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Machado Case

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Portions of the case narrative in this case contain extremely offensive language! Please use judgment in deciding to read this or in deciding to expose others to reading it.

Machado Introduction

This introduction to the Machado case is for teachers. If you have been assigned to read this case you can find the case narrative in the supporting documents of this case.

Here we provide a guide to the case from the inside or from the teacher’s perspective. This section provides you with:

  • supporting documents (a timeline, glossary, links to useful sites, various RFCs for internet protocols, an interview with one of the people involved in the case)
  • An overview of the socio-technical system in which the case is embedded
  • Ethical analysis of the case (done using the ImpactCS model)
  • Specific assignments that you might use in class


Machado: Hate mail goes electronic

In September of 1996, 19 year-old Richard Machado sent email to 59 Asian students at his public college, threatening them with phrases like "I will personally make it my life's career to hunt you down and kill you" and signed by "Asian Hater." Several of these individuals reported this incident to the Office of Academic Computing (OAC). One of the recipients was a student employee of the OAC. The administrators of the OAC were faced with a decision about how to respond to harassing and threatening email sent over their system to students of their University, using their facilities. Machado was eventually indicted on federal charges, and convicted of infringing on the civil rights of several of the students who received his email. He served a little over a year in jail for his offense.

The Machado case is essentially about the social restrictions we place on what can be said in electronic mail (email). One point to begin with: a sure way to get confused in this case is to think that one value (e.g., free speech) is always more important than another value (e.g., safety, equal access). Our legal system is based on the balancing of various values against each other. Our moral decisions are also usually based on some balance of one good against another (or one potential harm against another). And so, any reasonably thoughtful analysis of this case will require answering questions like:

  • Under what circumstances does allowing some particular piece of speech compromise some other value too much?
  • What other values, in addition to free speech, are at stake in this case?

We can get more complicated by asking how the balance among these values works, and if it changes from culture to culture. But that is for later. For now, simply mark the fact that all of the analysis of this case will be balancing one value with others.

One other major issue that is lurking in this case: computing systems have values embedded within them. This is one of the basic point of social analysis from the ImpactCS model, and this case is a fine place to see how values are designed into a technology.


Structure of the Machado Case

The structure of the Machado case is fairly simple. The case narrative provides two background documents on the legal and social climates surrounding the incident. After students read these, they might then read the case either from the perspective of the Office of Academic Computing (OAC), from the perspective of one of the students who received the email, or from the perspective of Machado himself.

Reading the case from the OAC perspective requires reading two documents, one containing background on the OAC and it policies and the other describing the incident from the OAC's perspective. Students might read these either along with the actual text of the email, or be asked to make a decision before seeing the text. Please be aware that the text of the email contains offensive language.

Reading the case from the perspective of one of the student recipients only requires reading that student's story. Reading the case from the perspective of Machado involves reading some background on Machado and his life, and then reading the incident from Machado's perspective. Please note that we have tried to stick closely to the facts in describing Machado's actions and motivation. We felt too uncomfortable trying to write the case in a way to justify his actions. They really cannot be justified. But we think they can be sympathetically understood.

Using the Machado Case in Class

To get acquainted with the case, we recommend you read as much of the case material as holds your attention. This should not take too long. But if all you want is the quick overview we provide that in the supporting document section. This overview also includes much detail about the court case and Machado' action in avoiding arrest after the incident.

Once you have a grasp of the basic facts of the case, you might then turn to the analysis documents to see how we view the ethical and social issues in the case. Finally, you might at least look at the overview of the supporting documents we provide. These include some of the RFCs for email and networking protocols, and an interview with one of the administrators of the OAC at the time of the incident.

For a more practical turn, you might choose an exercise from our list of exercises. Each exercise will require the use of different supporting documents and of different pieces of the case presentation.

As you develop the exercise that you want to use in your class, you should think of how you might present it on a web page. We hope soon to provide some support to make it easy for you to construct a web page that presents your exercise, as you have modified it, to your students.