This past May, Edward Snowden, a former employee of the National Security Agency (NSA), famously exposed the inner workings of the agency’s surveillance programs. Fueled by the scandal, debates surrounding the privacy of Americans’ data have erupted across the United States.
John Breyault, the Vice President of Public Policy at the National Consumers League, works to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers around the world. In an interview with The Scroll, Mr. Breyault said, “I think there’s a natural tension between consumers’ right to privacy under the Fourdi Amendment and the government’s need to collect information to aid in national defense. The current debate about the necessary scope of government surveillance is long overdue.”
Chris Stauffer ’80, Executive Vice-President at Ascella Technologies, has delivered technology-based solutions to numerous federal agencies. Although Ascella has never worked directly with the NSA, it has assisted various agencies, including the Department of Customs and Border Protection and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), in intelligence gathering. “The public is finally beginning to understand that the government is accessing a significant amount of data about individuals,” Mr. Stauffer said. “And this raises concerns about the right to privacy, and what the government might do with the information it gathers.”
The debate regarding data privacy has not, however, been limited to just the federal government. In our increasingly- connected world, corporations and schools are monitoring more and more data from their employees and students.
Here at Deerfield, Information Technology Services (ITS) is charged with maintaining nearly a thousand computers and an extensive network.
However, the Academy does not regularly monitor student and employee usage. “We are able to get to web history, but it is time-consuming and requires a tool that extracts that information,” said Wendy Shepherd, Director of Deerfield ITS.
Unlike most ITS departments, Deerfield’s does not pre-install any remote access software on student or employee computers. “We can’t access directly anything on your computer remotely,” said Kimberly Butz, Associate Director of Administrative Computing. “The only thing we can access is the data that you transmit over our network. If you have something on your computer that you received via the Deerfield network, in theory we could intercept that transmission, but we can’t get into your laptop from the network and see what’s on your hard drive.”
Some things transmitted over the Deerfield network could prove nearly impossible for Deerfield ITS to access.
Many popular means of communication, including iMessage and Facebook Messenger, can be encrypted, meaning that the contents of these transmissions are unreadable to network administrators.
One area, however, that Deerfield IT can monitor is email sent to and from deerfield.edu addresses. “We have the ability to read your Deerfield email,” said Ms. Shepherd. “If we wanted to, yes, we could. But generally we have more important tilings to do.”
Furthermore, only a select few within the department have the ability to read emails.
“ITS has occasionally been asked to provide data for an investigation,” said Ms. Shepherd. “And there is a formal process in place to ensure that information is shared securely and appropriately.”
Deerfield’s Acceptable Use Policy states, “The Academy reserves the right to access, view or monitor any information or communication stored on or transmitted over our network, and it may be required by law to allow third parties to do so. Electronic data may become evidence in legal proceedings. Messages or data may also be inadvertently viewed as a result of routine systems maintenance and monitoring.”
Contrary to many institutions and corporations, Deerfield has also elected not to block pornography or illegal media streaming sites. The administration trusts the community to use the Internet responsibly.
“Part of what we teach here is responsible behavior,” said Ms. Butz. “Just like we let people go off campus— they could get into trouble. But we don’t make everyone stay on campus twenty- four hours a day as a result. Students are expected to have a certain code of conduct with their behavior. And online use is no exception. If we eliminate everything that you could potentially stumble upon and get yourself in trouble with, we’re not creating a world that’s very realistic.”
“We spend more of our time fighting against malware and viruses so that things coming in from outside don’t damage our network,” concluded Ms. Butz. “Our time is spent trying to protect our resources rather than spying on students.”