CSci 107 Term Project: Social and Ethical Issues of Computer Science

The goal of this project is to learn about some of the key social and ethical issues that uniquely apply to computer science in the modern world.  To prepare for meeting this goal, you should first pick a topic and read the background information on that topic from your text and various outside sources (see below).  To accomplish this goal, you will prepare and deliver an in-class presentation at the end of the semester.  For details, see below.

Class presentation guidelines

Every student is expected to pick a topic and make a presentation for the rest of the class either alone or in a team (maximum 3 people per team).  Each presentation should be 20-30 minutes in length, allowing 10-15 minutes for questions and discussion of the issues. 

Pick a topic that you are interested in and you want to learn more about.  A list of suggested topics is proposed below.  If you would rather talk about something that is not on this list, let us know.

  1. Cyberspace, Cyber-rights, Free Speech and Censorship
  2. Privacy and Anonymity
  3. Copyright and Intellectual Property
  4. Digital Copyright Law
  5. Computer crime
  6. Encryption and data security
  7. The Patriot Act, CARNIVORE, TIA
  8. Computers and democracy
  9. Gender issues

If you prefer to work alone, or if nobody else is interested in the same topic, you can choose to give your presentation alone. If you work alone you may discuss a narrower aspect of the topic, while if you work in a group the group should cover more readings.

The presentation should start with a clear and concise presentation of the topic and the issues that it raises.  Do not assume anyone in the class (including the instructor!) has any background knowledge about your topic. This general introduction will be followed by a free discussion involving the whole class. You may organize this presentation any way you want: for instance, you can take turns and each present a part of the topic, you can organize it as a panel, or you may conduct a brief debate on a topic that has two opposing sides.  Each presentation will have a group leader responsible for asking questions, moderating, and making sure that the presentation goes on smoothly.  Be prepared to answer questions and state your opinions.  During your discussion you will be the experts on your topic.

For your presentation you should hand out to the class either PowerPoint slides or a short write-up summarizing your topic and the key points to be discussed.  You will be able to use the computer and A/V equipment in the classroom to facilitate your presentation.

Attendance at all presentations, of course, is required.


Sources of information

The following list of readings and topics is by no means complete. There is a lot of material available on the Internet on every topic. It is your responsibility to go through the readings, find other ones as needed, and extract the key ideas and points. For the topics where there is a debate, we want to hear the arguments on both sides.

Outside sources and questions by topic

1.  Cyberspace, Cyber-rights, Free Speech and Censorship; Constitutional and Civil Liberties

The right to read by Richard Stallman
Censorship versus freedom of speech:
CDA (Communications Decency Act) 1996
Freedom of electronic press: government raids
PPA (Privacy Protection Act) 1980
ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act) 1986
The right to read by Richard Stallman The right to read is a battle being fought today. Although it may take 50 years for our present way of life to fade into obscurity, most of the specific laws and practices described above have already been proposed; many have been enacted into law in the US and elsewhere. In the US, the 1998 Digital Millenium Copyright Act established the legal basis to restrict the reading and lending of computerized books (and other data too).
Google filters out stuff
AOL censorship
Censorship in China
Internet Content Rating Association
The Internet: The New Free Speech Battleground


  1. Discuss the reasons for ruling CDA as unconstitutional.
  2. Debate: How should the need to investigate be balanced with constitutional protections?
  3. What are the arguments in favor of and against Internet censorship?
  4. What methods can be used to implement a policy of Internet censorship and how effective are they?
  5. Is Bowdoin responsible if an employee or student publishes unappropriate material on a web page?
  6. Debate: Should Bowdoin place restrictions on web page content?

2.  Privacy and Anonymity

Computer technology has made it easy for large amounts of data to be collected without a person ever knowing it. This information may be used for a purpose other than it was intended.
The Unscrupulous Diner's Dilemma and Anonymity in Cyberspace article by David Johnson.
Privacy/Anonymity FAQ
Government databases; Profiling; marketing
SWIPE (Swipe addresses the gathering of data from driver's licenses, a form of data-collection that businesses are starting to practice in the United States.. )
Information underground
Spam wars by Lauren Weinstein
How email works
Why can't we change SMTP
Can spam be stopped?
CDT memorandum on spam
Antispam bills: worse than spam?
Search for anonimity and spam at EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation)
EFF position paper on spam
Verisign's 'SiteFinder' finds privacy hullabaloo
Internet services company Verisign, which controls portions of the Domain Name System (DNS), has abruptly implemented a scheme in which people who mistakenly enter a non-existent domain name are redirected to Verisign advertising.


  1. Should government databases be open? What are the arguments for and against?
  2. Debate: Is privacy a right to be protected by law? Should it be imposed? Should be purchased?
  3. What are some trade-offs of implementing privacy?
  4. Can consumer responsiveness influence policy on privacy? How?
  5. Debate: How much privacy are you willing to give up? How can we set our own limits?
  6. What is spam, and what does it have to do with privacy and free speech?
  7. What are the arguments in favor of and against Internet spam?
  8. Is Bowdoin responsible if an employee or student spams the Internet?
  9. Can spam be transmitted inadvertently (e.g., through group lists, like or  Explain.

3.  Copyright and Intellectual Property

The right to read by Richard Stallman
Open Software Initiative (OSI)
The Open Source definition by bruce Perens, Treasurer, Open Source Initiative
Software and cooperation by Robert Stallman
GNU, GNU General Public Licence (GPL)
FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt): SCO, IBM, Microsoft
The SCO Group's Open Letter To The Open Source Community
An open letter from USENIX regarding SCO's position on Open Source Software
Groklaw sends a Dear Darl letter
OSI position paper on the SCO-vs.-IBM Complaint
The Halloween documents
Halloween IX: It Ain't Necessarily SCO a detailed rebuttal of the revised complaint against IBM by SCO.

Microsoft: Microsoft to license Unix code | The fear war against Linux
SCO filing subpoenas | IBM subpoenas SCO inverstors | SCO targets Torvalds, Stallman | IBM days in court
Why is Microsoft attacking GPL
Challenges to Intellectual Property in Cyberspace by Maureen D'Orso
A Web Developers Guide to Copyright and Intellectual Property Issues in Cyberspace by Karen L. Kranack

Why Patents Are Bad for Software by Garfinkel, Stallman, Kapor
Patent problems by Lawrence Lessig
The economy of ideas by John Perry Barlow (A framework for patents and copyrights in the digital age)

  1. What is the difference between the copyright on a printed document and the copyright on a software product?
  2. What is the difference between a copyright and a patent? 
  3. How does each of these ideas apply to computer software and hardware?
  4. To what extent is copyright a "Western" idea, and how are copyrights treated in non-Western parts of the world (e.g., India)?

4.  Digital Copyright Law

The right to read by Richard Stallman
Overview of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA)
EFF archives on DMCA
The anti-DMCA website
Napster, iTunes, KaZaa etc
iTunes: Invention of the year
Stand-up poster
P2P file sharing after Napster


  1. Who own's the software product (e.g., Word) that you install on your computer?
  2. What rights does the vendor retain when you purchase a piece of software?
  3. What responsibilities do you have for using that software?
  4. What is the difference between the copyright on a printed document and the copyright on a software product?
  5. To what extent is copyright law a "Western" law - how is copyright law treated in non-Western parts of the world (e.g., India).

5.  Computer Crime

Crime and Puzzlement by John Perry Barlow, a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
COPS ON THE I-WAY (from Time magazine) by Mike Godwin, describing the need to balance law enforcement with constitutional rights on the Internet.
Crime and Crypto on the Information Superhighway by Dorothy E. Denning
Trusted computing:
EFF on trusted computing
EFF: Who controls your computer?
Home computer security: do you need a firewall?
Meditations on trusted computing
More on TC and Palladium by Bruce Schneier


  1. What difficulties arise in detecting, investigating, and prosecuting cyberspace crimes?
  2. In what ways are individuals vulnerable to computer crime?
  3. What forms of computer crime occur in corporations?
  4. What is the difference between a virus and a worm?
  5. Is hacking into systems wrong? Give arguments for and against.

6.  Encryption and Data Security

Government policy on encryption
The encryption controversy
More readings and quotes from MIT
The Cryptography Project
Hiding Crimes in Cyberspace by Denning and Baugh
Risks of encryption
Clipper Chip
Perspectives On Security In The Information Age
Technical background on cryptology: A public key cryptosystem is a cipher in which the encryption and decryption keys are different, with the property that knowledge of the encryption method does not reveal the decryption method. Public Key schemes are based on one-way or trapdoor functions. A trapdoor function is an transformation of the text which is easy to apply, but which cannot be easily reversed. The classic example of such a situation is the problem of multiplication versus factoring.
A Method for Obtaining Digital Signatures and Public-Key Cryptosystems paper by Rivest, Shamir and Adleman
Crypto FAQ from RSA Security
sci.crypt FAQ
RSA public key cryptosystem; Public Key Cryptography Standards

  1. What are the issues relating to cryptography policy?
  2. What are the arguments for and against the regulation of encryption?
  3. Explain the mechanics of a public key method.
  4. What is a trapdoor function? What is the role of the trapdoor function?
  5. What is the role of the private key and public key?
  6. Contrast public key cryptography with private key methods

7.  The Patriot Act, CARNIVORE, TIA

The text of the Patriot Act (USAPA)
Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) collection of links on USAPA
University monitoring
The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) viewpoint
The ALA (American Libray association) viewpoint
Secret Service Combats Cybercrime

  1. What is the connection between the Patriot Act and computers?
  2. How does the Patriot Act affect college students?
  3. Are there any cases where the Patriot Act has already helped to fight crime?

8.  Computers and democracy

Electronic voting:
Analysis of an Electronic Voting System at University of Maryland
Electronic voting page by Rebecca Mercuri
A better ballot box by Rebecca Mercuri
EFF "E-voting" Archive
Australian e-voting -- open source
Concerns on e-voting
The digital divide:
There has always been a gap between those people and communities who can make effective use of information technology and those who cannot.  Now, more than ever, unequal adoption of technology excludes many from reaping the fruits of the economy. We use the term "digital divide" to refer to this gap between those who can effectively use new information and communication tools, such as the Internet, and those who cannot. While a consensus does not exist on the extent of the divide (and whether the divide is growing or narrowing), researchers are nearly unanimous in acknowledging that some sort of divide exists at this point in time.
The Digital Divide Network
Digital divide basic factsheet
Democracy and the information revolution
Connecting Kids to Technology: Challenges and Opportunities
Americans in the Information Age Falling Through the Net
more resources

  1. In what states or districts has electronic voting been used, and what has been its effect?
  2. If a person votes electronically, how can that person's identity be guaranteed?
  3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of electronic voting?
  4. What is Maine's laptop initiative, and what is its relationship to the digital divide?

9.  Gender issues

Women in computer science:
Association for Women in Computing
Becoming a computer scientist: a report by the ACM committee on the status of women in computing science. by Pearl, Amy, Martha E. Pollack, Eve Riskin, Becky Thomas, Elizabeth Wolf, and Alice Wu
Women and computing
The Incredible Shrinking Pipeline by Tracy Camp
Computer Gender Gap Prompts Major Study by ACM
Women Share Secrets To High-Tech Success

  1. What are the facts about gender inequity in computing, and why is this a problem?
  2. At what age level does this problem begin to appear, and what are some of the root causes?
  3. What steps have been taken nationally to correct this problem, and how effective have they been?