District comes to a compromise on web blocks

Lilly Montero and Marc Lopez

A compromise has finally been reached for the long debated Contra Costa Community College District’s web filtering software.

In 2017, CCCCD paired up with Palo Alto Networks, the self-proclaimed global cybersecurity leader, to install a firewall and URL blocker throughout the entire district for a total of $727,046. The system was soon met with backlash due to sporadic choices in what the firewall decided to allow access for.

Websites such as collegehumor.com were blocked as they fell under categories such as “questionable” or “adult” while sites that are flagged by the Digital Citizens Alliance and cybersecurity expert RiskIQ for extreme sources of malware were not.

Throughout 2018 librarians, faculty, the Academic Senate and LMCAS fought hard against the district’s requests to uphold any decisions on the web blocks and now, we have a compromise.

On March 21, Executive Vice Chancellor of Education and Technology Mojdeh Mehdizadeh sent an email detailing the new changes, which went into effect the week of March 25.

Now when students and faculty access sites that are categorized as “high risk for malware and viruses; sites containing adult content and those that are “gambling-related” a message is displayed making the user aware that it has been flagged by the District’s firewall and URL blocking system, said Mehdizadeh in the email.

The message reads as follows: “The website you are attempting to access has been categorized as highly prone to malware and viruses by the District’s internet security blocking system. Among such websites are many containing adult content or related to gambling. Additionally, the District’s Acceptable Technology Use Procedure stipulates that the technology systems are only intended for instructional and work related purposes and that surfing inappropriate websites such as those that are sexually explicit, gambling-related, or that subscribe to hate propaganda, are prohibited.  Finally knowingly or carelessly introducing any invasive or destructive programs (i.e. viruses, worms, Trojan Horses) into District computers or networks is prohibited.

If you would like to continue to the site click on ‘continue’ otherwise close your web browser. Should you continue, the access will be logged.”

Faculty who advocated for a removal of the blocks, are satisfied with the continued access this compromise allows.  

“I think the district worked really hard with faculty and staff to come up with a solution that they hope will keep our network safe and yet allow students, faculty the access they need in a learning environment and for the freedom to explore ideas,” said Graphic Arts Professor Curtis Corlew.

Academic freedom and the ability to research controversial topics was a sticking point faculty, though some still worry about the potential effect the message will have on students’ researching habits.

I hope that students don’t assume that they will get in trouble for researching certain topics,” said Brentwood Librarian Roseanne Erwin. “It’s still really important that users continue to give us feedback as to whether the warning message is affecting their research process on campus.”

While website access will continue to be logged through Palo Alto Networks’ system, students can be sure that their privacy will be protected as the system logs IP addresses and not their information explicitly. For now, the new system is being monitored and will be re-evaluated in upcoming months, according to Mehdizadeh.