It doesn’t matter where your politics are, this is plain wrong.

Susan Kruth of the FIRE blog reports.

Northern Illinois U. Blocks Access to ‘Unethical’ Websites

Northern Illinois University (NIU) has enacted a stunningly restrictive network use policy and is enforcing it through a filter that blocks or tags websites based on content—including speech clearly protected by the First Amendment.

NIU’s policy is in the news after one NIU student posted to Reddit a “Web Page Access Warning” he received while trying to visit the Wikipedia page about the Westboro Baptist Church from his dorm room. Betabeat reported on this and other student experiences with the filter, criticizing the public university for blocking access to a wide range of online expression.

The warning received by the Reddit user categorizes the Westboro Baptist Church’s Wikipedia page as “Illegal or Unethical.” While the warning appears to allow the student to click through to view the page, it notes that the URL the student is trying to access “has been recorded for review” and ominously states that “[u]nless you are accessing this site for legitimate business purposes, it is highly probable that the access would violate the Northern Illinois Acceptable Use Policy.” Betabeat reports that other websites are permanently blocked to NIU students.

Whether students are prohibited from visiting a website altogether or simply greeted by this bizarre threat of punishment, NIU’s enforcement of its policy is an egregious act of censorship.

NIU’s Acceptable Use Policy, enacted on July 25, states, in part:

Examples of unacceptable uses include, but are not limited to, the following:


Using the resources for political activities, including organizing or participating in any political meeting, rally, demonstration, soliciting contributions or votes, distributing material, surveying or polling for information connected to a political campaign, completing political surveys or polling information, and any other activities prohibited under the ethics act and/or other state/federal laws.


Use of personal social media sites, following specific direction to cease or not utilize university equipment or time to an extent or during time periods that would interfere with professional responsibilities, including, but not limited to, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Foursquare, etc., unless associated with professional responsibilities.