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Opinion: OU Should Not Track Students’ Internet Activity

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Many students across campus, specifically freshmen, have been discussing their privacy rights.  They claim that the university sometimes does not need to oversee everything that they do.  The students are adults and should be treated as such.  But why did the issue of right to privacy become such a hot topic? Well, according to sources that want to remain anonymous, Ohio University can track what a student is searching on the Internet when using OU’s Wi-Fi server.

Brice Bible, Chief Information Officer for OU’s Office of Information Technology, said, “Ohio University maintains a series of security checks on incoming and outgoing network traffic. These checks are focused on preventing or stopping attacks such as viruses, worms, and botnets on university and student computer systems.”

He went on to say that OU does not do such tracking through content but by IP address. However, with the amount of advanced technology available, there is a way for a university, or anyone for that matter, to see someone’s search history through an IP address.

This does not only happen here at OU. Every single university across the nation that has its own Wi-Fi server has the ability to see a student’s Internet history.  They can track two types of pages, encrypted and unencrypted.

Encrypted pages are web pages that begin with https://.  Encrypted websites are related to online banking, online shopping and other similar sites..  Unencrypted pages are web pages that begin with http://.  Some examples would be Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, ESPN, etc. These two types of pages are tracked differently. Unencrypted pages cannot only be tracked by location, but can also be tracked by its content. This means that one can read anything and everything someone sends or receives from the web.  Encrypted pages can be tracked by location, but one cannot see the content.  There is no possible way for the university to do that, yet.

Many people across the nation and the world advocate for some type of federal law to prohibit this invasion of privacy. In the U.S., there is no federal law that allows or does not allow anyone to track one’s Internet history.  This is why any future employer has the right to look at one’s Facebook page or blog before they hire them.

Universities have made it explicit in why they find the need to track their students’ web browsing history. The first reason that pops in to some people’s minds is the constant threat of an attack on the school.  With societal concerns that have been present since 9/11, an attack anywhere at any time seems like a reason to track everyone and everything they do. However, does that mean that the university should track everything a student does on their server?

This tracking is a total invasion of a student’s right to privacy. The only reason the university should track the web browsing history is if certain trigger words pop up. An example of a trigger word would be “kill” or “bomb,” something along those lines. This would benefit both parties.

The university should trust their students to an extent. The students’ tuition payments are the reason universities are functioning and expanding.  Let the students search what they want to search, and if it is harmful to the general well being of the university, then the university should take some action.  Until then, let us be.

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