Eye opening Salon piece on Universities’ practice of logging the net usage of their student populations. It notes that these practices are under review as the Patriot Act and RIAA are subpoenaing the logs, which many universities kept as a matter of course (why? who knows). This is another example of the power of the Database of Intentions (a term that is central to my book, and I promise, I’ll explain at some point). Interestingly, the Patriot Act may well be responsible for the widespread loss of this valuable resource (see excerpts).
Excerpts: “At the University of California at Berkeley, the everyday Web-surfing habits of students are regularly watched and recorded. Berkeley’s Systems and Network Security group uses a program called BRO — named after the infamous fascist icon from George Orwell’s “1984″ — that keeps logs of every IP address students visit on the Internet from the campus network.
Cliff Frost, UC-Berkeley’s director of communication and network services, says that “this practice is under review right now,” because the campus community feels it interferes with academic freedom. He expects that the university will continue to keep logs but will discard them after a month or two. “I’d love to keep that data forever,” he adds, “if there weren’t the threats of subpoenas for vile purposes.” “
” The only way to defend student privacy against USA-PATRIOT subpoenas, says University of Michigan public policy professor Virginia Rezmierski, is for university IT departments to stop saving their logs. You can’t subpoena information that doesn’t exist. Rezmierski is the lead author of a 2001 National Science Foundation study of network monitoring and logging practices on college campuses.
“I don’t think this study made people very happy when it came out,” she says. “A lot of our findings were very disturbing.” She describes interviewing a college systems administrator for the study who told her that he had singled out one student and periodically logged everything he did on his computer “because [the student] was really competent with network operations and he seemed a suspicious type.” “