Handbook Changes Stress Computer Privacy

Clarifications on the issues of computer privacy, asserting that no student has the right to examine information its creator regards as personal, even if it is accessible, are among the proposed changes in next year's Handbook for Students.

The addition to the handbook reads, "Information that the owner would reasonably regard as private must be treated as private by other users....That measures have not been taken to protect such information does not make it permissible for others to inspect it."

When informed of the changes, most students called them a positive first step, but thought that the FAS Information Technology Committee could have gone further than it did.

"As a clarification of policy, it sounds fairly reasonable, depending on the definition of the reasonable expectations," said John E. Stafford '96, the president of the Harvard Computer Society (HCS).

"It seems like a common sense wording that people will understand, yet it is flexible enough to allow users to share information when they choose to collaborate in that fashion," said Stafford, a Crimson editor.


The proposed addition also cautioned users of the Harvard network that certain information about them-selves and their activities is visible to others.

And it warns that "systematic monitoring of the behavior of others [is] likely to be considered [an] invasion of privacy that would be cause for a disciplinary action."

"I think the [proposed changes] are an improvement," said Eugene E. Kim' 96, former HCS president. "I think that some of the ambiguities have been removed and that the newer policies are a little more clear."

Along with campus computer-users, civil libertarians greeted the changes as a positive step.

"It is only a small step towards the comprehensive change in rules that Harvard needs to adopt, but it seems like a step in the right direction," said Robert W. Yalen '95, former director of the Civil Liberties Union of Harvard (CLUH), which recently released a comprehensive report on computing rights at Harvard.

Harvard Arts and Science Computer Services (HASCS) officials and members of the Faculty Information Technology (IT) Committee first discussed the changes.

"We did feel that a change was needed to cover recent cases of privacy violations on shared computer systems," HASCS Director Franklin M. Steen said. "The FAS IT Committee discussed possible wordings that would cover the newest cases in a general way."

Some students said they had problems with theproposed changes.

"I wish they would be much more precise, and Ithink it is possible for them to be more precisein informing students exactly what sort ofactivities they may not do." Yalen said.

And Kim said he was concerned about the threatof disciplinary action.

"I realize the motive for that sentence, but Ithink I'm not sure whether I agree with such apolicy," he said.