Privacy Policy

Houston Community College System supports a connection to the Internet and the World Wide Web for faculty, students, and staff in support of the mission of the college. The Internet connection should be used in an open, accessible, and academically free manner to support the teaching, research, and outreach missions of the college. HCCS encourages faculty, staff, and students to make broad use of the Internet as a tool for learning, communication, and scholarship.

I. ACCEPTABLE USE OF THE INTERNET

The Internet system is a valuable resource that serves a large number and variety of users, and individuals should act responsibly in their use of it, not infringing on the rights, integrity, or privacy of others or their data. The use of the Internet is a privilege, not a right, and users have the responsibility to employ these resources in an ethical and legal manner consistent with federal, state, and local laws and HCCS policy, including policies on discrimination and harassment (HCCS Policy Manual: DHA, FA, FLA, FLDA). Internet violations and complaints are handled in the same way as other complaints in the college--through the procedures and channels outlined in the HCCS Policy Manual. Inappropriate use of the Internet may result in suspension of this privilege, as well as application of other established penalties.

Responsible use of the Internet system includes the creative, efficient, and productive use of the resources. Examples of non-acceptable use include, but are not limited to the following: distribution of obscene, abusive, or threatening messages via electronic mail or other means; communication of information that supports discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age or disability; violations of existing copyright or other intellectual property rights of another (Copyright Act (17 U.S.C.A. 106)); providing any information that would facilitate unauthorized access to or use of a computer facility; communication of any personal or financial information without the written consent of the individual. Users should be aware that email is not guaranteed to be private.

II. FAIR ACCESS TO THE INTERNET

HCCS provides access to the Internet to faculty, staff, and students, in support of college functions, subject to available resources. They may create personal pages on HCCS equipment, but the pages should not be used to run commercial enterprises. Each college library and computer lab staff reserves the right to limit the amount of time allotted to each user, based upon availability of equipment and resources.

III. GUIDELINES THAT ESTABLISH AN OFFICIAL COLLEGE PRESENCE ON THE WEB

HCCS Web pages should provide an official college presence on the Internet. Official college pages are those linked to HCCS's home that present information about the system, individual colleges, divisions, or departments. Those pages should be reviewed by the web coordinator designated for each college and system department.

Unofficial (personal) web pages may not include the system logo or any reference to the Houston Community College System which would mislead the user into believing that the information presented is official information or part of the system web page. Unofficial web pages do not require college approval. HCCS recognizes the value of personal publishing on the Internet, but asks that each personal page contain this disclaimer on the first page:

"The personal home pages of HCCS faculty, students, and staff do not in any way constitute official college content. The views and opinions expressed in the individual home pages are strictly those of the page authors, and comments on the content should be addressed to the authors."

IV. GUIDELINES FOR ENFORCEMENT

HCCS only assumes responsibility for the information provided on the home page and the supporting web pages resident on this server. HCCS does not monitor and has no control over the information accessed through the Internet. The Internet offers access to many valuable local, national, and international sources of information. However, not all sources on the Internet provide accurate, complete, or current information. A good information consumer evaluates the validity of information found. The Internet is a global entity with a highly diverse user population and information content. HCCS patrons use it at their own risk. HCCS cannot censor access to materials or protect users from materials they may find offensive. The Restriction of a child's access to the Internet is the responsibility of the parent or guardian; HCCS does not have the right or responsibility to act in loco parentis.

Copyright infringement. Almost all forms of original expression that are fixed in a tangible medium are subject to copyright protection, even if no formal copyright notice is attached. Written text (including email messages and news posts), recorded sound, digital images, and computer software are some examples of works that can be copyrighted.

Copyright holders have many rights, including the right to reproduce, adapt, distribute, display, and perform their work. Reproducing, displaying or distributing copyrighted material without permission infringes on the copyright holder's rights. (Note: However, "fair use" applies in some cases. If a small amount of the work is used in a non-commercial situation and does not economically impact the copyright holder it may be considered fair use.) Linking to another web page is not usually considered infringement. However, copying some of the contents of another web page or using video clips without permission would likely be infringement.

Software piracy. Unauthorized duplication, distribution or use of someone else's intellectual property, including computer software, constitutes copyright infringement and is illegal and subject to both civil and criminal penalties. The ease of this behavior on-line causes many computer users to forget the seriousness of the offense. As a result of the substantial amounts of money the software industry loses each year from software piracy, the software companies enforce their rights through courts and by lobbying for and getting stiffer criminal penalties.

Sound recording piracy. Another form of copyright infringement is the unauthorized duplication and distribution of sound recordings. Online piracy is increasing as many people use the Internet to illegally distribute digital audio files. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) monitors the Internet daily and scans for sites that contain music. They have been successful in getting the sound recordings removed from those sites.

Illegal activities. Any activity that is illegal under local, state, and federal laws is a violation of HCCS policy.

Hate speech. Uncivil, antagonistic or derogatory speech that is disrespectful of classes of people is commonly referred to as hate speech. Although hate speech may be extremely offensive (particularly to members of the targeted group), posting hate speech does not generally constitute a violation of College policies or codes. This is because, especially as an educational institution, HCCS is committed to the protection of freedom of expression. In exceptional cases, however, the College may decide that hate speech directed to classes of individuals presents such a hostile environment that certain restrictive actions are warranted.

Adult pornography. Possession of adult material is not a violation of policy or code unless the material is illegal. HCCS does not monitor or censor newsgroups, electronic mail or any other electronic communications.

Child pornography. Child pornography, material that depicts minors in a sexually explicit way, is illegal. Under the federal child pornography statue (18 USC section 2252), anyone under the age of 18 is a minor. Knowingly uploading or downloading child pornography is a federal offense. It is also illegal to advertise or seek the sale, exchange, reproduction or distribution of child pornography.

Distribution of pornography to minors. Possession of non-obscene adult pornography is legal, but it is illegal to distribute to minors.

Obscenity. Obscenity is illegal. Virtually every state and municipality has a statue prohibiting the sale and distribution of obscenity, and the federal government prohibits its interstate transportation. The Supreme Court in Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, (1973), narrowed the permissible scope of obscenity statues and applied this three-part test to determine constitutionality: (a) whether the average person applying contemporary community standard would find the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; (b) whether the work depicts or describes in a patently offensive way sexual conduct specifically defined in applicable state law; and (c) whether the work taken as a whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Scams and pyramid schemes. Beware of money-making "opportunities" on the Internet. A common scam is the pyramid scheme. A user gets an email message with a subject like "Make Money Fast," with instructions to send money to the people on the list and then add his/her name to the bottom of the list and send it on to some number of people. At HCCS, this is considered chain mail, but it is also illegal under 18 U.S. C section 1302. The U.S. Postal service and the Federal Trade Commission provide information to help individuals identify scams and report them.

HCCS will not actively police individual web pages, but will deal with problem situations as they become apparent. Disagreements over page content will be resolved through the existing HCCS grievance policies. Because Internet technology is dynamic, HCCS policy will be reviewed annually by the WWW Oversight Committee.

HCCS does not exercise control over the individual web pages created by faculty, students, and staff, even though the web page may reside on the HCCS system. HCCS intends to create a limited open forum for the exclusive use of faculty, students, and staff. This limited open forum is provided to the faculty, students, and staff on a resource available basis.

V. GUIDELINES FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A PERMANENT OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE

The WWW Oversight Committee will consist of one representative from each college, from Information Technology, the Library, Educational Development, Work Force Development, and the Public Information Office. The Committee will meet as needed, at least annually, to review the Internet policy.

VI. DISCLAIMER

This disclaimer should be placed on the initial home page for the HCCS system: "Houston Community College System endeavors to keep all official pages accurate and up-to-date; however, constantly changing data makes it impossible to monitor or guarantee accuracy at all times. If misleading or otherwise inappropriate information is brought to the author's attention, an effort will be made to correct or remove it."

Portions of this policy have been taken, with permission, from policies of Cornell University and the Houston Public Library.

Board Approved, April 27, 2000