“Finally, I can do whatever I want!” thought every incoming college freshman ever. But for some unlucky students arriving on campus this fall, that sought-after right of passage applies to just about everything except internet usage.
Northern Illinois University enacted an Acceptable Use Policy that goes further than banning torrents, also denying students access to social media sites and other content the university considers “unethical” or “obscene.”
A discussion on the ban was brought to Reddit by user darkf who discovered the new policy while trying to access the Wikipedia page for the Westboro Baptist Church from his personal computer in his dorm room. The student received a filter message categorizing the page as “illegal or unethical.” It seems possible to continue to the webpage, but the message warns that all violations will be reviewed.
“This kind of policy comes out of the blue,” darkf told Betabeat. “I feel that if someone doesn’t speak out about it at the start, it might be here to stay. I hope they can understand how restrictive it is to students.”
Effective for residents, students and staff, the restrictions span across the NIU network, which includes both campus research and education center as well as the school’s Wifi network. The revised policy — enacted July 25 — isn’t entirely new, but the implementation of a new filter that will strictly enforce it was the first “act of office” for the university’s new head of technology, according to darkf. The full terms of the policy are explained here, but we’ll sum up the less obvious ones:
Firstly, misrepresenting your identity is forbidden. It’s unclear how far this goes, but catfishing may be out. Anything the university considers to be “obscene, defamatory, or [that] constitutes a threat” is also a big no. This is quite vague, but they throw on “including pornography” at the end of that bullet point, to no surprise. A number of additional screenshots provided by darkf confirm that porn is inaccessible.
Perhaps one of the most controversial of the terms is the restriction on political activities such as surveying, polling, material distribution, vote solicitation and organization or participation in meetings, rallies and demonstrations, among other activities. According to the policy, social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Foursquare are also unacceptable “unless associated with professional responsibilities.” However, students have reportedly been able to access social media.
To top it off, illicit activity discovered during “routine monitoring” is grounds for an investigation. The policy is loaded with phrases like “but not limited to” and “etc.” to make it all as vague as possible. What exactly each bullet point means is unclear, but the idea of such censorship is concerning students and Redditors alike.
“Explain to them that in the interest of advancing education you might need to access certain websites that may seem controversial or unethical/”illegal,” commented one logical Redditor.
Reddit, you’re so wise. Isn’t it obvious that an institute of higher learning should be the last place to put a huge block in the information pathway? Banning illegal activity is completely understandable, and porn shouldn’t be censored, but I couldn’t hate them for it.
But banning Wikipedia pages? How do they expect students to do their assignments?
Restricted access to social media sites only applies to university equipment and only following instructions to cease use of the equipment for such usage. The other restrictions still apply to personal computers on the network.