Is there evidence that Universities network administrators are aware of, or actively tracking student and/or staff usage of free online journal article databases such as Sci-Hub or LibGen?

My question is not meant to address any legal issues. I am merely asking about knowledge of student and staff usage by network administrators and by extension the University.

Unless faculty and students are using Tor a VPN or some other sort of anonymity network, University network administrators can easily track what web pages are being accessed over the University network.

University network administrators commonly track access to social media, gambling, pornography, plagiarism related sites and more. Are Universities also tracking faculty and staff usage of sites like Sci-Hub and LibGen?



  • 4
    "University network administrators commonly track access to social media, gambling, pornography, plagiarism related sites and more." - [citation needed], or at least some context. Given that "the university network" may well serve as the internet connection provided to dorms, tracking students' use of social media and pornography sounds like both a severe restriction of legitimate private internet use and a violation of the students' privacy. Jun 28, 2016 at 12:45
  • @O.R.Mapper: You are very correct. My own university has a separate residential network, possibly for that reason, although more likely "because security."
    – Bob Brown
    Jun 28, 2016 at 13:11
  • As an alternative, you can install TOR on your computer. In this way, the access will be encrypted to the network provider.
    – Nikey Mike
    Nov 27, 2016 at 15:42

3 Answers 3


There easily could be, so don't do marginally legal things on your university's network. Mine doesn't appear to do more than shut down bot nets and torrent hosting, but it's not hard to track the rest. It's mostly only in the university's interest to stop crimes and copyright infringement committed on its network so that it doesn't have to deal with law enforcement and/or lawsuits (i.e. paperwork and cooperation). I don't think Sci-Hub and LibGen have risen to that level quite yet. You might get away with it for awhile, but if enough people start accessing scientific content that way, then the paperwork will start to flow in, and the accesses will start getting shut down.

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    I guess I'm lucky to be in some university where there is not self-censorship and it's up to the users of the networks to deal with the law (and the days getting a PDF from sci-hub will land someone in jail are hopefully quite far away, otherwise jails would soon become research labs). Jun 27, 2016 at 22:21
  • It's not obvious who would be sending "paperwork" to the university if its students are reading papers via scihub. The only people that know are the university and scihub, and I don't see scihub complaining to the university. (The copyright owner has no way of knowing that students from University X got a copy of their work for personal use via scihub.)
    – ff524
    Jun 27, 2016 at 22:21
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    @ff524 and Franck, my opinions of these activities and the realities of what can happen are different things. It wouldn't be hard for some government to take over Sci-Hub without much of anyone knowing in order to gather information on downloaders for future criminal cases. It might also be possible for Sci-Hub to be required to reveal such information in its ongoing civil case in New York, USA. Frank, usually the network provider has to get involved for the copyright holder to figure out who to sue (aka paperwork). No self-censorship required. The copyright holder can then sue the end user.
    – Bill Barth
    Jun 27, 2016 at 22:37
  • @BillBarth True, I was just pointing out that some network providers prefer to do the paperwork than banning websites/p2p/etc. No worries, I don't mix up personal opinions and knowledge. Jun 27, 2016 at 22:45
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    Thank you for the answers. It sounds like widespread University network tracking of this is not yet common (or at least not common knowledge in the academic community) yet but that could change in the future if usage continues to increase. Jun 28, 2016 at 0:14

Enhancing on @BillBarth's answer: while universities do not typically monitor access to services on their websites, they are quite capable of doing so when the need or desire arises.

The handling of Aaron Swartz's JSTOR mass-downloading by MIT may be instructive here: MIT information services was apparently fairly unexcited about the incident for quite a while, treating it as relatively routine network misbehavior. Eventually, however, it changed positions and began carefully monitoring him and cooperating with the prosecution that would eventually lead to arrest, massive charges, and Aaron Swartz's suicide.


Are Universities also tracking faculty and staff usage of sites like Sci-Hub and LibGen? Yes, they are.


Jim O’Donnell, university librarian at the Arizona State University Library, said that news of the investigation of Elbakyan had not changed his views on Sci-Hub.

“We are very aware of Sci-Hub. They make assertions about their business practices that cannot be verified -- they’re very untransparent,” he said. But the ASU Library does not tell academics and students to specifically avoid Sci-Hub, nor has it blocked the site. “Our advice to users is that they should abide by the law and follow our university policies,” he said.

The investigation into Elbakyan has “created more smoke, metaphorically speaking. But all we’re doing is a little more coughing,” said O’Donnell. He added, “We observe, we watch, we wait.”

  • Joe Esposito, a scholarly publishing consultant, said some librarians have been “dismissive” of PSI’s claims because the company is looking to promote its services. “I have no reason to think that they’re lying. But the amount of chatter seems to be way out ahead of the facts,” Good to know I'm not the only one who reads these claims and thinks "oh look - bullshit"
    – user133933
    Feb 24, 2021 at 2:10
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    @Libor did you look at the other question on IS.SE? You're certainly not the only one who thinks it's bullshit.
    – Allure
    Feb 24, 2021 at 2:58
  • No, a bunch of my comments got flagged for being mean to you so I didn't follow up. Just found it - appreciate the effort you put into looking into it.
    – user133933
    Feb 24, 2021 at 3:26

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