Internet usage tracked

Clare Lowther

Many students in McLean, Southwest and Northeast Halls were surprised when they tried to go online for the first time this semester.

Most students were greeted by a page requesting that they first register their computer with the university before traveling any farther on the World Wide Web. The page required students to log on by typing in their user name and password and then to reboot their machine.

Students who fail to comply won’t receive Internet access.

The information used to log in was stored on a secure Web page and can only be viewed by essential personnel in the networking department on a need-to-know basis, said Jeppie Sumpter, a network specialist.

The university implemented this program at the beginning of the spring semester. The program allows the university to have a better idea of what the Internet is being used for, Sumpter said.

Sumpter said Western is legally responsible for what is done online, in the same way an Internet service provider is.

Recent legal precedents, including a court case against the Internet service provider Verizon, have allowed major companies to go to providers if they believe their copyrighted material is being shared online. These providers are then obligated to give the names of those sharing the material to the companies.

“This is a way to protect both students and the university,” Sumpter said.

He said sharing copyrighted material is illegal and takes a lot of bandwidth and therefore slows down individual computers. He said this sharing is a trend that has been increasing since the late 1990s.

Academic Technology Director Jim Sanders said this program provides added protection because it limits people who are not students from getting onto the network.

Network Computing Director Dave Beckley agreed.

“If someone came into a residence hall and plugged up a machine, they may not have been a student,” he said. “They could just get on our network and be online. But now they can’t do that.”

Sumpter emphasized that the university will not be monitoring what students look at online. However, if a company comes to the university with a complaint, Network Computing will be able to find out who is in violation.

Sumpter said they would first talk to violators. Then if they continued to illegally download or share files, their port would be turned off.

Planning for this program began last semester. Originally it was supposed to be implemented only in McLean, but Network Services made the decision to install it in Northeast and Southwest after they were left without Internet following flooding in Northeast.

Plans are underway to install the program in all dorms, though no definite deadline has been set.

Under this plan, all students would have to register their computers at the beginning of every semester.

Sumpter said other universities have similar programs. Officials studied the other programs, including those at Southwest Texas State University, before making any decisions.

So far, the pilot for the program hasn’t cost the university anything yet. The software used was free, and Sumpter created many of the codes used for the program himself.

“The only thing this has cost us is our time,” Sumpter said.

Sumpter estimated that installing the program all over campus would cost just under $3,000.

Student reaction to the program has been mixed.

Nashville junior Preston Holland, a McLean resident, was distressed about having to register his computer.

“It kind of scares me,” he said. “I would rather Western not know my personal Internet habits, even though I don’t go to sites that are bad. It’s a matter of privacy. … It seems like this is something Western did behind our backs.”

Sumpter, however, said he hasn’t heard any complaints about the program yet.

“With the exception of the letter to the editor in the Herald, I haven’t heard any complaints,” he said.

Reach Clare Lowther at [email protected]