GNU/Linux Discrimination at UCLA

Dan Helfman

When I got back to the UCLA dorms after a long day of classes, I noticed a little note hanging on my doorknob. "YOUR SERVER PORT HAS BEEN TURNED OFF," it said, referring to the ethernet connection I pay for as part of my housing fee. "PLEASE DOWN ALL SERVERS PERMANENTLY. PLEASE CALL NETWORK SERVICES TO REACTIVATE PORT." And then there was a phone number to call.

I logged into my GNU/Linux system and tried to ping a few hosts. Nothing. So I called the number. I got someone's voicemail. I left a rather courteous message stating that I'd like to discuss the problem. I had been running samba, ftpd, httpd, identd, and smtp. I had figured that since nearly everyone in the dorms runs Windows filesharing, surely a low-traffic (less than ten hits/day) web site wouldn't be a problem.

To make sure, I whipped out my copy of the student housing agreement that I had signed at the beginning of the year. The interesting part was this: ~"Multi-user and public access systems may not be attached to the student network without specific prior permission of the STC. (This requires a separate form.)"

Well, my system was most certainly not multi-user. Even though GNU/Linux can be multi-user, my system only has accounts for me. And my host is not currently public accessable, either. I don't advertise my web site anywhere, and I mainly use it for my own personal studies in computer science at UCLA. I use my ftp server to transfer files to computers for the programming classes I take. I had signed nothing that prohibits me from running servers. That particular rule must be an obscure policy that they don't publish in the colorful college catalogs handed out to prospective students.

So I got sick of waiting around, and I called again. This time Dan someone answered. After a little beating around the bush, he said that I absolutely couldn't run an smtp server, and that I would have to register all my other servers with the STC (Student Technology Center). I brought up the issue of why the dozens of people running Windows filesharing on port 139 don't have to register. Dan said that it's a "grey area" and that he didn't want to get into it. Well, I did want to get into it, so I asked for his supervisor's phone number, and then I trotted down four flights of stairs and across the courtyard to the STC.

There I talked to Rick. I asked how I would go about registering my server. Rick said it would cost $20 for a static IP. No, no, I said. I didn't want a static IP. I wanted to run services on various ports. Oh, he said, you still need a static IP for that. Why? Well, Rick said, there have been cases in the past of people running ftp servers with warez and child pornography. We need to have your IP address registered so that we can give it to the FBI if they ask for it. At that point, I didn't even bother to ask them why they couldn't just log the dynamic IP addresses that they assigned. But I did ask why people are free to run Windows filesharing without having to pay the $20 fee. After all, you could easily put up some warez or child pornography via SMB. It's policy, he said. It comes from above. I thanked him and went back to my dorm room.

Once back in front of my now non-networked computer, I called Dan's boss, Mike. Mike's major problem was with my smtp service. I told him I needed it in case people sent me large files. The email address that UCLA so generously provides deletes email over three megabytes or so. Not even as much as a bounce. Direct to /dev/null. Mike seemed concerned that I could transfer illegal files via email. I asked him what I would need to do in order to be able to put my smtp server back up. He said I would need to sign up for a static IP address (for $20), and provide my root password! Now this really ticked me off. The housing contract did mention that the university will periodically scan the network and the contents of connected computers. I assumed this to mean public ftp and SMB files. But they require me to hand over complete access to my machine simply because I want to transfer file attachments of four megabytes? I wasn't about to give my root password to a bunch of people who didn't even know how to log dynamic IP addresses assigned by their very own DHCP server.

However, I still remained polite through all of this. I asked Mike about the fact that people can put up Windows filesharing services without any sort of payment and without granting root access to the university. He went off on something about how people can log into my computer and use it as a point to hack other computers. I have telnet and rlogin disabled and firewalled. He didn't seem to care. He said he didn't want to debate.

After getting him to promise to send me the phone numbers of the people who approve these outrageous and discriminatory policies, I said that I would temporarily shut down my services in exchange for my network connection being turned back on. He said that he would send Dan to my dorm room with papers for me to sign. I plan on reading them very thoroughly before I even uncap a pen.

What sickens me about this whole thing is the false advertising aspect. I came to this college thinking that I could run a decent GNU/Linux system on the college ethernet. I paid my housing fees. I signed the housing contract and abided by it. And now they shut me down simply because it's theoretically possible to send four megabyte warez files via my little sendmail server. And the kicker is that they don't require any registration for people running Windows filesharing. It's only those of us who choose a different method of file transfer, like ftp, http, or email attachments, that get stepped upon. And because they have a regional monopoly for high-speed net access, (I can't very well get a cable modem to my dorm room...), they can do whatever they please. Is this even legal? Is it a "right" to run a network service, assuming that nothing in the housing contract explicitly prohibits me from doing so? What about their double standard concerning SMB and FTP?

Assuming that they stick to their policies, the only thing that I can think of doing is to take my business elsewhere. That would constitute transferring to another college. The problem is that other colleges likely have a very similar Big Brother policy about their network. What's a poor GNU/Linux-using college student to do?

Continue to Update #1

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