Editor’s note: STEM News is a feature provided through a collaborative effort with the NC STEM Community Collaborative, MCNC, and the North Carolina Science, Mathematics, and Technology Center (SMT Center). To submit story ideas, please email LTW Editor Rick Smith (rsmith@wral.com) or Noah Garrett (noah@thinkngc.com.)

LTW and Wire Reports

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – A new encrypted search feature that Internet search giant Google rolled out last month is causing problems for schools, which say the service keeps them from complying with the (CIPA) and could put their federal e-Rate funding at risk.

The service lets users search the Web in a way that can’t be tracked by employers or Internet service providers. Google launched a beta version of the service May 21 to give users more control over the searches they make; the company has come under fire from privacy groups in recent months for how it handles sensitive information.

But in accommodating privacy advocates, Google ironically has angered K-12 education technology officials, many of whom are now blocking access not only to Google’s encrypted search page but also Gmail and Google Docs.

That could be a problem for Google, which is competing with Microsoft in supplying free software for communicating and collaborating online to schools.

Google’s encrypted search feature uses Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) connections to encrypt information that travels between a user’s computer and the service, meaning that a user’s search terms and search results pages cannot be intercepted by a third party on the network. Searches also are not archived in the Web browser’s history or appear in the “auto-fill” during a subsequent search.

While some people believe this new encrypted capability will help advance users’ privacy, especially those living in China, K-12 schools – which use third-party filters to monitor student and faculty conduct online – are saying the service might cripple their use of Google and its products.

The reason is simple: Schools must comply with CIPA to receive federal e-Rate funding. Without the ability to monitor student and faculty searches, schools no longer can be considered CIPA compliant, many say.

The Children’s Internet Protection Act is a federal law that addresses concerns about access in schools and libraries to the Internet and other information. For any school or library that receives discounts for Internet access or for internal connections, CIPA imposes certain requirements.

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