School tightens internet filter

Virginia Bullington

Assistant Editor

(October 19, 2015)

Many who use the computers within the Nantucket Public School District are aware of the limitations placed upon Internet browsing. By law, every public school in the state must have a filtration system for Internet content. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), enacted in 2000 mandates that schools must adopt an Internet safety policy that addresses minors’ access to explicit or other harmful information via the Internet.

Last spring, the former web filter, WebSense, was replaced with another system: Barracuda. WebSense was a per user license, making it very expensive, thus the technology department researched other means of keeping students and computers protected.

“Barracuda was a top contender,” said Director of Technology Karen McGonigle. “We can implement it district-wide without coming up against our license.”

For two years the district was troubled with licensing issues with WebSense, the school would reach the limit and computers would be forced to be cut off from the service, or else it would not function. Barracuda was chosen by the technology department for a variety of reasons. Flexibility, reputation, and cost were all major factors of its selection, according to McGonigal.

“It’s a new product, and it’s a big learning curve for the technology specialists,” said McGonigle. “CIPA requires that school districts monitor and block certain pornographic and inappropriate content for students under the age of eighteen,” said McGonigal. “Unfortunately as we’ve witnessed this year, it also comes with blocking more than we would like to.”

Facebook, Urban Dictionary, and temporarily Youtube were all websites that are blocked. Currently, the Technology Department it is working to configure the system so that it is more adapted to older students but still protecting younger students.

The filter intercepts content categorically. One category, social media, includes websites such as Instagram and Twitter. Violence, on the other hand, is another category not limited to specific websites, thus the filter must block specific content as well.

To unblock a website, a teacher must bring the URL of the desired page to the technology department to gain access to it. Some students however, have found their own ways around the filter. One of these students is senior Manny Pineda.

“It’s [Barracuda] pretty secure but there is always a way around it,” said Pineda a member of the Tech Club. “The old filter was weak and there were ways around it like the Google Translate method.”

The Google Translate method was one of a litany of techniques that students have used to dodge the system. The translate method involves copying and pasting the desired URL into Google Translate to avoid the filter. This method is no longer available with Barracuda.

But why are students going through the trouble of cracking the blocking systems just to enter desired websites on a school computer?

“It’s fun,” said Pineda “And there are programs that we sometimes need for certain classes like computer science.”

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