeatedly being used by another user may also be excluded by the Director of LTS from further participation in FirstClass.

  7.  The LTS Administrators of the FirstClass system may need to access any areas of your FirstClass account in order to investigate technical problems, in response to a complaint or through a Subject Access request. This may include a necessity to access private mail. This data may be passed to the University's Data Protection Officer(s) in response to a Subject Access request.

    —  FirstClass is not provided for personal purposes but if private mail messages are so used and intended to be private, they should be marked accordingly (using the message, "Sensitivity Personal" option). Any personal information in such messages, provided the facility is properly used, will not be provided in response to a subject access request. Messages sent to any conference, cannot be deemed as private personal information.

  8.  Information regarding your use of the FirstClass system will be used to generate statistics on system usage. These statistics may be used in University research or publications. Information about individuals will not be referenced in such material without their prior consent.

  9.  All users must comply with the FirstClass Code of Conduct.

Ian Rosenbloom, Director, Learning and Teaching Solutions June 2002

Code of Conduct for the use of FirstClass

  This Code of Conduct relates specifically to FirstClass but the general principles involved apply to all electronic communications systems supplied by the University and apply to staff and students alike.

  The University's general rules and regulations apply to users of FirstClass (and all other electronic communication systems) just as they do in any other university environment. Specifically, the University has a published policy on harassment and has an equal opportunities policy. These policies are contained in the student and staff handbooks. These rules, policies, regulations and the disciplinary procedures associated with them apply within the FirstClass system and breaches of them, or this Code of Conduct, may result in restrictions being placed on your use of the system and ultimately your removal from the system.

  1.  FirstClass is a conferencing system for people connected with the Open University. In this environment students join with both staff and visitors to debate and discuss issues of academic and general interest. Some conferences are also copied to other external conferencing systems. All FirstClass users should recognise that comments made in such an environment reflect not only on themselves but also on The Open University as an institution. FirstClass must not be used to bring the University into disrepute.

  2.  FirstClass is a social environment. Normal rules of social interaction are in force. The remoteness of the recipients must not be used as an excuse to communicate in an anti-social manner. Examples of such anti-social behaviour are:

    —  Harassment or intimidation of another user.

    —  Person to person aggression within conferences.

    —  Deviation from the spirit of a conference.

    —  Excessive or inappropriate use of jargon, banter or graffiti.

  None of these are considered acceptable behaviour on FirstClass.

  3.  FirstClass users should not contribute to a conference unless their contribution is intended to further the aims of the conference.

  4.  Personal exchanges should be directed to a user's mailbox (ie an e-mail), not to a conference.

  5.  Personal comments about other users and their views should not be placed in public conferences.

  6.  Copying or forwarding of private messages to another person without the author's explicit permission is a breach of confidentiality.

  7.  All FirstClass preferred names must be a true representation of your student record as held on the University's central records.

  8.  The Code of Conduct applies equally for Private or Public Chat as for mail messages. Misuse of the chat facility will result in this facility being removed from your FirstClass account.

  9.  The primary responsibility for the management of any conference lies with its moderator. The moderator must ensure that the conference meets the above guidelines. (Moderators will be provided with advice on their responsibilities within their conferences.)

Complaint Procedures

  A full description of the complaints procedure and advice for moderators are held inside the Conditions of Use subconference of OU Service News.

  The LTS Administrators of the FirstClass system, may need to access any areas of your FirstClass account in order to investigate technical problems, in response to a complaint or through a Subject Access request. This may include a necessity to access private mail. This data may be passed to the University's Data Protection Officer(s) in response to a Subject Access request.

Ian Rosenbloom, Director, Learning and Teaching Solutions June 2002

Attachment 3


  The Clerk to the Home Affairs Select Committee has sent me a copy of your recent letter and sought the University's Comments.

  Your letter refers in the main to a complaint you raised in 2003. The complaint was dealt with in full at that time and the University's position and the action we had taken was conveyed to you in a letter dated 20 October 2003. We consider this matter to be closed.

  However, in your recent letter to the Select Committee and in your written evidence, you repeatedly charactise this as a complaint about "anti-Semitism on the Open University website". You have been made fully aware that this is not accurate and that the items to which your complaint refers appeared on the International Affairs section of the electronic conferencing system, a separate entity managed by the Student Association for their members. You have acknowledged this distinction in previous correspondence with the university and we have reflected this back to the Committee and corrected the misleading impression that has been given.

  Finally, you draw the Committee's attention to a number of recent items that have appeared on the conferencing system, although these matters have not been raised with the University directly. As a result I have referred your letter to the Select Committee to the Director of Students and asked him to consider the additional points you make.

  Any further correspondence should be addressed to the Director of Students, Mr Will Swann at the University's main address given at the head of this letter.

Kate Stephens

2   Legal Footnote-Relevant legislation includes: The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, The Human Rights Act, The Data Protection Act 1998, The Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988, The Computer Misuse Act 1990, and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Laws relating to theft would also apply in cases of "stolen" software. (The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 amends the Obscene Publications Act 1956, the Protection of Children Act 1978 and the telecommunications Act 1984, to extend their provisions to transmission over a data communications network. The potential "let out" of transmission in coded form is ruled out by the concept of a "pseudo photograph", ie, that is electronic data that can be rendered into an image that has the appearance of a photograph.) Back

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