Censorship

A few years ago during the early stages of the MoLeNET programme, when many projects were contemplating their first widespread installation of WiFi, I came across quite a few naysayers. In the case of WiFi installations, most naysayers were techies! For my purposes a techie is someone who maintains an institution’s IT services and/or web presence. Their role is essentially support – not front line.

I therefore had to arrange a meeting where those same naysayers were presented with WiFi information, advice and guidance from another (but this time pedagogically enlightened and well renowned) techie. He did his best, and managed to convince most of the audience of the benefits for WiFi as well as how to make it as safe as necessary/possible. We’d been faced with worries (really!) such as – “what if someone hacks our WiFi and uses it to undertake a terrorist attack – how will I explain that to my Principal?” – so given that attitude, the ultimate success of all MoLeNET WiFi installations came as a great relief.

I mention this only because techies are quite often responsible for decisions about web access which affect the entire institution. See https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/ipds/ and https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/ipd-2/. I recently came across another mindless piece of Web 2.0 censorship. It would be crass of me to mention the institution or how I found out the details. However, I do think that it’s important that the matter is discussed.

A practitioner had asked for Dropbox to be unblocked by the techie helpdesk so he/she could access their stored files. The lecturer’s older files are on a series of unlabelled USB sticks, but Dropbox is now being used for ease of access and better file management.  Having asked to have it unblocked in the workplace, the request was denied thus:

Unfortunately dropbox.com is banned due to concerns over storage of the information and security issues. This ban was implemented at the start of term in line with the new web access policy, therefore we are unable to allow it for any users without a review of the policy.

First of all – who writes web access policies and why are they so restrictive? Are teachers or learners ever (EVER) consulted? Or, as I suspect (but have no proof of) are they bought blindly ‘off the shelf’?  Dropbox is a fabulous way of storing files of all type, unlike YouTube which is video only – and not banned at this institution. Neither is Facebook by the way! Unlike YouTube or Facebook, a Dropbox can only be accessed by its registered user – although that person may choose share specific files or folders. See http://www.moletv.org.uk/watch.aspx?v=B5GG2 and http://www.moletv.org.uk/watch.aspx?v=XQCEB for examples of an F.E. College using Dropbox for the benefit of its learners.

However, I must still challenge the institutional ruling on the grounds of its content:

  • storage of information‘ – does this mean that they will also ban USB sticks and users from saving ANY emails records
  • security issues‘ – what does this mean? Can employees still send emails to people outside the institution? Are they allowed to use institutionally franked mail when sending ‘stuff’ to non-institutional friends or colleagues?
  • review of the policy‘ – how often does it happen? who carries out the review? how do they (he/she) reach their decision?

And so on. As we get ever closer to colleges and universities realising that they could save money by using the cloud for storage, sharing, collaboration and communication, will the current policies need review. Urgent review.