College is supposed to be a place where you can try out radical new ideas and enjoy free speech, but that’s gotten dangerous now that campus police departments are helping federal agents track down terrorists. Many of the 911 terrorists came here on student visas, and Homeland Security wants to find out if there are any more hiding in the stacks, but it’s intimidating to professors, foreign students and everyone who likes to toss around ideas in a good debate. It’s also chilling to students who like to surf the internet for new information, since now your internet travels can be read by the Feds.
At the University of Massachusetts, a college police officer working with the FBI questioned an Iraqi-born professor about his political views. “No one wants to get in the way of people trying to bust terrorists,” says Ernest May of the Faculty Senate, “But academic institutions can’t really function in a system where everyone is afraid to say something. I don’t think the relationship has had a chilling effect yet, but it could.”
But students are more conservative than they were during the 60s and 70s. “You can never be too safe,” says biology major Caitlin Vassallo. “If people have nothing to hide, why should they be worried about the FBI?”
Michael O’Reilly, of the FBI’s western Massachusetts office, says, “We’re not starting any dossiers on professors and students. That’s a total waste of our time. We’re interested in the breaking of federal laws. If you want to protest, that’s fine. We protect civil liberties and free speech.”
Not everyone is comfortable with this. University of Wisconsin police chief Susan Riseling says, “Universities are places where people should be able to express themselves, explore ideas and use their constitutional rights. But if we aren’t careful, some of those things could be used against the country. And if the FBI is going to question somebody on campus, I want to be a part of the decision.”
Should you stay quietly in your dorm and get radical over the internet? Watch out for Total Information Awareness, a supercomputer that tracks what you buy, where you travel, and how much money you have. The $137 billion Pentagon project can look at your bank and credit card accounts and health records. Defense Undersecretary Pete Aldridge says, “You’re looking for trends and transactions that are associated with some potential terrorist act.” The government doesn’t need a warrant to do electronic surveillance on you, so you won’t know if you?re being watched.
Can the Feds track you if they think you’re selling drugs or are into other, non-terrorist, illegal activities? And would this evidence be admissible in court? No one knows the answer to this, since a relevant case has yet to come to trial. Jim Dempsey, of the Center for Democracy and Technology, says, “The big deal is that the government is proposing to arrest people on the basis of this.”
With Homeland Security, it looks like the student protests of 50 years ago are gone for good?and so are the cultural changes they bring about. But that won’t bother people who want things to stay just the way they are.
But do we know how things really are? For instance, there’s now good evidence that during the second World War, Hitler built flying saucers.
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