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Legal Actions of School Against a Proxy's Host? 200

Posted by Cliff
from the slippery-legal-slopes dept.
WakefieldHS-students asks: "I attend a public school, Wakefield High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. A friend of mine recently created a site that hosted a web proxy browser. It ran for a few months, and others at our school found out about it. The original domain was blocked by the censorship software the school uses, and it was changed a few times to get around this. Recently, he was forced to take down the proxy, with the threat of not graduating and the taking of legal action by the school. What legal rights, if any, can the school use to ban someone from hosting a website? Furthermore, what rights does the U.S. Government have to censor such websites?"
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Legal Actions of School Against a Proxy's Host?

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  • by Pyromage (19360) on Saturday June 10, 2006 @08:28PM (#15511101) Homepage
    I'm relatively certain that the school wasn't just arbitrarily chasing the site across every domain he owned, not unless they had reason. Why was he running a proxy? What material was he or his friends accessing from the school?

    As far as legal rights to censor that, they can do just about whatever they want in loco parentis.
  • by Joe U (443617) on Saturday June 10, 2006 @08:36PM (#15511129) Homepage Journal
    It's not really the website, it's that you're using a tool to circumvent their filters.

    IANAL, but I don't think they have any legal recourse for shutting down the site, but they can go after you for bypassing the filters.

    Now, if all you're doing is mirroring content, then that's another story. It depends on the content.
  • by scdeimos (632778) on Saturday June 10, 2006 @08:37PM (#15511135)

    There's a whopping huge difference between hosting a web site and hosting a proxy server. To me it sounds like the student hosting the proxy server was doing this to circumvent the school's access controls, so it's a precedent for intent, irrelevent of it being malicious or beneign.

    If the school's network admins had half a brain then all access beyond the border routers would have been deny-by-default, allowing access only from their content-filtering server(s) and mail server(s) thus making this sort of thing impossible to do anyways./p

  • It depends (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Saturday June 10, 2006 @08:51PM (#15511174)
    As others have noted, you haven't told us the whole story, so it depends on that.

    However, even assuming is was real simple, ie kid hosts site, school doesn't like site, school threatens kid, it still depends. What it depends on is if you mean what are they legally allowed to do, or what will they try to do and get away with. Legally they can't deny graduation for things not related to the school itself. That's why things like random drug test are always targeted at peopel who do extracurricular activities. They can make them consent in that case, but to try and say "you do it or you don't graduate" wouldn't work.

    Ok fine, but that doesn't mean they can't TRY to stop him from graduating. They can refuse to issue a diploma, fail him in all his classes, expell him, whatever. When that happens, he then has to fight. If he's in the right he'll win eventually, but the question is one of if it's worth it. Would it be worth potentially putting your life on hold over a website?

    So here's what I'd do, depending on the kind of person he is:

    Just let it go. Who the fuck cares? Take the site down. If he really wants to put it back up, use a registrar that hides personal information as others suggested and ensure it can't be linked to him. Just give in, it's not a fight worth fighting.

    Or, if he's not the give in type, go the revenge route. Your post implies graduation is something happening soon. So leave it alone for now, very soon the school has no say in your lives. When that happens, hit them back. I'm not going to bother listing all the perfectly legal things you could do to give them grief, I'm sure you can figure plenty out.

    Now by the way, if the point of this proxy is to circumvent the school's rules on what you are allowed to access, then yes, they can punish you for that. Next time don't be idiots: Create a front site for it, use SSL and don't fucking tell people about it.
  • by Lord Kano (13027) on Saturday June 10, 2006 @08:54PM (#15511180) Homepage Journal
    If this proxy is simply a website with a "Insert Web address here:" field and a "Go" button, it would look like any other website to their routers. Unless you're willing to impose and then troubleshoot a "deny by default" policy on all web traffic, it'll be easy to play cat and mouse with the network admins for quite a long time.

    LK
  • by delirium of disorder (701392) on Saturday June 10, 2006 @09:17PM (#15511255) Homepage Journal
    Public schools should not use in school punishments for actions one takes outside of school. However, American school boards don't care much for the constitution. Administration views anyone who fights censorship and helps kids learn freely as more threatening then any violent offender. Your fried is lucky he wasn't expelled for running a proxy like I was. [textfiles.com] People concerned with these issues should get involved with peacefire [peacefire.org].
  • by Otter (3800) on Saturday June 10, 2006 @09:18PM (#15511256) Journal
    In my IANAL-And-He's-Not-Telling-Us-The-Whole-Story opinion:

    1) The kid and his friends were repeatedly and systematically violating school rules, and can certainly be punished.

    2) The precise ultimatum that the school gave him is probably not within the school's power to make.

    3) The question is how much effort and money he's willing to expend in court on a grey area case, when the school would be perfectly within bounds to give him a clearly legal and much more serious punishment.

    4) I don't get what the US government's role in this is supposed to be.
  • by RingDev (879105) on Saturday June 10, 2006 @09:25PM (#15511279) Homepage Journal
    they are only as good as the legal battle that ensues.

    Can a public school force a student to shut down a web site (even a site designed to circumvent the school's security)? No. Can the student be expelled for violating the school's computer use agreement? Yes.

    If the school says shut it down or you won't graduate, the answer is to sue. The only reason why that "we won't let you graduate" arguement holds any weight is because students and their parents allow it to. Of course, challanging a school on that can get messy. If you remove their ability to threaten graduation, the only tools they have left (the correct ones!) are suspention and expulsion.

    I got busted in high school also, with two of my friends. This was back in '95 or '96. To make matters worse, my father was the IT director for the school district. Luckily, I had a chance to clean up my tracks a bit prior to being busted (my friends were busted earlier in the day, and as I'm sure you are aware, news travels fast in HS). Both of them were suspended from school for a few days and we all lost our network access for the rest of the school year. We had to work on laptops or independant work stations the rest of the year.

    So in short, he can keep his site, but he has to face the concequences of his actions. If the school makes a deal with him, shut down the site and we will drop any threat of non-graduation or expulsion, I'd say take it.

    -Rick
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 10, 2006 @09:43PM (#15511331)
    So he was allowing people to access banned material on the school's network, and somehow he thinks the school is in the wrong.

    Fuck that. He deserves everything he gets.
  • Grow up (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fermion (181285) on Saturday June 10, 2006 @09:49PM (#15511355) Homepage Journal
    First, public shool is paid for by public dollars for the express purpose of encouraging students to engage in activities that build the mind of said student. As such there are experiences that are considered to be of of a net benifit to the student, and therefore are encouraged, or at least allowed, and activities that are of little or no net benift, and therefore are prohbited. For instance, socialization is of a benifit to student, therefore social intercourse is allowed and encouraged. OTOH, sexual incourse is not so schools do not provide bedroom for student to penetrate each other, and in fact try to discourage such acts.

    The end result of this is that not everything is allowed at school because not everything satisfies the constraints placed on the schol by the state and federal government. On of the consequences is that the internet is censored, which I believe is defensable, as opposed to censorship at the library which is not.

    Second, consider this analogy. A student creates a secret location in an apparently disused locker to stash his personal supply of porno which he shares with a select group. A student outside the group finds out about the stash, and begins to not only use it for stashing porno, but do drug drops. The school finds out, and shuts down the drop. The student then forms another location, and again lets the secret out. Eventually the student is told to stop building drops or not graduate. Most would say this is a reasonable request.

    Here is the issue with this kid. First, the proxy could only be construed as an attempt to circumvent school policy, which the kid agreed to follow by attending the school, and the parents agreed to support by enrolling the kid. As alluded to other posts, if the policies were a big problem, the kid could find a more accomodating private school.

    It also sounds like the school reacted reasonably, until the student got greedy and started blabbing about the fact that he could surf porno, or whatever, at the school. Now, teens are the really jelous type and hate it when someone get extra rights. They will then do everything in thier power to either get those rights themselves, or make sure no ne has them. What probably happened in this case is the greedy crimanal, uh student, probably started giving other acess, which lead to everyone knowing, which lead to the shut down.

    You see the school knows that students will test limits, and the school needs enforce them. This is normal, and nobody is the bad guy. The student is exersising creativity, the school is trying to educate the best it can. So the school gave a warning. The kid ignored it. The school gave another warning, tried to discourage the behavior, and the kid continued to ignore it. This is what is called insurbordination, and can get you fired from a job, with a bad reccomendation, and therefore schools try to teach kids not to engage in it, but as gently as possibe. At some point, however, the kid is just being mean and greedy and the discipline escalates. Such is life.

    So, lets be clear. Schools are there for education, and necesarily limit what is allowed on campus. Somethings are tolerated because even if they are disruptive they have a net benifit. Many things are tolerated becasuse no one knows. A student could have cigarettes or even a gun as long as he or she did not brag about it.

    In this case the student not only brought a gun to school but continued to do so even when told not to. The student not only brought a gun, but showed it to everyone and declared that it was a free speech right. Certainly the NRA would support the kid in that right, but most others would not.

    Leaving the world of hyperbole, here is the deal. The school is not telling a student not to run a website. The school is merely moderating the disruption to the school day so that education can be had. For instance, the school might want students to use the internet to plagerise papers rather than surfing for porno. If this website is so critical

  • Re:Grow up (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hahafaha (844574) * <lgrinberg@gmail.com> on Saturday June 10, 2006 @10:02PM (#15511391)
    The question is not whether or not the school can block the website. They have full right to do that, and this is largely not disputed. What *is* disputed, is whether or not they can threaten him for running the proxy while not in school. The anwer is no, as far as I know, because he runs it outside of the school's power. Thus, while he is outside of the school's power, the fact that he is a student is irrelevant. It would be the same as them threatening a random person who has nothing to do with the school, but who runs a proxy server.

    I do not think that they can keep him for graduating due to running a proxy server outside of school. They have no control there. What they can do is make an ammendment to their Acceptable Network Use Policy, saying that you cannot run proxy servers, and make everybody sign them.
  • Re:Grow up (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 10, 2006 @10:39PM (#15511507)
    Read this part of the article carefully.

    It ran for a few months, and others at our school found out about it. The original domain was blocked by the censorship software the school uses, and it was changed a few times to get around this

    They did not initialy ask the student to stop the website, they merely blocked it, which you say they have the full right to do. Only after he engaged in premeadiated. willful, and repeated attempted to circumvent the filtering did the school escalate the consequences tha put his diploma in danger.

    I don't know about you, but I think the school was being really cool. They could have done all sorts of things like expellng him for repeated misuse of school equipment or disruption of the classroom. They probably could have sent him to a month in some jail school, but they tried to reason with the kid. The kid was just too dense. So what hapens is that dense kids don't get diploma. Oh well, too bad, so sad. But this is not about running a website. This is about the school blocking a site, asking a student to behave, and the student refuseing to behave. Remember, no one initially asks the student to modify behaviour outside of school. If the kid has not changed domain names in an effort to circumvent the school filters, we cannot assume that their would have been any further actions.

    If it were me, at this point I would not threaten the kids diploma. I would document the case and send it to federal court [eschoolnews.com]. I agree in most cases such action is contraindicated, but if a student is presistantly circumventing security measures, it is a defensible action.

  • by EvilMagnus (32878) on Saturday June 10, 2006 @10:56PM (#15511538)
    Find a lawyer, file a lawsuit and find out.

    Chances are the District will settle for enough money for you to pay for college. As far as I know, schools have very little say in what you do when you're not at school, so long as it's not illegal.

    Now, they could probably say "don't go to that proxy during school hours, from school computers," and they'd probably be on good ground. But to ask you to take the proxy down or not graduate? Ground less stable, methinks.

    But as I said; find a lawyer, file suit, find out. Let us know how it goes!

  • The Insiders Story (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Opsive (948514) on Saturday June 10, 2006 @11:25PM (#15511590)
    I figured that since I was the previous lead webmaster for WakefieldHS.net (just graduated today!) and know (almost) the whole story behind this, I have to comment.

    I first saw the proxy [wakefieldhs.org] that WakefieldHS-students is referring to over a month ago. In order to use the proxy you had to create an account. I never actually used the proxy, but I saw numerous people using it. The most viewed site by far was Myspace, I never did see anybody looking at porn on it but it probably happened.

    Anyways, after it got to the point that practically everybody in the school knew about it, I asked an administrator about it and if they were going to do anything about it. When I asked that administrator about it I wasn't sure if they had heard of the proxy yet or not, but they had, and one of them even had an account. Well, at that time, they where just going to let it go. It hadn't got to the out of control point yet. A couple of weeks ago an administrator talked to me saying that they were going to block it, and if I could see any reason not to block it. So of course, I didn't see any reason not to block it and it was blocked within the hour.

    Since then, I didn't hear anything about it, I wasn't expecting to. But then one of the other webmasters of WakefieldHS.net emailed me a link to this article. I don't know anymore of the rest of the story than what was posted here and what was on wakefieldhs.org. But I do know that the person who was running the proxy was a senior and he graduated today (I don't know him personally, but he was listed as a graduate).

    So that's the story, hope it clears some things up.
  • by Associate (317603) on Saturday June 10, 2006 @11:57PM (#15511667) Homepage
    Couldn't wait to get home to update your myspace account?
    They blocked Fark where I work for pornographic reasons. You know what I do? I wait til I get home.
    Face it. You got caught. You should have given up the first time. Repeatedly moving it just makes you look guilty. Guilty of what? Not running a proxy. Guilty of using school resources inappropriately. See http://www.wcpss.net/Technology/pdf/6446.pdf [wcpss.net] I think anyone who reads it will agree that regarless of their support of the rules or lack there of, you did in fact break the rules. Better you learn now at an early age there are consequences for your actions. You can't disregard rules you don't like and expect nothing negative to happen to you. Wait until you get to college. No one there will give a rats ass about you. You will be expected to do things you don't like. When you fail, you fail you, not some well meaning underpaid teacher. Best thing you could do right now is admit to your mistake and suck up the consequences.
  • by whizistic (33541) on Sunday June 11, 2006 @12:38AM (#15511753) Homepage
    You'll get all the education you need, just you won't be allowed on the internet. When I worked for a school district, those who had their parents sign the paper got filtered internet access. Those who didn't got intranet access only. Simple active directory groups combined with websense.

    Catching those who used other peoples accounts was trivial the instant two logins to the same username happened (since once someone gives out their password, it spreads like wildfire)

    Catching those who used external SSL proxys was more difficult, but gross abusers still stood out
  • by MaverickUW (177871) on Sunday June 11, 2006 @01:13AM (#15511827)
    No, but he and/or his parents probably had to sign a computer/internet acceptable use policy for the school. If nothing else, they can get the guy, and by proxy (pun intended) every other student who accessed sites with it. Depending on what the punishment is for violating the schools acceptable use policy, this could work. The fact that he is specifically setting something up to allow for the illegal circumvention of the policy is where they might have a case.

    Think of it like any threat to a school. Sure, it's done out of school time, doesn't mean the police/school won't do anything about it. They should just give everyone caught using it a warning, and then start doing whatever the punishments are in their AUP.
  • by Solra Bizna (716281) on Sunday June 11, 2006 @01:19AM (#15511840) Homepage Journal

    Way to miss the point.

    What if there are 50 students sitting in a computer lab all downloading the same pictures of ancient Egypt at the same time?

    -:sigma.SB

  • Re:It depends (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Sunday June 11, 2006 @01:41AM (#15511881) Journal
    Contrary to what you said Sycraft-fu, we do have the whole story.
    The original [proxy] domain was blocked by the censorship software the school uses, and it was changed a few times to get around this.
    Translation: Someone(s) accessed the proxy from school, the school blocked the domain name, the proxy owner started playing cat & mouse with the domain name.

    Someone(s) were circumventing the "censorship" (how is filtering boobies, at school, censorship?) software and the school wanted it stopped.

    What the school did is emminently reasonable. The owner of the proxy (a student) undoubtedly signed an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) stating that they wouldn't even try to circumvent school filtering software. That's all the school needs to fuck with his graduation.

    The fact that the kid didn't get smacked down the first time (or the second time) that he got caught suggests to me that the IT people were quite willing to let it go. On top of that, the school admin don't want to keep the kid from graduating, they just want him to stop.

    I'm not sure how legit it is to force the kid to take the proxy down, but arguably (and realisticly), requiring that the proxy be taken down seems like the only way to guarantee compliance. (Why they didn't blacklist the proxy IP, we don't know)

    Conclusion: Take it down & be glad they aren't slapping him around for the rule(s) he broke. And if you're going to do something illegal about it, do it while it's still on your juvenile record.
  • by jrockway (229604) * <jon-nospam@jrock.us> on Sunday June 11, 2006 @06:02AM (#15512370) Homepage Journal
    > it's probably not worth the effort

    It's definitely worth the effort. My school (not exactly private; IMSA [imsa.edu]) kicked out a number of students for supposed thought crimes. Writing a song about a teacher they didn't like; posting "racist" comments on a private message board from home; etc. I wish someone had the balls to sue them -- I'm sure they would have lost big time.

    Just beacuse you're under 18 doesn't mean you deserve to be considered too dumb / young to have a voice. "First they came for those under 18, then they came for "the terrorists", now they're here for me and nobody is left to speak out." Don't put up with them.

    OTOH, if the OP did something stupid, then they might have a case. Not telling us the details just hurts you in the end.
  • by chazzf (188092) <(cfulton) (at) (deepthought.org)> on Sunday June 11, 2006 @09:16AM (#15512709) Homepage Journal
    The absence of the mod (-1, Incorrect) remains a consistent source of frustration. I suspect the main reason this individual is in hot water is the rampant abuse of his school's Acceptable Use Policy. This isn't a free-speech issue, it's a network-usage issue. Unless you think all AUPs are worthless and should be ignored.
  • by Otter (3800) on Sunday June 11, 2006 @11:50AM (#15513059) Journal
    They're kind of like the BOFH, really, only they use expulsion and no graduation rather than killing people - they consider it their job to keep the network running smoothly, and if it means kicking people off and expelling them / denying graduation / etc., they'll do it - because they only need to worry about the network, not the people.

    Err, yeah... Two things:

    1) If I may gently offer some advice -- being smarter than other people doesn't mean you always have to get your way. I get your technical point, but it's their network, not yours. Honestly, you'd be wise to learn that lesson now before you have to learn it with much more serious consequences in the future.

    2) You seem to have had good intentions, if rather poor judgment. The intentions of the guy in the original question are left unclear, and I'm inclined to assume poorly about them.

  • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Sunday June 11, 2006 @12:10PM (#15513108)

    Yeah, but since when could they block what they wanted OFF their network, by threatening the operator?!!

    I really don't care if this guy was running a proxy to MySpace or child porn or the Christian Coalition. The school system should not have any right to tell him what he can or cannot do with his on equipment, period!

    If he was doing something illegal, then the school system should just contact the police and have them handle it, because at least the police are subject to oversight by the judicial system. If he wasn't doing anything illegal, then the school system should be limited to punishing rule-breaking that actually occurred on campus. E.g., they shouldn't be threatening the student who is running the proxy, they should be giving detention to everyone that uses it from a school computer.

  • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Sunday June 11, 2006 @10:58PM (#15515080)
    Here's the funny thing: The school system does have the right to punish students for certain things that they do on their own time with their own equipment away from the school campus.

    No, the school system does not have that right! It has attempted to autocratically assume that right, and it has managed to convince most people that it has that right, but it does not have the moral or Constitutional authority to claim that right!

    And I, for one, am sick and tired of our failure as American Citizens to put the school system (and all the other parts of government acting beyond their authority) in their places!

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