Some students are wondering how much privacy they still have now that Joint Terrorism Task Forces overseeing counterterrorism include collegiate police officers on a dozen campuses. Paying attention to college campuses and working with campus police to check any tips or leads is one way federal agencies have been monitoring potential terrorist threats.
The Department of Public Safety regularly works and exchanges information with the FBI on different security issues like the ban on flyovers over the Michigan Stadium, said DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown.
“Only if any of the law-enforcing agencies, like the FBI, received a credible tip about an issue on campus, that would be investigated,” Brown said. “However the FBI could find out public information like details on the (University) directory.”
However, students and faculty are weary of zealous federal agencies after the USA Patriot Act was passed in October 2001, which took away significant privacy protections from students, said Noel Saleh, staff attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.
“The FBI could really find out anything they wanted,” Saleh said. “They are interested in student activists or organizers. Like the divestment conference that happened late last year was an interest to the FBI.”
Prior to the Patriot Act, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 stated that, unless the school had been mandated by court order or subpoena, an academic institution was generally barred from releasing a student’s education records without a student’s consent.
“Now, students would never know what files federal agencies have or how it will be used,” Saleh said. “Before the Patriot Act, students had consent.”
But FBI agent Greg Stejskal said unless there is some reason for investigation on campus, the federal law and the Constitution still protect the rights of citizens.
“We don’t monitor demonstrations or guestspeakers that come to campus, but we do have regular communication with DPS,” Stejskal said. In the past, the FBI obtained information through the University on the Unabomber Ted Kazcynski, who had a connection to the University, added Stejskal.
Although the FBI says they do not closely watch the University community, government agencies might still follow certain groups of students.
“Government agencies could obtain a list of Arab sounding names of students who attend the University,” Doug Lewis, director of the Student Legal Services said.
“Foreign students have even less protection of rights than American citizens,” said Wendy Wagenheim of the Michigan ACLU.