Friday, November 2, 2007

Do Proposed Surveillance Laws Threaten Higher Education?

A few educators think that they might?   

What will happen if a college wants to research a topic and needs to access documents that contain information that the government has deemed subversive?  Will that student's name be added to a "watch list"?   And if their name does go on that "watch list" how will that effect their future?

excerpt from:
Librarians Say Surveillance Bills Lack Adequate Oversight

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 2, 2007; Page A06

A little-remarked feature of pending legislation on domestic surveillance has provoked alarm among university and public librarians who say it could allow federal intelligence-gathering on library patrons without sufficient court oversight.

Draft House and Senate bills would allow the government to compel any "communications service provider" to provide access to e-mails and other electronic information within the United States as part of federal surveillance of non-U.S. citizens outside the country.

The Justice Department has previously said that "providers" may include libraries, causing three major university and library groups to worry that the government's ability to monitor people targeted for surveillance without a warrant would chill students' and faculty members' online research activities.

"It is fundamental that when a user enters the library, physically or electronically," said Jim Neal, the head librarian at Columbia University, "their use of the collections, print or electronic, their communications on library servers and computers, is not going to be subjected to surveillance unless the courts have authorized it.

The librarians said their concern about such monitoring is rooted in recent history.

In the summer of 2005, FBI agents handed an administrative subpoena called a national security letter (NSL) to a Connecticut librarian, and demanded subscriber, billing and other information on patrons who used a specific computer at a branch library. NSLs can be approved by certain FBI agents without court approval. The agents ordered the librarian to keep the demand secret. But he refused to produce the records, and his employer filed suit, challenging the gag order. A federal judge in September 2005 declared the gag order unconstitutional.

Librarians cried out over the issue and in March 2006 won language in the reauthorized USA Patriot Act that specified that libraries acting as book-lenders not be subject to NSLs. But FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said, in written remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee in May 2006, that "a library is only subject to an NSL if it provides electronic communication services."

Today, many universities -- and by extension their libraries -- can be considered Internet service providers, because they run private Internet networks allowing students and faculty to send e-mail, conduct online research and engage in online chats without touching the public system, experts said.

Many universities also have branches overseas, where users can log onto the school network and gain access to the library's server on U.S. soil. Moreover, university research -- especially in the scientific arena -- is frequently conducted online and in groups, often internationally, by accessing shared databases and advanced private Internet networks, librarians said.

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