Boston University may soon monitor students’ peer-to-peer file sharing more closely, pending the passage of a bill introduced last June.
However, because the bill must still be passed in the House and signed into law, administrators have not determined what upgrades BU’s network would require to be in compliance with the proposed law, which would mandate that all colleges receiving federal aid publish a yearly statement describing the “actions that the institution takes to prevent and detect unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material on the institution’s [network].”
“We are keeping an eye on [the bill],” said Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore. “We will do what we have to do to honor the law, but right now we are looking at proactive steps like educating people about copyright law.”
Elmore added that BU would remain concerned with student privacy rights, even as it complied with a possibly heightened standard.
Azer Bestavros, a computer science professor, predicted detection and prevention measures like those outlined in the bill might inconvenience legitimate peer-to-peer users such as professors who use these systems to share academic material.
“It may be an inconvenience if you’re doing something legal that gets you profiled, and in the end you’re not doing anything illegal,” Bestavros said.
Bestavros also raised concerns about the effectiveness of such monitoring techniques, noting that is it possible to evade existing programs that monitor network traffic.
Some students agree that such monitoring is easy to get around and admit that they have used peer-to-peer networks in the past.
“I have used [peer-to-peer networks before].” said School of Management sophomore Philip Havlik. “I don’t as much anymore, but there are always loopholes.”
Other students are more concerned about the violation of privacy that might occur with network monitoring.
“This would be a violation of privacy and a waste of funds that could be used for education,” said Rich Jones, founder of BU’s Free Culture Club and a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore. “[The entertainment lobby] is diverting funds from education to defend their broken business model.”
Justin Kaufman, a member of the Student Union technology committee, said he thinks that such monitoring could engender negative feelings among campus network users.
“It changes . . . mentality when you’re being watched actively and monitored,” Kaufman, a CAS junior, said.