Know Your Rights: Internet Privacy

Members of the Informer staff recently noticed that if a William and Mary student tries to register for a Youtube account using their @email.wm.edu email address, the school has the powers of the “administrator” for the account, meaning that they can monitor what videos are watched and even delete the account. We decided to get the scoop on why things are set up this way, and what it means in terms of students’ rights.

According to Chris Ward, Director of Systems and Support at the IT Department, the College was required by Google to manage Youtube accounts created using @email.wm.edu email addresses; it was not a choice made by the school itself.

As for whether or not the administrators would actually make use of these monitoring capabilities “that would be up to the Vice President of Student Affairs,” said Ward. “According to the student handbook, ‘Data kept on College servers will not be searched by authorities for violation of College rules and regulations unless there is a reason to believe that a student is using the College’s computer resources in a manner that violates rules and regulations and unless written authorization to conduct a search of such data has been issued and signed by the Vice President for Student Affairs. Such written authorization shall state the source of the information, the violation, the material to be searched and the name(s) of the person(s) authorized to conduct the search. The foregoing does not apply to searches conducted by local or Campus Police. All such searches are governed by the Code of Virginia.’ ”

When asked if there are any other websites over which the school would have “administrator” capabilities over accounts, Ward answered “Other than College sites, no but here is another quote from the Student Handbook or policies on how the College might react:
“Social Networking Website Policy

Social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter are considered part of the public domain, and the College encourages students to use them wisely with full knowledge that anything they post may be viewed by the public. The College does not generally monitor these sites; however, the College may consider and investigate any alleged violation of College policy brought to its attention by any person.”

To sum up, the administration is not going to be monitoring things that students do on non-College-owned websites, unless they have reason to believe that a student is violating College policy. Nonetheless, it is significant to note that administrators do have the power to infringe upon students’ privacy on the web in cases of alleged violations of the College’s rules and regulations.

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The Virginia Informer is a student-run publication at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. The newspaper contained five sections: News, Features, Sports, Arts & Culture, and Opinion

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