Ever hesitant to have your computer memorize the password to your e-mail account? I mean, you don’t want just anyone reading your personal messages, do you?
Well, apparently the government will read them one way or another because they’ve been monitoring e-mail messages among college students since at least spring 2005, according to a July 6 article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Department of Defense has been surveying e-mails sent by students mostly organizing protests against the war in Iraq and against the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, prompting still more concerns about the government’s respect for the First Amendment and privacy rights.
Four colleges in particular were monitored: University of California, Berkeley; State University of New York, Albany; Southern Connecticut State University; and William Paterson University, New Jersey.
Another four were listed on a Pentagon watch list of “suspicious incidents” in January, mainly suspicious because, gasp, they were also planning protests. This list included New York University; University of California, Santa Cruz; City College of the City University of New York; and University of Wisconsin.
The surveillance reports, which were released June 15, are part of a government database known as Talon that the Department of Defense established in 2003 to keep track of potential terrorist threats, according to the Chronicle’s article.
One of these “terrorist threats” involved information about a “critical mass bike ride” at SUNY, Albany in which students could ride their bikes to express “solidarity with Earth Day.”
This sort of activity is outrageous and as American college students, we should be downright furious. Since when have our Constitutional rights been a threat to national security? Unfortunately, the Bush administration has forgotten two of our most fundamental rights – so fundamental that they were placed at the top of the Constitution’s list of Amendments: free speech and free assembly.
These breaches of privacy are ones that have been repeated in the past – by dictators. Here we are, championing democracy around the world when our own government can’t trust its citizens enough to allow simple college demonstrations without paranoia.
Wire tapping was bad enough, but the government’s latest action shows obsession over information that is essentially useless to them. Protesting is among the things we college students do best because we’re still naive enough to believe that we can change the world for better.
But it looks like the Bush administration gave up on that idea long ago.