More and more universities are blocking and filtering the internet. And now this growing trend seems to expand from porn to social networking and freedom of thought.
There are two basic ways to judge a subject: the enlightened way is to assume innocence until proven guilty, and the totalitarianism way is to assume guilt until cleared proven innocence. Although for most of us in the western hemisphere the first rule should apply, it seems that the trend of censoring the web is derived more from the second approach: prove that a website is not harmful needs to be submitted in order to get access to it.
This standard is maintained more and more in high education institutions. Universities and other educationional institutions throughout the western world choose to block categories of the internet beyond what is required of them by law. From sex and abortion, to naturism, online greeting cards, and marijuana. This is often referred to as “content-filtering” by the companies who perform the blocking, since this sounds less bad. But is it?
Universities who carry out the category-based blocking are keen to point out that they have mechanisms in place where an individual can request that a block is lifted. However, this can often involve seeking permission from the head of department, or submitting an evidence form which justifies your need to access that material; processes which will never be immediate and could be humiliating. Should an adult have to get permission to access porn? What about a female student looking up abortion? Should the burden of proof fall on the students?
It seems so. According to a research conducted by information researcher Daniel Payne, out of 119 higher education institutions asked in the UK, 37% are using some kind of category blocking. According to Payne, There is a whole host of vague categories such as “questionable”, “tasteless”, “extreme politics”, “violence”, “unethical”, and “intolerance” that universities block. There is also the obvious “adult”, “marijuana” and “sex”. The good news is that most universities still believe in the freedom of information. 63% confirmed they did not carry out internet blocking. Indeed, some institutions such as Imperial College, pointed out that blocking parts of the internet would be against the principles of academic freedom.
Blocking of Social Networks
In the US, this trend is growing and at times spiraling out of control. The latest example comes from Northern Illinois University. Just this month the university enacted an Acceptable Use Policy that goes further than banning torrents. It also denies 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 the 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.
The tech blog Betabeat, reported on the revised internet policy of the university:
“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”.
In light of this growing trend at the heart of the high education system, that should encourage free thinking but choose to limit and censor it, we offer students and professors alike a way to circumvent these processes und more internet security. Not only that we will allow you to expand your horizons freely by passing the block, it will also protect your identity from being exposed and unjust fully punished.
What do you think about censoring by schools and universities? Leave a comment below!