Monday, January 30, 2023

Here’s how public institutions filter access to certain information online

(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Pexels)
(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Pexels)

Access to information is key to an educated and informed society, but that doesn’t mean some public institutions aren’t monitoring what people are seeing.

At the Williamsburg Public Library, patrons can use the computers, iPads and WiFi for free. However, there are security measures in place that filter what can be accessed, said Barry Trott, special projects and technical services director for the library. 

“The idea is we want to keep the library a welcoming and safe place and blocking illegal content is part of that mission,” Trott said.

Trott said the library follows state code which provides regional libraries with a board, such as the Williamsburg Regional Library, the power to develop an accessible use policy for the internet. This is designed to prevent users from downloading illegal material and blocking material considered harmful to juveniles.

Those policies are considered on a rolling cycle, where anything specific or necessary changes to the filter can be made.

That’s done on all devices accessing the internet through the library’s WiFi, so individuals using their personal devices will also be subject to the filter.

However, Trott said the system isn’t perfect and there are times that the filters can over-block certain websites. When this happens, Trott said it can be corrected.

At William & Mary, Suzanne Clavet, spokeswoman for the college, said the school does not censor access to websites from the campus network. Instead, community members are expected to abide by the college’s Information Technology Acceptable Use Policies, which prohibit accessing illegal content on any of the school’s public computers.

In Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools, students and guests accessing the WiFi also are operating devices under the district’s filter.

Brian Landers, senior director of technology for WJCC, said the district contracts through an outside vendor to create filtering technology that both provides security for the district’s devices as well as protect students from potentially harmful content.

“It’s something we’ve come to depend on a lot,” Landers said.

But with technology changing everyday, there are different challenges when it comes to filtering content for student protection. Pattie Bowen, supervisor of instructional technology for the district, said the practices are put in place not to limit student access but to make sure what is being accessed is appropriate and instructional.

“We can’t say everyday we have it perfect,” she said. “But we are making the instructional environment as constructive as possible.”

Landers said there are different pieces to the filtering process that make it necessary. Part of which is providing protection against hackers who might be able to insert viruses into documents and data which can attack the district’s entire network.

For security reasons, Landers said he couldn’t provide too much information on how the protection works but so far it has proven successful.

“We’ve not suffered a breech,” he said. “We do discover a laptop or desktop that has been affected by some kind of virus, but it’s just something we constantly have to be on guard against.”

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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