The Association of American University Professors is worried about the FBI snooping on college campuses to ferret out spies of various sorts (mostly economic spying). They insist on the need for a committee to monitor and advise the FBI so that they don’t interfere with students’ privacy.

Yet with little fanfare outside of geekblogs, the Democratic Congress is pushing a Hollywood backed spending bill that would insist that universities that get federal aid (i.e. most of them) spy on students to see if they are downloading movies from each other, with the possibility that they could lose federal funding if they refuse. (see College Opportunity and Affordability Act ).

Tranlation: another big expensive program with lots of paperwork for colleges to do so they can get their Pell grants.

Yet the real question is how exactly are they going to be able to stop students from downloading movies from each other’s computers without doing some major spying on other things. The University toolkit in beta can be found here.

And some find problems with it:

This software-based operating system produces an internal report on file-sharing activity. While the MPAA says that no information is transmitted directly to them and therefore the toolkit’s use shouldn’t arouse security concerns, an investigation by Security Fix revealed that there was a privacy risk for some schools using this software.

The Washington Post computer security blog investigated this (voluntary) software program suggested to the universities by the MPAA, and after examining the program warns that using the suggested “fix” could essentially open the entire university computer network to anyone with hacking skills.

‘The MPAA also claims that using the tool on a university network presents “no privacy issues — the content of traffic is never examined or displayed.’ That statement, however, is misleading. Here’s why: The toolkit sets up an Apache Web server on the user’s machine. It also automatically configures all of the data and graphs gathered about activity on the local network to be displayed on a Web page, complete with ntop-generated graphics showing not only bandwidth usage generated by each user on the network, but also the Internet address of every Web site each user has visited. Unless a school using the tool has firewalls on the borders of its network designed to block unsolicited Internet traffic — and a great many universities do not — that Web server is going to be visible and accessible by anyone with a Web browser.”

Slashdot commenters ridicule the entire idea as overkill.

Purpledinoz writes:

This makes no sense. What are they going to accomplish by going after college kids, who really don’t have that much disposable income? It seems counter-productive to me. You piss off a bunch of college kids, who can’t afford to spend money on movies anyway, and who are going to earn money in the future, and will probably chose not to spend their money on movies, since the MPAA were being dicks. Not to mention the horrible invasion of privacy and security issues.

King-maniac agrees:

The thing with piracy is once you get enough money (first job) it’s less attractive to spend 2h filtering through torrents to download a season 30 min TV show then it is to spend $80 on the box set. So Piracy may set up the appetites the same way it does for software and convenience and economics convert them to customers.

I have to agree.

The MPAA is going against college students because they can.

There is a major problem with professional piracy here in Asia, but trying to make China enforce copyright standards is impossible.

So instead of going against the Chinese hackers who efficiently get major Hollywood films copied and into our Palenke in the rural Philippines the week before the film opens in Manila, they plan to pressure colleges to stop petty piracy by pennyless students– never mind the expense for the universities, or the very real privacy questions about their snooping.

And if the WaPo is correct, their software “solution” will allow open spying by any hacker, including those who can do real damage.

Way to go, fellahs.

Presumably the ACLU will have a fieldday with this.

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