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Proposal to install spyware in university libraries to protect copyrights shocks academics

Coda Story – “A recent proposal recommending the deployment of surveillance software in order to monitor those accessing academic material has drawn fire from digital rights advocates and scientists. The plan was outlined on October 22 during a virtual webinar hosted by a consortium of the world’s leading publishers of scientific journals, featuring security experts discussing the threats posed by cyber-criminals and digital piracy to academic research. One speaker proposed a novel tactic publishers could take to protect their intellectual property rights against data theft: introducing spyware into the proxy servers academic libraries use to allow access to their online services, such as publishers’ databases. The speaker, Corey Roach, a security officer at the University of Utah, described a plug-in that could collect “biometric data, which can be things like how quick did they type, how do they move their mouse,” in order to distinguish and identify individual users, who are otherwise anonymized by university proxy servers. “We have a lot more than just their username and password,” Roach said in the webinar. “It might be information about them as a student or an employee. We get the customer IP address of where they’re coming from and the URLs for the material they’ve requested.”

To incentivize libraries to install the software, Roach suggested offering them discounts on publisher databases in exchange. The webinar was hosted by a new group called the Scholarly Networks Security Initiative (SNSI), the joint creation of Elsevier, Springer Nature, and other top academic publishers who banded together in February with the stated mandate of protecting higher education from cybercriminals and websites like Sci-Hub, a “shadow library” which illegally hosts and enables free access to copies of millions of research papers normally hidden behind publisher paywalls…”

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