EDITORIAL: Monitoring software needs specific guidelines for use

At first, we greeted the news of a new computer monitoring program that must be installed on University laptops with skepticism. 

Most of us have heard about the recent controversy at nearby Lower Merion High School, where school officials allegedly used webcams on school-provided laptops to observe students outside of class. 

The thought of a “Big Brother” software program monitoring our online activities sounded ominous, especially in the wake of the Lower Merion kerfuffle.

The primary purpose of the monitoring program, however, isn’t to spy on students’ activities but to ensure that we have the most up-to-date anti-virus software and controls installed on our computers. 

Viruses are especially common on college campuses, and anyone who has had the misfortune of becoming infected with one knows the inconvenience it causes. Not only does a virus slow your computer down and possibly even necessitate a complete wipe of the hard drive, but it slows the entire Villanova network. 

As Director of Technology Support Services Matthew Morrissey noted in an interview, a virus was responsible for shutting down the wireless in Bartley Hall and the Pavilion just last year. The ongoing virus concerns are part of a larger general dissatisfaction with the current laptop program. 

For these reasons, it’s vital that UNIT continue to address this issue.

But the new monitoring software doesn’t only check anti-virus settings; it also monitors student’s Internet usage for illegal file downloading activity. 

We were pleased to hear that UNIT plans on focusing on education and notification of students downloading songs illegally, rather than immediate punishment of the offenders. In a way, UNIT is actually performing a service to students it warns about illicit activity: It is far better to receive a sternly-worded warning from UNIT about illegal file downloading than it is to receive a criminal complaint or lawsuit from a record company or production studio.

But as the Lower Merion experience has shown, technology implemented for the right reasons might be used for the wrong ones. 

Internet communications are among our most private, and it is imperative that the University administration at the highest levels clearly lays out the policies surrounding the usage of this monitoring software. 

While students should remember that they are using University-owned laptops on a University-owned network, it is not unreasonable for us to expect some level of privacy in our online activities.

The steps UNIT is taking to protect our networks against viruses and warn against illegal downloading are important and necessary, but UNIT must be careful not to infringe upon the rights of Villanova students.