Nieuws - 11 januari 2007

Big Brother is not watching you

Students with a Wageningen UR internet connection in their room can use it for almost nothing except their study. At least, that appears to be the message in a mail signed by Aalt Dijkhuizen that was sent to all students in December. Chatting with friends? Well, okay, but only if it is ‘in good taste’ and not for too long, according to the code of conduct.

Code of conduct? Yes, as a result of a ‘number of serious violations’, the executive board felt it was necessary to remind employees and students at Wageningen UR of the regulations governing internet use through the WUR network. In a nutshell, all internet use should be related to education and research.

Students who rent a room through Idealis automatically have a WUR network internet connection. The network is fast and therefore ideal for downloading music or films. But if students follow the code of conduct this activity is no longer permitted. Even looking up your favourite film star could count as a forbidden activity if it takes longer than ‘very short’.

Breaking the rules can have serious consequences, the board adds. And the chance of being discovered is big because ‘at our request the ICT department will regularly analyse the total internet traffic’. This can be done right down to the work station level, is added in a threatening tone.

Many students threw the intimidating e-mail straight into the rubbish bin, which is just as well, said Jaap Booij of the ICT department. ‘What students do at home is their own business.’ The executive board intended the e-mail for computer users within the Wageningen UR buildings. ‘The regulations only apply there. Students’ use of the network from their own rooms is a separate matter. Of course everyone should stick to the rules in this country, and therefore not download child pornography or material with racist content.’

So WUR is not playing Big Brother? ‘No, we can trace internet use in student rooms, but we don’t do this.’ Unless, and that’s the catch, ICT receives complaints from outside. ‘Many students pass on film- and music files. Then we get complaints from anti-piracy organisations like Brein Foundation, and cut off the connection. But many students are unaware that they are doing so: if they just keep files where they come into their computer, these are automatically available to others.’ If you save files you receive on another part of your hard disk, you can keep your downloads out of sight from the WUR watchdogs.