Computer Science

Code of Ethics


As a student you are probably aware of certain ethical responsibilities you have, such as honesty in doing classwork. Another area in which you have important ethical responsibilities is in your use of computing resources. This document describes some of these responsibilities and explains Computer Science Department policy on student use of computing resources. Some of these policies might be different from what you would expect, so please read over and understand this document.

The CS department provides for use by its faculty and students a range of computing environments including Unix and Windows. It is our goal to provide you with the very best computing environment that we can with our limited budget. Users depend on our computers and campus computers for doing class assignments, research, and for communications. We are a community of computer users, and like any community we can all make the best use of our resources if we establish some guidelines for how we can use them responsibly.

Different types of computing facilities have different levels of security systems. The campus computers, which provide instructional capability for the whole campus must be very reliable and secure. In the department, we rely more on the intelligence and good intentions of our users. We need to trust the people who use our machines.

The fundamental principle behind our policies is this: while using the computers, you should never do anything that harms another user or prevents him or her from getting work done.

Each new Computer Science student receives a computer account that they will keep throughout their enrollment as a student at Cal Poly. All campus computers are to be used only by Cal Poly students, faculty, and staff.

Any computer account created for you remains the property of the University. You are responsible for this account, and you may not allow any other person to use it. The primary purpose of your account is to allow you to carry out your computing assignments and other instructional activities. You may also make modest use of these resources for other purposes, such as sending electronic mail to friends on campus and reading the electronic bulletin boards, provided that this usage does not significantly interfere with instructional use of the machines.

An example of how one might "significantly interfere" would be to tie up a computer for game-playing when no other computers are free and someone else is waiting to use the computer to do an assignment. You may not use the machines for commercial purposes, such as preparing bills for your company or advertising products. More details about this are given below. If you are in doubt about whether some use of the machines is allowed, ask a member of the lab staff.

Department computers are networked and they run software that we have purchased for your use in course work and independent study on campus. Much of the software is protected by copyright. You should not copy any software from the system unless our license permits this.

You should not load any software on our personal computers without the express permission of the CS Department. If you want to provide software on the multi-user systems for other people to use, please clear these installations with CS Department faculty or staff so that we can be sure that copyrights and other protections of intellectual property are being respected. Do not alter the state of the network or systems in any other way. It is important that users be able to expect a stable configuration of the computing equipment

Here is a list of some examples of activities that the department does not allow. If a student makes such unethical use of CS or campus computers, he/she will be subject to the penalties below.

You may not introduce viruses, worms, Trojan horses, password cracking or login spoofing programs on any University computer or network. In fact, because of the serious damage such programs can cause, the CS Department has adopted a policy which forbids students even to have these types of programs in their accounts; you may not store such a program on a departmental computer even if you only wish to study it. For everyone's sake you need to understand how to protect your disks and our computers from viruses and like programs.

You may not try to use equipment or accounts that you are not allowed to use.

You may not interfere with others' ability to make use of the resources. For example, it might be reasonable to lock a terminal if you need to leave the room for two or three minutes, but it is not reasonable to lock it while you leave to buy lunch. Another example would be doing something that ties up all or a significant fraction of the machine, thus preventing others from receiving their fair share.

You may not destroy other people's work.

You may not "spy" on people, that is, you may not attempt to gain information from their accounts unless the owners have specifically given you permission to obtain that information. This includes both attempting to violate the protection facilities provided by the system and also taking deliberate advantage of someone else's failure to protect sensitive information on his or her account. This works both ways. For example, it would be unethical for a faculty member or support group member to browse through your personal messages just out of curiosity, even if they have a security level that allows them to do so; we agree to respect your privacy. We do, however, retain the right to inspect material on your account when this is necessary to investigate a suspected violation of university rules, such as a cheating incident or a violation of the rules in this document.

You may not send mail that appears to come from someone else.

You may not advertise any commercial products or use your account to earn money.

What happens if you violate any of these rules? It depends on the seriousness of the offense, but could be one or more of the following. Disciplinary procedures and sanctions will be consistent with those outlined in the University catalog regarding student discipline and academic integrity.

  1. You may have to meet with the chair of the CS Department or the campus Student Discipline Coordinator to discuss abusing computing resources.
  2. Your account may be locked. (Again, we recognize an obligation to respect your rights as well. No student account will be locked without discussion and approval of the chair of CS, except in the case of security violations. It would not be ethical for us to lock your account capriciously; for example, we agree not to lock it simply because you send a message to a board expressing disagreement with some Department policy or action.)
  3. For minor infractions, some form of departmental services (e.g., cleaning the screens on terminals) may be requested in exchange for unlocking the account.
  4. For offenses involving abusing computing resources to cheat on course related work, or preventing others from working on assignments, your grade may be lowered in the class or you may receive a failing grade. In such cases the offense is usually referred to the Office of Student Affairs as well.
  5. For severe offenses, or repeating minor offenses, you may lose access to all CS and/or campus computing facilities for a period of time.
  6. You may be disqualified from the CS degree program.
  7. In serious cases your name and a description of the violation may be reported to the police. California Penal Code Section 502 makes certain computer abuses a crime, and penalties can range up to a $10,000 fine and up to 3 years in prison

Your cooperation in the following areas will help us make efficient use of the computing resources and will avoid unnecessary impositions on the time of faculty, staff, and other students. These are not the sort of things that we can expect to enforce rigidly; rather, we are asking your cooperation for the benefit of the whole departmental community. Violations of these guidelines would not ordinarily result in any of the penalties listed above beyond number 1, unless they were especially flagrant or persist after faculty or staff have asked you to stop.

  1. Please be careful not to use the computer to annoy people, for example, by sending them messages which they do not wish to receive. (The mail system makes it rather easy to send a message to a very large group of people; please be responsible in your use of this capability.)
  2. Please do not waste anything (i.e., paper, disk space, CPU time, people time, etc.). Dispose of printouts intelligently. Since we can't rely on everyone to act ethically, it may be safest to recycle old printouts at home rather than on campus.


Some of these polices are adapted from those used by the ICS Department at UC Irvine. They adapted some of their policies from those of the UCLA CS Department, Columbia University and the California Institute of Technology.