Cyberspace Communications

Cyberspace Communications

Cyberspace Communications is a non-profit organization located in Ann Arbor, Michigan that promotes free speech through its anonymous access Unix system, Grex. The organization gained wide attention as the lead plaintiff in a successful suit to invalidate Michigan Public Act 33 of 1999 (The Child Online Protection Act).


Cyberspace Communications was formed to govern the public access Unix system Grex. Grex was based on M-Net, another public access Unix system located in Ann Arbor, currently operated by Arbornet. Based on collective management and group ownership, the system blossomed very quickly into community with hundreds of users.

Cyberspace Communications v. Engler

In the summer of 1999, Grex became party to a lawsuit seeking to nullify a Michigan law that would have jeopardized Grex's anonymous access and the privacy of its users. In ruling, the court found that Michigan's Public Law 33 violated the commerce clause as well as the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

This decision would later on be widely cited in other cases litigating decency laws.

Organization & Governance

Board of Directors

Cyberspace Communications is governed by a Board of Directors made up of members who are elected by the membership to serve terms of two years, with a two (consecutive) term limit.

Current members serving on the Board of Directors
President Vacant Term Expires:
Secretary Vacant Term Expires:
Treasurer Mark Conger Term Expires: Dec 2009
Denise Anderson Term Expires: Dec 2009
Dan Cross Term Expires: Dec 2008
Chuck Martin Term Expires: Dec 2009
Colleen McGee Term Expires: Dec 2008
Steve Andre' Term Expires: Dec 2009


Cyberspace Communications is a membership organization whose funding comes from dues paid by members. Members are afforded voting rights when it comes to policy decisions, and can run for the Board of Directors. Members also receive a higher level of access to Grex, the organization's public access Unix system.


Grex is the public access Unix system that is operated by Cyberspace Communications.


Grex's primary service is an electronic conferencing system. Accessible via the world wide web, or through an internal interface, it provides a forum for members to discuss a wide range of issues.Grex also provides limited Internet services, such as e-mail, usenet, text browsing of the world wide web, and text-only website hosting.

Technical Details

Until recently, Grex operated on hardware made by Sun Microsystems. The main system was a Sun SPARCserver 4/670MP. In December 2004, the system was moved to a modern x86 system. The operating system was also changed at this time, from SunOS to OpenBSD.

Member Governance in Action: A Censorship Issue

Member involvement in policy-making has been a core principle of Grex from the beginning. An incident from 2004 provides an illustration of the dynamics of Grex policy-making, and in particular the role of member proposals.

Historically, Grex culture has been anti-censorship: users are assumed to be responsible for what they post in bbs forums, with postings removed only if deemed to be illegal (e.g. credit card numbers) or for content-neutral reasons (e.g. the need to free disk space). Users have always been allowed to delete their own posts. However, although the prevailing culture was anti-censorship, no written policies were in place prior to 2004 regarding what forum moderators or others with administrative powers may do regarding deletion of posts made by people other than themselves.

In early 2004, considerable controversy arose when Valerie Mates, a Grex staff member, invoked root privileges to delete an entire thread that she had initiated but contained posts by many other users. This action sparked intense debate in the Coop Conference, the Grex forum devoted to governance issues. (Note: If certain postings are indicated as "erased" in the pages linked to above, it is because they were deleted by the users who posted them.) While the debate was in progress, another user requested of this staff member that several long threads that he had initiated also be deleted. Despite the fact that the appropriateness of such deletion was still under active discussion, the staff member performed the requested deletions, resigned from the staff, and left the Grex community.

At this point, the debate intensified. The Grex bylaws allow members to propose policy resolutions, which are then decided by member vote. To resolve the censorship controversy, a member proposed that the censorship be undone by restoring the deleted items from tape backup, with users being given the opportunity to delete their own postings from those items before making the items publicly accessible. This proposal was defeated Unwilling to accept this outcome, the member who proposed it immediately re-proposed essentially the same motion, forcing another vote, which again went against the proposal. The proposal was voted on and defeated a third time as well.

This incident prompted two changes to Grex policy, one to close a loophole in the bylaws that allowed immediate re-votes on an issue already decided, and another to disallow deletion of user posts by administrators except under narrowly defined circumstances. Both of these measures were adopted democratically via member vote.

Several other policy issues on Grex have been settled by member vote, as can be seen by consulting the log of member proposals


External links

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