Writing in Slate last week, digital rights activist April Glaser urged colleges and universities to report the private electronic student data they release at the request of certain entities, including internal committees, federal agencies, and law enforcement. The piece called the University of California, Berkeley’s promise of biannual “transparency reports,” detailing categories of what is released and to whom, a step in the right direction.
In the 1960s the CIA had an entire strategy dedicated to infiltrating the students’ rights movement in an effort to counter communism. The days of communist panic may be gone, but in 2012, it was revealed that the New York Police Department had bugged the meeting and prayer rooms of the Muslim Student Association at NYU and other East Coast universities. Federal surveillance programs clearly have an interest in contemporary university life, making transparency about steps a university takes to protect personal data on campus networks even more essential.
Other higher-ed institutions should follow Berkeley’s lead—maybe even compete to have the most informative disclosures. For example, future transparency reports could also provide examples or specifics about certain cases they’ve encountered,similar to what Wikimedia did with its innovative reporting on copyright takedowns.
FIRE believes these reports would serve as a proper check both on university systems that host private student information and on government, which, as Slate notes, has “a robust history of … surveillance of faculty and student activity.”
FIRE will be monitoring developments on these issues.