A national coalition of universities filed a court appeal on Monday in response to a federal mandate requiring them to upgrade their networks to facilitate online government wiretapping.
The federal mandate, announced last week, demands that universities reorganize their networks to allow law enforcement agents with warrants to monitor any online activity, including e-mails, instant messages and web browsing. The American Council on Education, which filed the suit, claimed that the mandate’s $7 billion price tag levies an undue burden on university budgets. At Yale, administrators have voiced similar concerns about the regulation, which could cost the University up to $1 million.
Yale Information Security Officer Morrow Long said the changes to Yale’s system, which consists of about 600 networks in more than 300 buildings, would be “an immense undertaking.”
“This is a highly segmented campus with hundreds of different networks,” he said. “If the government wants it fully instrumented, that would be very difficult.”
Chief Information Officer Philip Long said the upgrades will cost between $100,000 and $1 million, in addition to a considerable expenditure of manpower. Nationwide, the requirement will add an average of at least $450 to tuition, but Yale likely faces a greater challenge than other schools because of its network’s complexity, Morrow Long said.
The suit by ACE, of which Yale is a member, challenges the Federal Communications Commission’s reinterpretation of a law requiring phone companies to reorganize their systems to enable government wiretapping.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said the expansion will aid national security efforts.
“Responding to the needs of law enforcement is of paramount importance,” he said in a press release. “New technologies present challenges to executing authorized electronic surveillance.”
But Philip Long said the wide-scale changes are unnecessary given the University’s current ability to set up wiretaps for specific law enforcement requests. If the government issues a warrant, he said, administrators can set up taps for certain parameters, such as digital phone correspondence between one individual and another, within a day or two. The upgrades would enable enforcement agents to immediately access the network from a remote location.
“We have been able to address the warrants in a responsible and lawful way with existing capabilities,” he said. “There’s no need at this point to make major changes.”
Some Yale students said they are worried that the new regulations will violate their privacy. But this is not a major concern for ACE, because any surveillance would require a federal warrant.
“It seems like a blatant invasion of privacy,” Vince Granata ’09 said. “There are certain personal sacrifices that need to be made in the name of security, but they don’t need to be looking through my e-mail.”
But other students said accessing personal information with a warrant is established practice in other circumstances, such as car or house searches.
“Like any power, it can be abused or it can be used reasonably,” Jane Metcalf ’06 said. “I don’t really have a problem with it.”
If ACE loses the lawsuit, universities will have to complete the upgrades by June 2007.