The ACLU wants the University of Washington to stop spying on its students. At a press conference earlier today, the ACLU of Washington said it had obtained records which show UW Police Department officials carrying out political surveillance on lawful activities of students, faculty, and staff.
Campus spokesperson Robert Roseth told The Stranger that the university had dealt with the surveillance issue publicly last spring. "There is nothing new here," Roseth said when reached by phone. "The university issued a statement immediately after the incident that the action was unwarranted and contrary to UW policy.The university already has the appropriate policies in place. It is reviewing the wording to make sure the intent is clear and understandable."
Records obtained by the ACLU show that UWPD authorized an undercover officer to attend and collect information about UW Student Worker Coalition meetings. This incident was in addition to a previously disclosed surveillance episode, which the ACLU said shows that it was not isolated.
The ACLU said that the incidents underscore the importance of crafting state legislation allowing political surveillance only when there is reason to suspect criminal activity. "We haven’t seen the specifics of any legislation, so it’s hard to comment on that proposal," Roseth said.
The records revealed that a UWPD officer attempted to penetrate a SWC meeting at Suzzallo Café on April 1. The officer sat at a nearby table taking notes, noting that the event was not open to the public. The officer also provided an e-mail update to a campus officer the next day, including the content of the meeting, the participants’ political beliefs, and their plans to work with different worker groups in the UW community. The officer also expressed interest to “locate the location of the next meeting to see if a plain clothes officer could fit in.” Her superior and a deputy chief lauded her efforts in monitoring the SWC.
“We urge the University to issue a clear statement that government surveillance based on political ideology is not permissible,” ACLU of Washington Executive Director Kathleen Taylor said in a letter to Vice Provost Eric Godfrey.
UW Law School graduates Salmun Kazerounian and Sarah White called “spying on workers and student activists an embarrassing waste of public resources.” Kazerounian and White met with the provost who expressed concern at the incident and said the university would work toward tightening up its policy. “It’s also important that the policy gets enforced,” said ACLU spokesperson Doug Honig. “We are glad to work with the university if they need any help with the policy-making.”