UNC Requiring Any Student Who Wants To Use File Sharing Software To Apply For A 'Hall Pass'

from the say-what-now? dept

Apparently UNC's method of dealing with constant complaints from the entertainment industry about students file-sharing is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It's blocking network access to any computer which they discover has file sharing software on it. It's unclear from the article just how UNC is detecting file sharing software, though that would seem to raise some serious privacy questions. Also not explained in the article is what qualifies as "file sharing software." After all, an FTP app, email, instant messaging and a browser could all be considered "file sharing" apps. Either way, if UNC discovers you have file sharing software that's on its "evil" list, you get a message that pops up in your browser saying:
“UNC-CHAPEL HILL IS BLOCKING FILE-SHARING THROUGHOUT STUDENT HOUSING.”
Students then are told to remove such offending software or they won't be able to access the internet.

Of course, since there do remain legitimate reasons for using file sharing software, students can apply for a "Hall Pass," that will let them use the software after they "learn what does and does not violate copyright law." One hopes that the lesson plan required is reasonable, though such programs rarely are all that accurate.

I understand why UNC is doing this, but I still find it worrisome. These are technologies that rapidly evolve. What may seem "evil" today may not be in the near future. Blocking your students from using them, except after they jump through a bunch of hoops -- each with a giant warning on them -- chills the willingness of students to actually look at certain new and important innovations that can be built on top of the older things. Requiring people to go ask permission to go use one of the fundamental features of the internet is likely to be quite frustrating for students who have perfectly legitimate reasons to use such networks.

Separately, I will note with a bit of pride that the same article quotes someone from my alma mater saying that Cornell would never implement such a system:
Ms. Mitrano said. Engineering and science-heavy institutions would have a hard time, for instance, because those fields often require a lot of file-sharing. Cornell, she says, wouldn’t do it because it would violate a student code that emphasizes “freedom with responsibility.”
Nice to see them going against this kind of snooping/cutoff setup.

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  1. icon
    Richard (profile), 15 Sep 2011 @ 12:44pm

    Re: cornell

    Academic staf could make this null by setting a coursework that requires the use of such s/w.

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