Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Keep University E-Mail Private

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Come spring 2007, you might be paying the federal government to read your e-mails.

The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994 that allows law enforcement officers to monitor information sent over the Internet has recently been extended to universities.

The law requires all universities to overhaul existing Internet systems by spring 2007 at a cost of at least $7 billion to colleges nationwide.

At a time when college tuition has never been higher and continues to increase at an unbelievably fast rate, Georgetown cannot afford to fund such an astronomically expensive overhaul, especially when the new system would ultimately do little to apprehend lawbreakers.

Currently, if officials have reason to suspect an individual in a crime, that person’s online communication is monitored individually. Under the new system, government officials will be able to access student e-mail from locations outside the university by sending all Internet communications to a network operations center where information could be packaged together for delivery to law enforcement. This will entail a complete re-engineering of university networks, according to the New York Times.

This new law further weakens personal privacy protections that have evaporated as the USA Patriot Act has expanded. An individual’s privacy can easily be invaded under the new mandate.

Not only is this a violation of students’ privacy, but it is also an unreasonable demand. The upgraded system will be technologically demanding and expensive. It will be a tremendous feat for universities to come up with the millions of dollars needed to update their existing Internet networks. If the government wants to monitor e-mail without the student’s consent or the university’s approval, it can surely stand to draw from the increasing funds that have been budgeted for Homeland Security.

The federal government has already faced antagonism after reducing federal Pell Grants from students’ potential financial aid packages. Pell Grants are one of the largest sources of need-based financial aid for college students. Although President Bush has called for the maximum Pell Grant allowance to increase by $500 and the Senate included provisions to raise the Pell Grant in its version of a bill to renew the Higher Education Act, the maximum allowance has remained at $4,050 over the past three years.

If we do indeed have the money we’ll need to make these changes, those funds should go toward education, not toward updating already functional security systems. Surplus funds should be used to combat rising tuition costs or to award a greater number of students increased financial aid, whether through Perkins Loans or Pell Grants.

The American Council on Education, of which Georgetown is a member, is preparing to appeal the Internet upgrade order before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Just as students should continue to fight for student aid, they should also contact their congressmen and voice their opinions. If the government wants to read our e-mail, it should not be allowed to do it without a fight.

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