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Is MC Watching?

Next time you log into Netflix to watch the latest episode of Orange is the New Black, when you are supposed to be fulfilling your duties as a conscientious work study, ask yourself, “How would my supervisor feel if he or she knew that I was goofing off on the company watch?”

And, when you are in your dorm room watching an illegally downloaded version of the soon-to-be box office phenomenon, Thor, ask yourself, if the risk of getting caught is worth the $5.50 you are saving by not catching an early-afternoon matinee of the film.

At Mississippi College and at your job (if you are lucky enough to have one), it is not outside of that realm of possibility that you are being watched by the powers that be. In fact, it is almost guaranteed that you are.

At MC, those powers are known as Computer Services. Most known for providing computing and network needs to students and staff, Computer Services is also responsible for overseeing the appropriate use of the Mississippi College Network; which includes, but is not limited to—monitoring state and federal copyright laws and content for appropriateness, as is determined by the college.

These guidelines are formally known as the Mississippi College Acceptable Use Policy; which governs network usage on all school-owned hardware and software and use of MC’s network via a physical connection regardless of the ownership of the computer or device connected to the network.

Computing Services Chief Information Officer Bill Cranford said the policy has been around since the 1990s and has evolved over time.

“We are not here to be the bad guy and to police what network users have access to,” he explained. “We are here to provide a safe context for students to learn. Sometimes keeping people on track requires some amount of regulation.”

That regulation includes filtering information related to adult content, hate speech, criminal skills, drugs, file sharing, gambling, hacking, plagiarism, self-harm, suicide, violence, weapons, and guns.

Cranford said the list is tied in with the school’s moral beliefs and ethical views and was approved by a committee of people, including the university’s president, Lee Royce.

“This particular list is of particular interest to the parents of our students, who are concerned when their children leave home for the first time for college,” Cranford said. “Today, more than ever, colleges have a high level of responsibility for students. These kinds of guidelines support student safety on several fronts.”

On occasion, departments can ask for exceptions for particular sites or links that may fall within one of these categories, if being used for academic purposes, Cranford explained.

In addition to student safety, Cranford said there are more practical reasons to monitor and, in some ways, limit network usage by faculty, staff and students.

“Faculty and staff members are asked not to watch movies or shop online during working hours. They are also asked not to spend the day on Facebook or other social networks,” Cranford said.

“We do not see a lot of abuse, but, when we do, we simply ask that they spend their work time more appropriately. It is generally not an issue, but is has come up.”

Not only is it unproductive, activities like watching movies requires a large amount of bandwidth, which can reduce network speed for the thousands of students, faculty, staff and visitors who use the MC Network every day.

The system is burdened by the mere quantity of students we have using the system on a daily basis. MC currently has somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,700 students living on campus. Each one has multiple devices, all of which are competing for network space.”

Another practical reason for regulation is related to copyright laws. The MC Acceptable Use Policy specifically prohibits the illegal use of web graphics, film clips, trademarks, software, logos, music, videos, games and text. Users of the MC Network who violate copyright laws are subject federal, state and local laws and disciplinary action by the college.

In other words, if a student illegally downloads a movie or album, the school will receive a notification that includes the specific name of the film and information that identifies the user. This matters because the college can be held legally responsible for the use and misuse of its network.

In regards to social media, Cranford said Computer Services does not monitor specific content posted by students. If an issue arises related to content, it usually comes in the form of a complaint and would be handled through the Student Government Association, he said.

“Some people may believe that we are here watching their every move, but that just isn’t the case,” Cranford said. “We are not here to limit or stifle anyone or to be the bad guy, looking over your soldier.

“We are here to make sure that there is fair Internet and network usage for everyone and that it is used in a legitimate manner to further the education of our students. Ultimately, that is what we are all here for.”

– Courtney Lange, Contributing Writer

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