CA Universities’ Free Speech Fight over Data Monitoring

Jerry Brown and Janet Napolitano (Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)
Jeff Chiu / Associated Press

A secretly installed data monitoring system, meant to keep track of all the Internet traffic on University of California campuses, has become the focus of a contentious debate over whether free speech and privacy are at stake there.

“And the people who had to put the box in place were ordered to do so and also ordered to keep quiet about it,” Professor of agricultural economics Ethan Ligon at the University of California, Berkeley told Bay Area radio station KQED.

Ligon and other faculty members reportedly refused to stay quiet and expressed their disdain at not being consulted.

On February 1, UC Chancellor — and former U.S. Homeland Security chief — Janet Napolitano wrote a letter, stating: wrote “Unfortunately, many have been left with the impression that a secret initiative to snoop on faculty activities is underway. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

She added, “While we have absolutely no interest in the content of any individual’s emails or browsing history, we must accept that active network monitoring is a critical element of a sound cybersecurity infrastructure and the interconnectedness of the University and all of its locations requires that such monitoring be coordinated centrally.”

KQED notes that the security system ordered by Napolitano both monitors Internet traffic and also stores it for at least 30 days to allow security personnel to examine the traffic to look for breaches.

However, cybersecurity experts suggest the UC is an even more desirable target for hackers because of the plethora of personal and professional information it holds.

And last week, the Graduate Assembly reportedly passed a resolution in opposition to the University of California Office of the President’s “coordinated monitoring” activities.

It was recently discovered that housing files at the University of California, Santa Barbara was conducted by Iranian hackers.

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz.