Listening In

Students who already think the cost of college tuition is high may face paying at least hundreds of dollars more if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has its way.
Thanks to a new set of rules that monitor online communication, colleges and universities may face having to revamp their existing online systems, paying millions of dollars to do so. The American Council on Education (ACE) filed an appeal with the circuit court last week against the new rules that Carnegie Mellon Chief Information Officer Joel Smith referred to as ?definitely an overkill.?
Under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) of 1994, telephone companies must pay to maintain their systems so that federal agents can easily obtain wiretaps. The most recent orders under this act, issued by the FCC, asks that institutions providing Internet access also reengineer their systems accordingly within the next 18 months. Carnegie Mellon is one such institution. With a subpoena and the flip of a switch, federal officials could have access to e-mail accounts and online information of any student at compliant universities.
?The Department of Justice wants 24/7 access, whenever they need it, and they want remote access. We find that too extremely burdensome in terms of money, staff, and technology,? said Maureen McFalls, Director of Government Relations for Carnegie Mellon and the coordinator of Carnegie Mellon?s response to this issue. According to an ACE press release, the cost to universities could be upwards of $7 billion, or at least $450 extra on each student?s tuition bill.
?Burdensome is really the best word for the new rules,? McFalls added.
?Colleges and universities have a long history of working with law enforcement agencies pursuing criminal investigations and are proud of our working relationship,? said Sheldon E. Steinbach, ACE vice-president and general counsel, in the same press release. ?When you evaluate efficiency versus the incredible cost of compliance, we just don?t think it makes a lot of sense.?
According to the new rules set forth under CALEA, federal agencies want to be able to access a private institution?s network from almost any location at almost any time. Currently, universities take special precautions to make this kind of remote access very difficult, in order to prevent online crime.
?We do recognize the need to be in compliance and cooperate with law enforcement,? said Smith, ?but it happens very rarely that they need this kind of access, here or nationally.? According to a report from Educause, a nonprofit organization that deals with online issues in higher education, there were 3468 wiretaps ordered by local, state, national, and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts in 2004. The report also stated that the number or wiretaps on campuses is extremely small.
So how is Carnegie Mellon?s administration reacting to these new proposed regulations? The school plans ?to work through the appropriate channels for the University to make our views known, just as a matter of fact, that it would be very costly for every student in every college,? said University Provost Mark Kamlet.
?We are going to review the AAU [Association for American Universities] and ACE actions and perhaps take our own if we feel that we may have something
different or more important to say than they do,? said McFalls. For right now, however, ?we are waiting to see what happens next.?
The ACE has hired attorney Maureen Mahoney to handle the appeal. She is well known for her work in securing a victory for the University of Michigan in its recent affirmative action trial. While the ACE has only filed an appeal, McFalls reports that other organizations ? universities among them ? might actually sue over this issue.
It is not, emphasized Kamlet, McFalls, Smith, and the ACE press releases, an issue of civil liberties. The FBI will still be required to get subpoenas for all wiretaps. But as Jerry Berman, the President of the Center for Democracy and Technology, told the publication Inside Higher Ed, ?Whenever you are talking about opening doors inside networks, you have to worry about whether it opens the door to broader discretion for the FBI to conduct surveillance. The potential for abuse is always there.?

The new rules regarding online monitoring can be found at