It came as a shock to many Seattle University students when well-known websites were suddenly blocked by a new firewall put in place by the Office of Information Technology (OIT). Under the new system, a plethora of websites known to cause viruses, spam and various forms of malware were blocked from use through SU Secure, the campus wireless system.
This change most noticeably affected the availability of gambling sites, hacking programs and pornographic websites. Most students assumed that this change was an attempt by the university to extend the school’s Catholic values to the student population by censoring such websites as those that contain content deemed objectionable by the university.
When students found out about the change, many were outraged. This attempt to censor specific websites seemed like an abuse of power, since most of the censored websites promote and depict legal activities.
“I thought it was a new policy,” said Maggie Gorini, a freshman at Seattle U, in explanation of her reaction to the new firewall settings. “And I thought…this is taking things a little far.”
According to Mallory Barnes, a freshman class representative at, a large group of students had already been planning a petition against the movement. These students feel that selective web censorship is a violation of student rights.
Alex Buescher, another freshman at Seattle U, felt that the web censorship was both surprising and uncalled for.
“I thought it was really belittling, that we were being treated like children,” Buescher said.
Most students were concerned about the violation of student rights and the lack of trust rather than the actual lack of accessibility to the selected websites. Given Seattle U’s generally liberal outlook, it did come as a shock to many students who thought that the university was trying to enforce religious or moral values through web censorship.
As many students have now figured out, the firewall that blocked these websites, which are potentially dangerous to the school’s computer system, has been greatly reduced.
“When OIT performed recent firewall upgrades, we performed those upgrades with on-site consultation from Palo Alto (the firewall manufacturer) and using the default settings from Palo Alto,” said Executive Director of OIT Dennis Gendron. “Those default settings included blocks on abusive drug use, pornography, gambling, hacking and assorted other behaviors defined as objectionable, however Palo Alto defines them.”
OIT removed these blocks set by Palo Alto as soon as the new system was set up and functioning properly. The blocks were simply a consequence of the installation of a new firewall, and not a deliberate attempt by the university to dictate which websites are appropriate for student use.
The issue of blocking inappropriate websites has appeared in other contexts lately, most notably within Seattle Public Libraries. The issue arose last winter, when the Seattle PI published an article about an outraged mother who complained that patrons of the library who watch “hardcore porn” in Seattle Public Libraries are exposing children to inappropriate content. The library was sympathetic, but unable to respond, since they are not responsible for censoring web use.
Although the Seattle Public Library chooses not to censor websites that contain potentially objectionable material such as porn, public libraries have the authority to filter Internet content in any way that they see fit in the same way that they have the authority to be selective about the printed content they offer.
Like the Seattle Public Library, Seattle University–and most other public and private universities–chooses not to use firewalls to control the content of websites used by the university students and staff.
“OIT does not have a responsibility to define pornography, or even to recognize it when we see it,” Gendron said. “We do have a responsibility to protect the campus from the rogues and varlets we do recognize. Accordingly, we are blocking sites identified in the IT industry as sources of viruses, spam, spyware and various flavors of malware.”
Alaina may be reached at [email protected]