U. of Wisconsin hires 'network investigator' to police e-mails





WISCONSIN — The University of Wisconsin at Madison has hired a “network investigator” to keep a close eye on the electronic exchange of information among students and faculty.

Jeff Savoy assumed the position on June 17 to investigate harassment, cheating, break-ins at remote sights, copyright infringement and illegal software trading, he said.

“There are all kinds of things that a lot of people are doing [on the Internet],” said Brian Rust, of the school’s Department of Information Technology, which oversees the position. “We have to be responsible in enforcing the rules and regulations as they apply.”

Some have raised concerns that the school’s oversight could result in censorship. The school’s regulations define harassment to include repeatedly committing acts which harass or intimidate another person. Rust said a constant stream of rude e-mail messages could meet that definition.

“It’s hard to say what the effects of this [position] will be,” said Peter Koneazny of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. “This could be something that crosses the line of unprotected speech [or] it could have a legitimate purpose.”

Assistant Dean of Students Peggy Lewis said students are allowed to say anything they want. She said individual policies to deal with harassing conduct and stalking will be defined in the new student code that will become part of University “Law” in September when the final draft of the policies are expected to be completed.

“There are areas where it may be proper to have an investigator,” Koneazny said. He added that problems could occur with the harassment policies if terms were not used in a “neutral” manner.

Once a claim against a student is made, Savoy investigates the matter. If there is evidence of wrongdoing, he turns the matter over to the dean of students office for further action. The action would not be based on the content of the message, but rather the individual’s actions, he said.

“You do have freedom of speech, but you can’t use that freedom for harassment,” Savoy said.

Rust said with the increased use of the Internet among students and faculty and the growing population of the school, misuse of accounts has increased. “In the last half-year or so, the Internet audience has grown to about 100,000 e-mails a day,” Rust said. At present, university officials handle over 50,000 separate accounts.


Fall 1996, reports