EPIC warns colleges against P-to-P monitoring

A Washington, D.C., privacy group is taking aim at the music industry's efforts to enlist schools in monitoring students' peer-to-peer (P-to-P) file trading activities, sending out a letter to college and university presidents this week calling the surveillance "inappropriate" and "incompatible with intellectual freedom."

"Monitoring chills behavior, and can squelch creativity that must thrive in educational settings," the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) wrote in the letter Wednesday.

EPIC's missive comes in response to another letter sent out to more than 2,300 colleges and universities by the Recording Industry Association of America Inc. (RIAA) and other industry groups last month, asking the schools to help monitor whether students are committing copyright infringement through P-to-P file trading over their networks.

The RIAA has recently heightened its efforts to crack down on P-to-P piracy, given the rapid decrease in record sales over the last year, which has been pinned on copyright infringement through P-to-P trading.

But despite the music industry's concerns, EPIC warns against shifting the burden of content protection to academic institutions which already have scarce resources and staff to cope with traditional network issues. Furthermore, the group opined that universities should not "adopt a confrontational role with respect to these technologies" because it could lead to an escalating network "arms race" that could potentially harm the network's overall performance.

While the group acknowledged that network monitoring for bandwidth management is appropriate, it added that "the monitoring of individuals' activities does not comport with higher educational values."

However, RIAA President Cary Sherman responded saying,"I don't think anyone needs to lecture universities about academic freedom and respecting the First Amendment or privacy rights of their students."

The music industry has also pointed out that its efforts to raise attention to the problem of P-to-P piracy on campuses has garnered support from six education associations, including the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and the American Council on Education.

But in a letter the educational groups sent to universities addressing the matter, they labelled the problem "an exceptionally complex topic," adding that "the policies to address peer-to-peer file sharing are likely to have implications for such basic campus values as personal privacy, free speech, and academic freedom."

EPIC's letter is just the latest lob in what has become a prolonged debate over the effects of P-to-P file trading. While content owners continue to joust with the digital piracy that sometimes accompanies P-to-P trading, groups like EPIC caution that the swapping method also has legitimate uses.

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Scarlet Pruitt

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