Internet Censorship: the control or suppression of what can be accessed, viewed or published on the Internet. This act can be carried out in governments or in private institutions, such as a business, or, in our case, a university.
Students returned from Spring Break, excited to tackle the remaining eight weeks of the semester, only to be greeted with denied access to their favorite sites.
In an attempt to stop students from illegally downloading music and movies from certain websites, UNH had blocked access to these sites, but may have gone a step too far. The University blocked access to websites such as College Humor, Urban Dictionary, Cosmopolitan, blog forums, pornography sites, the Barstool Blackout site and certain tumblr pages. Any site with anything identified as “Adult Materials” was restricted.
“I understand that UNH was trying to cut down on illegal downloads; that’s perfectly fine,” freshman Stephen Shepherd said. “But why on Earth did they block College Humor, Urban Dictionary, and classify other tame sites as ‘Other Adult Materials?’ Aren’t we adults?”
To view materials labeled “Adult,” viewers typically have to be 18 years or older. Every student enrolled in the University is at least 18, if not older, and many students felt they should not be denied the right to view whatever they want on the Internet.
“We’re considered adults in society, and yet, the education system is the exact thing that’s been holding us back and babying us our entire lives,” Kyle Pickard said. “They want us to be individuals, do our own work, and be responsible, but won’t truly give us the opportunity to do so.”
“We are all over 18 and can make our own decisions,” Sean Lively said. “Whether you’re looking for Urban Dictionary, College Humor, or even porn, you should be able to be free to search whatever you want. This isn’t high school.”
However, the University of New Haven does have the right to block whatever they want. “The university is liable for anything that happens, not the student committing the act, and in the end, UNH is the one subjected to fines,” Drew Beliveau, a USGA Senator, said.
The Office of Information Technology’s Acceptable Usage Policy clearly outlines the “Appropriate” and “Inappropriate” use of the University’s network. In section 7000.4, titled “Inappropriate Use,” the OIT states that “The network may not be used for illegal or unlawful purposes, including, but not limited to, copyright infringement, obscenity, libel, slander, fraud, defamation, plagiarism, harassment, intimidation, forgery, impersonation, illegal gambling, soliciting for illegal pyramid schemes, and computer tampering (i.e., spreading computer viruses).”
No where in the Policy does it state that viewing a website with “adult” content is inappropriate use of the network.
The policy also includes a clause directed towards downloads: “The network is not to be used for downloading personal applications or files, including but not limited to, music files, movies, games and any other file types deemed inappropriate by the University.”
“I understand why illegal downloads have been blocked,” Melissa Scott said. “But people all over do that, just not at the university; it’s been going on for years all over. There’s no way to stop everyone.”
Students are having a hard time trying to cope with these new restrictions. “I can’t even go on a social networking site, tumblr, to relieve stress,” Yvelise Moreno said. “All I want to do is look at cute pictures and vent about my life. Is that too much to ask for?”
Most students on campus felt shocked, aggravated, and a tad bit insulted when the news of these website blocks was first revealed. As many people have said, “We aren’t in high school anymore.” So why are students being treated this way?
Vincent Mangiacapra, the Associate Vice President for Information Technology and CIO, explained that the ban was a way for the University to defend itself against possible lawsuits and fines.
“UNH doesn’t want to be known as a university that supports their students illegally downloading anything, or a university that pays for the fines for their students,” Mangiacapra said.
UNH was receiving an “unusual amount” of copyright infringement lawsuits from the music industry and motion picture industry. Students on campus were found downloading pornography illegally, and the University was being fined for it.
Another reason these bans were imposed was because, according to Mangiacapra, the University was grossing 47,000 views in a 24-hour period on porn sites. The alarming part about this, he said, was that these hits were not just coming from the residence halls, but also from the library, public computer labs and classrooms.
“This could lead to a sexual harassment lawsuit,” he said. “Say a student was browsing pornography in the library and another student passed by and saw, and was offended by it. That student could then file sexual harassment.” He also added that he personally believes what people choose to do online should be done in the privacy of their own place, and not in a public setting such as a library or a park.
Mangiacapra realizes and regrets the way action was taken. “I, in no way, believe, support or wish to impose censorship,” he said. He also added that he regrets not banning certain parts of campus selectively, and that the whole process could have been thought out better.
However, Mangiacapra does believe that this whole situation has been a good learning experience for all students on campus. “People take action to get noticed, and we got noticed,” he said. “Before you make a decision, look at the repercussions of your actions and think about who you’re impacting and why.”
Students were informed Wednesday, March 27, via email from Mangiacapra that the ban on all sites has been lifted.
“After further review, we have redesigned our download/access capabilities. As a result, we have restored access in the residence halls to the websites that have been blocked. Please keep in mind that the original Acceptable Usage Policy, which references illegal downloads, is still is in effect,” Mangiacapra said through the email.
The ban has only been lifted in the residence halls, according to Mangiacapra. However, the ban does still exist on campus.
“The block is still up for staff and faculty, and is still on the computers in the library, computer labs and classrooms,” Mangiacapra said.
“I don’t think censorship is going to stop whatever they’re trying to stop,” Melissa Scott adds. “Our generation is very good with working around the system. Censorship just seems a little unreasonable.”