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ISSUE 119 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/4/2005

Wiretap will cost colleges

By Megan Sutherland
Staff Writer

Friday, November 4, 2005

It was recently announced that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in the name of fighting terrorism, has extended a 1994 wiretap law (the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act), forcing compliant organizations to include universities, libraries, airports providing wireless service and commercial Internet access providers.

Not only will these institutions be required to alter their Internet configurations so that law enforcement officials can more easily monitor online communications, but they will also have to pay for the equipment upgrades to do it.

Some universities have estimated that such alterations will cost them at least $7 billion initially, not to mention the cost of installation and upkeep. These changes must be completed by June 2007.

There are two points of controversy within this order. First, the ease with which government officials could access private information would be greatly increased. The new technology would allow government officials to access a suspect’s online communications at the flip of a switch.

While the government would need a court-ordered wiretap to actually monitor a person’s e-mail and other online communication, the ability to do so without consent would be much easier.

As the current regulations stand, law enforcement officers work with campus officials to single out specific connections and install monitoring equipment on an individual basis. This process has worked smoothly in the past, and it makes little sense to impose such a huge financial strain.

Furthermore, in 2003, only 12 out of 1,442 wiretaps were conducted on college campuses. In true Republican form, the government expects billions of dollars to be spent in the name of a rarely used method.

Under any administration, such a proposal might seem sketchy, but the blatant dishonesty and inordinate spending of the Bush administration warrants even greater distrust.

Glancing at the headlines, one sees a torrent of crooked Republican leaders, many of whom are close friends of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Of particular note are the allegations that Chief Advisor Karl Rove leaked a CIA agent’s name in retaliation against the agent’s spouse. Furthermore, the FCC, though it is a government organization able to alter public policy (as it has done here), has officials that are appointed, not elected.

Second, it is absurd to expect colleges and universities to pay for these changes, especially since we all know that students will indirectly pay for them in the end. Isn’t it bad enough that colleges and universities have increased tuition at a greater rate than inflation and that the percentage of students receiving grants has decreased?

Albert Gidari Jr., a Seattle lawyer assisting in the colleges’ care, has been trying to negotiate with the government to force it to demonstrate why such changes are even necessary. Thus far, the administration has propelled the national debt to over $8 trillion with its disregard for the financial burdens it creates.

Gidari summarized the frivolity of the demand quite nicely, saying, "This is a fight over whether a Buick is good enough, or do you need a Lexus? The FBI is the lead agency, and they are insisting on the Lexus."

In other words, the complete disregard for financial consequences (a Republican tradition, it seems) continues, except that this time students are being ordered to pay the bill.

This is absolutely ridiculous and it is imperative that, as students, we contest the invasive and financially unjust demands of a dishonest government.

Staff writer Megan Sutherland is a senior from The Woodlands, Texas. She majors in English and history.

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