February 3, 2009

University Internet Technology Policy Upholds Student Privacy

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The ubiquitous use of social networking often makes students wonder if private information stored on faraway servers passes in front of more eyes than originally intended.
Although privacy — especially on the network —seems to be in easy danger of infringement, Cornell Information Technologies maintains that the University’s central information technology organization strictly protects student privacy.
“It could be argued that among all the constituents in the Cornell community, faculty, staff and students, students enjoy the highest degree of privacy because of the protection of education records under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act,” said Tracy Mitrano, director of I.T. Policy.
Under FERPA, any school that receives funding from the U.S. Department of Education must abide by stringent regulations on the disclosure of any student information.
University I.T. Policy 5.9, Privacy of the Network, states that Cornell does not monitor or restrict the content transmitted on the University network or its computers as a practice. This statute prohibits Cornell from arbitrarily perusing the flow of data in and out of the thousands of computers on campus, leaving most online activity in the dark.
However, Cornell policy also grants the University the power to limit or remove access to the network when policy is violated.
Akio Bandle ’11, a resident of West Campus, lost his internet privileges without warning last week after the University accused him of ‘copyright infringement.’
“After I lost connection, I got an e-mail from Cornell saying that I was guilty of some kind of copyright violation. It didn’t say exactly what I was guilty [of], and I don’t know either,” he said.
Bandle chose the ‘expedited resolution,’ which required him to take an online course about copyright law and receive an oral warning on his J.A. record.
Network policy upholds the privacy of other users, the security of electronic assets and the fair use of network resources as the guideline areas to be observed by users. In addition, piracy and copyright law also govern all network traffic.
Bandle also mentioned the use of social networking sites like Facebook to track down students engaged in illegal activity.
“Last year, at my old school, I’ve heard of cases of campus police using Facebook to crash parties people would try to throw in the dormitories,” Bandle said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried it here.”
According to The Daily Illini, Illinois University Police used Facebook to arrest a student, giving him a citation for obstructing justice. The Daily Illini identified 16 police officers with accounts on Facebook by searching the department member’s e-mail addresses.
Cornell Police denied using Facebook to monitor student activity.
In response to rumors that Cornell allegedly keeps records of Collegetown residents’ IP addresses, Mitrano reports that the University is “completely unaware of such efforts.”
On the campus itself, video monitoring is commonplace, although it is restricted mostly to public areas and retail centers.
“It generally aids in maintaining the security of folks on campus, and maybe as a secondary thing, apprehending someone we’re looking for,” explained Simeon Moss ’73, Cornell’s director of press relations. “In terms of privacy breaches though, I’m personally not aware of any explicit cases.”
Live feeds overlooking Statler and Ho Plaza are available to the public online, according to Moss. However, Moss added that all cameras in operation adhere to University policy.
“Our top priority in any kind of monitoring is the safety of the Cornell community,” Moss said. “Anything else would take a distant second.”