University Raids Graduate Student Office for Using BitTorrent

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Students on campuses around the US are having increasing success in dealing with groups such as the RIAA and MPAA, and the frivolous, and often perjurous lawsuits that they send. It is very disturbing then, for a graduate student at the University of Northern Colorado (UNCO) to be targeted by his own university.

University of Northern ColoradoSam Zwenger is a graduate student at UNCO and, like many hundreds of thousands of students throughout the US, makes use of bittorrent. On one particular day, however, he was pulled out of a class, to be admonished by a representative from the university’s IT department. In his hands, a network hub, and power supply, obtained from Mr Zwenger’s office; from his lips, and warnings that such devices were not allowed, to stop downloading illegally, and not to use so much so much bandwidth.

Whilst the latter two are getting to be de facto when it comes to IT departments around the US, what troubled Mr Zwenger most of all was how the IT representative came to be in possession of his networking equipment. It was connected physically to his computer, in his office when he had left for his class, and that office was locked. It wasn’t until he had entered his office afterwards, and found his apple laptop devoid of running programs, that he grew concerned.

“I have no arguments against his complaints. I realize now that having a hub is not permitted. What I do have trouble with is how he physically entered my office, confiscated hardware and got onto my computer without my consent.” Says Mr Zwegner on his site. “Although the hardware was returned, it was not until later that I learned he entered my office without anyone’s permission. I can only suspect he had access to my class schedule and was waiting for me to be absent from my office so he could freely enter and search on my hard drive for whatever he may have been looking for.”

Mr Zwegner then complained to his dean, and to the Assistant VP for IT, Jeanette Van Galder, in the hopes of getting some questions as to why his personal property was treated with such disregard. From these questions came a meeting forum where Ms Van Galder explained that it was an emergency, as he was using 33% of the total university bandwidth. Thus, they had to enter the office, and shut down the computer. This was confirmed by UNCO General Counsel, Ronald Lambden “The office where the computer was located is University property. There is no expectation of privacy. IT knew only the address of the wire in the wall, not who owned what equipment.”

What makes Mr Lambden’s response more troubling, is that he’s also the person that deals with all DMCA requests/notifications that are sent to the university. It would also appear that either he is under a great illusion as to how the university’s network system works. It’s a payment based system, meaning access is controlled by a central system. Furthermore, networking equipment right down to the standard wired and wireless routers sold for home use incorporate a whole range of filtering and Quality of Service (QoS) features, so a large networking infrastructure will obviously have them , every university we have contacted has freely admitted this. So, assuming it was an emergency, one would assume it would be quicker to disable Mr Zwenger’s access, than to go all the way over there, and close down programs and systems. Additionally, most large organizations (like universities) have asset marking , often just a sticker with a number , identifying the property as belonging to the university. Questions to Mr Lambden about these issues were not answered.

Mr Zwenger only wanted two things from the UNCO IT department, to be told that entering locked offices and using private computers is not UNCO policy, and an apology. Instead, he has received lies, and obfuscation. Indeed, the actions of the IT department in this case have broken several of the university’s own “Prohibited Usage” policies. When asked about these, Mr Lambden again declined to comment.

What ends up perhaps most incredulous about this whole affair is that later, Ms. Van Galder responded to a question clarifying the 33% bandwidth usage figure as “The connection was consuming 6.6M (Max inbound)of the 20M pipe” and the pipe was “for Real Audio transmissions and P2P apps, such as Skype and Bittorrent”

In short, using 6Mbit of a pipe whose very purpose is for bittorrent use, means that someone can come into your office, and take your stuff, with the backing of the University’s Legal Counsel. It’s clear that UNCO needs a radical shakeup, to prevent itself being the target of lawsuits. As always, it’s the students that don’t know about what’s going on that get kicked down the most by attitudes such as this, and with the person responsible for dealing with DMCA notices involved, and clearly out of his depth on issues of technology, I wouldn’t be surprised if applications dropped next year. Trust is an integral part, and once squandered cannot be easily regained.

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