Digital snooping at Oxford

Oxford University has come under increasing criticism of late. It has emerged that the university is scanning the social networking site, Facebook, in order to enforce disciplinary rules of the university.

One student, Alex Hill has gone public after receiving an email from the University. On the Guardian's website Hill is quoted as saying: “I have been charged by the proctors for breaching rules and being ‘disorderly', on the basis of photographic evidence from Facebook. “Somehow the proctors have accessed my photos on Facebook and cited them as evidence of my misconduct, and I am being summoned to a disciplinary hearing. “I don't know how this happened, especially as my privacy settings were such that only my friends and students in my networks could view my photos.”

Hill is one of several students who have received emails from the University stating that they will face fines up to £100. At the end of their exams several students engaged in the activity of “thrashing” their friends. In some cases this involved covering friends with foods, champagne and confetti.

Students took photographs of the celebration and posted them on their Facebook sites. University Proctors then collected these photographs and contacted the students involved.When contacted by Village a spokesperson for

Oxford University said: “The University Proctors have told the students that they are welcome to meet their friends after their exams but that students who create a mess in the street with food or alcohol, or who indulge in anti-social behaviour contrary to University regulations will be disciplined. Over recent weeks the University Proctors have received numerous complaints from University staff and members of the public about a significant minority of students taking part in antisocial behaviour that seriously affected those who live and work in the city of Oxford. Given these concerns, the Proctors wish to take the steps available to them to identify and discipline the culprits. Facebook forms part of the evidence that the Proctors might use.”

The university's Students' union has released a statement informing all students of the developments. On their website the union gives advice to students on how to protect their privacy “We advise those of you with Facebook accounts to alter your privacy settings on Facebook to prohibit members of staff and faculty from viewing your profile and photographs.” The union provides instructions on how to do this on their site.

The statement hastens to add, “while these measures will reduce the number of people who can view your profile, it does not ensure complete privacy. “While the Student Union does not condone unruly, violent or disorderly behaviour, we believe that the privacy of our members should be protected and that disciplinary procedures at all levels within the University should be fair and transparent”. Millions worldwide use social networking sites. Most teenagers and students in Ireland will have heard of, or have their own Bebo or MySpace page. Although popular among teenagers and third level students, the sites are open to anyone with an email address.

At the time of going to print Oxford Students' Union was obtaining legal advice on the matter.