Government Domestic Spying Unsettling News for Campuses

Ameena Qazi leading a workshopby Maria Eugenia Miranda, Diverse: Issues in Higher Education

In light of recent news on the federal government spying on Americans via phone records and electronic correspondence and the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union in response, the question of students' rights and academic freedoms on campus has risen once more.

"Recent revelations at the national level about government reviewing phone information and Internet information are going to be especially troubling on college campuses where academic freedom, freedom of intellectual exchange is so important to the robust functioning of an academic environment. So any time there is evidence of government spying, that's going to have a chilling effect on free discourse and innovation," said Dr. Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at the City University of New York's Brooklyn College, who drafted a resolution last fall in response to reports that the New York Police Department had paid informants that infiltrated Muslim student groups at several CUNY campuses in the last few years.

Indeed, after The Associated Press made public that the NYPD set up spies at area schools, Vitale says many Muslim students became reticent to participate in events and join organizations for fear of being the subject of surveillance. It has even had an effect on faculty, according to Vitale. ...

Meanwhile, news of government surveillance programs on campuses has spread across the country.

"Definitely the events that unfolded on the East Coast reverberated here and it made everyone really wonder and question whether or not similar programs exist here at the federal or local law enforcement level," said Ameena Qazi, a staff attorney in Los Angeles for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. In the case involving 11 University of California, Irvine students who received two misdemeanor counts from a California jury for speaking out in opposition of Israeli ambassador Michael Oren in February 2010 brought about the question, where did the District Attorney's office get the students' e-mail from, said Qazi. "There is a feeling that the more active you are, the more you will be watched," she said.

Muslim parents are urging their children not to get involved on campus, said Qazi, who works with CAIR on community events that bring together college students from many different universities.

"It's a growing concern for all Americans," she said. (Read the full article)