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By the time you’re in law school, you might take for granted that your school’s campus will be networked for high-speed Internet access. You might even demand your free school e-mail account and free dial-in access from home. It’s easy to start thinking of Internet access as a right rather than a privilege. However, most schools continue to reserve the right to limit students’ use of a school-owned network — and you’re responsible for being familiar with your rights and responsibilities. FACE-TO-FACE WITH YOUR SCHOOL’S POLICY Start with your school’s computer use policy. It may be called something different (like “Acceptable Use Policy”), so contact your school’s computing department to get the right name. The computer use policy is usually included with the numerous other school policies that you see on your first day of school — and later throw away if you’re like most people. Many schools now, of course, post their policies online in addition to handing them out in print form (i.e., a student handbook). Find out where your computer use policy is posted, and take a few minutes to READ IT. I cannot emphasize this enough: No one is going to hold your hand and walk you through a computer use policy. It’s up to you to make sure you know your rights and responsibilities when it comes to computer use. For example, do you know that most schools reserve the right to monitor your network activity? This may sound like common sense since the schools own the networks, but most people don’t think about it when they’re freewheeling on the Internet. Also, when many schools shut off Internet access to the Napster servers, they said their computer use policies allowed them to take such measures when network traffic was affected. Lastly, many computer use policies impose several responsibilities on you, such as only using the network for “institutionally related work,” or always identifying yourself in any electronic communication. PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE There is a difference in school attitudes toward network computer use between public and private educational institutions. Generally, a public school is a little more limited in what it can prohibit than a private institution. Public schools are governed in this area by the almighty First Amendment which applies with “[no] less force on college campuses than on the community at large,” wrote the judge in Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169 (1972). Public universities are usually required to provide a public area where students and organizations can speak. The same goes for cyberspace — if a school provides computing resources for staff and students to post Web pages, the school cannot prohibit communications on those Web pages if the communications do not advance beyond First Amendment protections. Private schools on the other hand, are NOT necessarily required to provide First Amendment protection for their students. Private schools can therefore restrict the use of their networks to an additional degree. However, most private institutions do grant students the right of free expression through their written school policies. Whether you attend a public or private institution, you’ll always be limited by federal, state, or local laws. In other words, the general rule is that whatever is prohibited off-line is also prohibited online. Federal, state, and local law will always trump a school’s computer use policy. Another common prohibition for all schools is that you cannot use network resources such as Web pages created on school-owned servers for commercial or publicity purposes. Since many computer use policies demand that you only use the school network for school-related research or work, you are not allowed to run a business through your Web site, or advertise with banner ads or through affiliate programs. It is important to read your school’s policies regarding Web pages if you had any plans to make a few extra bucks through your school-provided Web site. TAKE A BITE OUT OF IDENTITY THEFT You will probably be provided with a username and password to give you access to your school’s network. These two pieces of information usually consist of your last name and some gibberish thrown in for security purposes, but they will give you access to school-sponsored e-mail, dial-in access, and network privileges. Many computer use policies will prohibit you from giving this information out to other students, staff or faculty. The idea is that as a student, you get the ability to access the school’s network, and you’re not supposed to share with anyone else. This also prevents others from using your e-mail account to send malicious message and the like. To ensure that you’re following the proper procedures for keeping your identity a secret, your school’s network administrator will probably require you to change your password every few months or so. It is your responsibility to remember these passwords and keep them safe. YE SHALL NOT PUT A STRAIN ON THE SERVERS One constant for every school network is limited resources. It seems that no matter how many extra wires get placed around campus, and no matter how many computers are added, there are never enough network resources. Therefore, many school policies limit student use of the network. While I was in law school, a fellow student for some reason found it necessary to print out the entire script to the “Braveheart” movie. Now, while I think that “Braveheart” was a good movie, it was not fun to wait 20 minutes for my one-page print job while the script was being spit out of the printer. Twice he had to pause the print job to add paper. If you read carefully, many schools in fact limit your use of networked printers to only academic or school-related work. I don’t think my friend actually got in trouble for his Scottish print job, but several other students did get hot under the collar. The notion of limited resources applies to the whole network. That’s why many schools have shut down Napster access; Napster use took up too much network bandwidth. Many students scream that their rights were violated, but when the dust cleared, most schools were perfectly within their rights to shut down network resource hogs. Read carefully what your school’s computer use policy has to say about the misuse of resources. Some policies even prohibit the playing of networked games. My buddies and I would wait to blow off pent-up steam via a video game until nighttime — when our activity didn’t affect anyone else’s use of the network. YOU GOTTA FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT� The moral of this article is to READ your school’s computer use policy � NOW. It just takes a few minutes, and you will be a better student for doing so. If you’ve made it this far in your scholastic career, you realize that knowledge is power, and ignorance is no excuse. The policy is waiting for you; you just have to take the initiative and read it yourself. If you have questions about your school’s computer use policy, there are a few resources that are at your disposal. It might help to compare your school’s policy with those of other schools. Cornell’s Computer Policy Collection ( www.cornell.edu/CPL/Policies) has tons of polices from schools and organizations all around the nation arranged in alphabetical order. Also, Educause.com has many links to policy-related information at www.educause.edu/issues/policy.html. Don’t be afraid to talk about your school’s computer use policy, either. The reason I wrote this article is because most people don’t even realize that such policies exist. If you think something needs to be changed for the better, it’s a good bet that someone in the network department of your school will listen to what you have to say. Good luck and may you be blessed with an efficient school-owned network!

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