Big Brother is Watching (April 30, 2013)

Nikki Petzer

Big BrotherRegardless of venue, nobody likes being watched. Just the feeling of being under observation can make a person uncomfortable, but even worse than that is not knowing when the observation actually takes place. Believe it or not, students and faculty are already being watched, but not in the typical, visual way. Instead, all Hanover County Schools’ internet activity is monitored. Websites that students use and faculty visit can easily be tracked back to them with this system
As a matter of fact, all schools have some sort of filtering system, but when does too much monitoring go from protecting the students to an invasion of privacy? Whether this is an invasion or a necessary precaution is in the eyes of the beholder.
“I understand that it is the school’s internet, and I always go to school having an idea that the internet is being monitored, but it feels like they are kind of intruding on our privacy,” freshman Georgia Geen said.
Just like anything, internet monitoring has both pros and cons. With the use of this system, inappropriate content can be blocked. Also, students purposely trying to reach this content can be dealt with appropriately. On the other hand, many students feel like this is an invasion of privacy. Even though this is the main argument against monitoring, it is a valid one that many support.
“Generally, if you are using the internet for educational purposes, we are not real interested in that type of traffic. The only thing that we get interested in is if the alert systems come up and say that someone is continuously trying to bypass the filters,” Terri Hechler, Director of Technology for Hanover County Schools said.
With this being said, there needs to be a certain level of understanding between students, faculty and monitors. It is important to realize that the monitoring is not constant. Instead, this kind of monitoring is normally only used when the content stops being educational.
“We have 24,000 users that are on every day, all day so I don’t have the staffing to monitor all of them, and even if we did we wouldn’t watch individual users. We can tell who is doing what when and where, but we usually only do that if an alert comes up,” Hechler said.
Despite the intent, some students still feel that it would be better if students were able to choose what they accessed without having to worry about being confronted about the sites they have visited.
“If we were given more freedoms, it would help us to grow up as better adults that can make better decisions,” sophomore Lindsey Marston said.
“It’s just creepy that people can see what you are doing and know which websites you are going to,” sophomore Jessica Allanson said.
Even with these complaints, schools are required to have a filter. The Child Internet Protection Act or CIPA was passed in 2000 and requires that inappropriate, obcene or graphic material must be blocked or filtered in both schools and libraries.
The internet monitoring system is not only used to track down individuals attempting to bypass filters, but also to look at internet traffic and help free up bandwidth to help the internet run smoother.
“Our utilities allow us to see how much traffic is flowing back and forth through the websites and also the type of traffic. For example, during March Madness, what we saw was a lot of streaming video, and video streams take up a lot of bandwidth, and watching that takes a lot off of the network,” Hechler said.
In this case, the site that most of the video streaming was taking place from would be blocked for the duration of March Madness.  Until March Madness was over, NCAA.com was blocked to free up bandwidth and help benchmark testing take place successfully.
On top of freeing up bandwidth and keeping content appropriate, internet monitoring also helps keep out viruses and malware. The system blocks websites that could potentially harm the computers, defending them against viruses.
“Hanover has never had an incident where we have had a virus creep in here and destroy any of our data or get into any of our computers, so we take a lot of precautions to make sure you all have a safe and reliable system to use every day,” Hechler said.
Overall, this system is meant to protect students against inappropriate content, safeguard computers against viruses and provide everyone with a smooth as well as swift internet connection.
“We want to provide a safe computing environment for students, and using the filter system, the things that are allowed to go through are the things that have an instructional value. So if it has a value in the classroom and it is something that teachers can use and students can use within the curriculum then that it is fine,” Hechler added.
In the long run, internet monitoring does seem to have many more advantages than disadvantages, but many people feel strongly about keeping their internet use private. In spite of the defiance against internet monitoring, the need for protection from inappropriate content outweighs the present desire for internet privacy; therefore internet monitoring is indispensable for the time being.

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Author: The Hawk Eye

Hanover High School, Mechanicsville, Virginia The Hawk Eye Student Newspaper thehawkeye@hcps.us

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