With the growing presence of technology on campus, members of the Deerfield community take on a bigger responsibility for their actions online. Every day from 4 A.M. to 1 A.M., students have access to two wireless networks: DA-Wireless and GreenDoor. While DA-Wireless is available to anyone who is in close proximity to the Deerfield campus, GreenDoor requires login information for verified users and encrypts data sent over the network to protect students and employees from third parties who may try to intercept the data from a nearby device.
However, this difference does not change the fact that activity on both networks can be accessed by Information Technology Services (ITS) if a student’s safety is believed to be in danger. All students sign the Acceptable Use Policy upon enrollment, which includes the statement, “The Academy reserves the right to access, view, or monitor any information or communication stored on or transmitted over the network.”
Director of Information Technology Services Kimberly Butz stated, “We don’t actively look at people’s traffic, but we do have the equipment that enables us to do that. Students should understand when they sign the Acceptable Use policy…that they shouldn’t expect their transmissions [to be] private.”
Because Deerfield Academy owns and issues computers to every student, all information that is stored or processed on school laptops is fully accessible by ITS. Mobile phones, on the other hand, provide more freedom for students to interact without having their data stored in Deerfield’s systems. Text messages sent using cell carriers such as AT&T and Verizon cannot be viewed by Information Technology Services, as well as online activity using cellular data on messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and Snapchat.
A student who is involved in a case of breaking a major school rule engages in a discussion with the deans if their phone is believed to hold valuable information for resolving the issue. Dean of Students Kevin Kelly explained, “Every student is entitled to be emotionally and physically safe at the Academy. If someone is in violation of that safety, we have the right to ask for the phone. We’re not going to physically force the phone out of someone’s hands, but if there is a reluctance to hand over the phone, there will be another step in the process.”
Kathryn Grennon ’17 expressed hesitation about the school’s ability to read texts sent over DA-Wireless and GreenDoor. “I feel like [looking through students’ phone activities] is crossing a line of privacy. Whether or not you’re doing anything wrong, it’s a personal thing,” Grennon expressed. “Your computer and email is given to you by the school, but your phone is your personal property; it doesn’t have to do anything with Deerfield.”
“Personally, I don’t really like the argument that just because you have nothing to hide you should turn [your private information] over,” remarked Philosophy and Religion Department Chair Michael O’Donnell. “We have the Bill of Rights and the 4th and 5th amendment—they [don’t exist only] to protect you if you’re doing something bad; they [exist] to protect you as a citizen.”
Information Technology Services receive at most “two or three requests per school year” to look into a disciplinary or academic dishonesty case related to students’ misuse of technology. These requests are carefully considered by the deans before they approve ITS to move forward with the inspections.
Mr. Kelly stated, “We’re not randomly picking students and digging deeply into their privacy. The fact that you’re in boarding school [means that] your privacy rights are a little tighter; you’re on this property with an expectation, and that expectation is clearly laid out in the handbook.”
Ms. Butz asserted that the Academy’s right to review online activity is in the best interest of the students’ safety. “Part of the reason everybody’s here is to learn, and people make mistakes. Hopefully, we help people learn from their choices and what we do is not just punitive.”
“All of us know the difference between right and wrong. You want to start thinking and reflecting before you send something,” advised Mr. Kelly. “All of us would agree that we would not want someone to create a story or display a photograph that is embarrassing or hurtful. Treat others the way you want to be treated.”