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Campuses question government surveillance
Schools across the country will be subject to wiretapping as early as spring

Daily Free Press/Ahmed Shihab-Eldin | November 2 2005

Campuses across the country are now subject -- though many reluctantly -- to a federal statute enabling law enforcement agencies to monitor students' email and computer use.

The statute, known as the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which obligates communication service providers to cooperate with law enforcement agencies, was extended on Oct. 13 to encompass colleges and universities. By next spring, schools nationwide will have to restructure their computer systems to allow law enforcement agencies easier access to information.

The U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration issued an order in March 2004 to make CALEA apply to broadband internet, which schools like Boston University provide to their students. Department of Justice spokesman Paul Bresson said the government must monitor modern forms of communication to protect people from possible security breaches.

"Court-authorized electronic surveillance is a critical law enforcement tool to protect public safety and national security," Bresson said. "As communications technologies develop, we must ensure that such progress does not come at the expense of our nation's safety and security."

Bresson did not specify what steps universities would have to take to comply with this law.

Peter DeBlois, director of communications and publishing at EDUCAUSE, an association of more than 2,000 colleges and universities that promote the intelligent use of internet technology, said the law could be
beneficial, despite controversies swirling over an alleged invasion of privacy.

"We do feel surveillance is appropriate if it's properly authorized by courts," DeBlois said. "But we object to the essential unfounded mandate to make these changes."

DeBlois explained that higher education institutions object to the act because it poses an overwhelming financial burden, and to bear the law's $7 billion price tag, colleges may have to raise tuition by hundreds of dollars.

Although many universities, education groups and technology rights organizations have filed lawsuits opposing the FCC's extension of CALEA, John Porter, Boston University's vice president for Information Systems and Technology, said "there are a lot of open questions" about what BU would have to do to comply with the law.

"Though people have been speculating that it's going to cost lots of money to comply with [the law], at this point, we don't really know what it means," Porter said. "We don't have any estimate of costs.

"Some institutions have given some numbers out, but we don't know what those are based on. We are trying to track that down. They may be making assumptions about things that are not warranted," he continued.

If BU is asked to make necessary changes and overhaul their network, Porter says the university will comply.

"Clearly, if we are required to do something, and if it becomes clear what we have to do, we'll do it," he said. "But the range of things that it
could mean as of now is too wide."

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