Big Brother is not watching you

It is a well-known rumor among Western students that the IT department has the technology and initiative to track your every action while logged on to the campus network. Many people consider this to be a violation of their personal privacy. Fortunately, the truth is much less paranoia-inducing.In reality, the Information Technology Department is not monitoring your online actions, not even the most scandalous ones. The only precaution taken by IT is in the form of a device known as a Packetshaper. Every Internet connection on campus is run through the Packetshaper, which, through an entirely automated process, determines what kind of activity a particular connection is attempting, such as gaming, surfing the internet, or simply checking your mail, then determines whether or not to limit a user’s access based on this information. The Packetshaper does not, however, determine the exact details of an activity, regardless of its general type.This may seem like good news to would-be music, movies, or software pirates, but there are still numerous precautions in place to limit illegal downloads. Traffic from popular programs that are used for downloading, such as Kazaa, Limewire, or Bittorrent are all severely limited by the Packetshaper, making downloading a nearly impossible endeavor. Even though downloading is not being tracked specifically, and is theoretically still possible over Western’s network, it is still an extremely risky practice. Campus security may not be knocking down anyone’s doors, but organizations such as the RIAA or MPAA are still out there and are more than willing to track down Internet thieves, regardless of how insignificant the crime.The best advice for individuals interested in downloading illegally is simply this: don’t do it.Should you be caught, however, it’s important to know that even as a student, you have rights. Any accusations that the school may receive are alleged. Western follows a strict policy of standing by their students. Everyone is always innocent until proven guilty. Should Western receive a cease and desist order from a company, such as the RIAA, Western will set about tracking down the specific individual in question, and will remove Internet privileges from that person. It is important to note, however, that that individual may still access the Internet for research purposes through the library or any other places on campus.Once the individual has been tracked down, a meeting will be set up between themselves and the Resident Director in charge of their particular dorm. During the meeting, a student will be given the opportunity to settle the issue through a mutual agreement between the school and themselves, the details of which may be found in the Student Handbooks on page 114.Consequences vary greatly, depending on the severity of the infraction, but it should be made very clear that Western is not interested in tossing a student to the legal wolves at the first sign of trouble. Even in the face of possible charges, it is important that the student learn something from the experience.Internet privacy is a very controversial topic, not just here at Western, but for people all over the world. There are many myths and rumors that have made their way into mainstream belief. Fortunately, many of them turn out to be false, but it is still important to adequately protect yourself, even in the virtual world.If the campus’ security precautions don’t fulfill your need for online privacy, the IT department provides brand name anti-virus and firewall software, which can be picked up for free at their offices, located in the Forsyth building, room B-32.