Boston University

The National Security Agency can legally monitor every American, inside and outside the U.S., “by collecting their network traffic abroad,” according to a working paper by researchers at Harvard University and Boston University.

This can happen without any checks and balances from Congress or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees surveillance requests from the NSA, said researchers Axel Arnbak of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and Sharon Goldberg, a BU assistant professor of computer science.

The paper documents what it calls “interdependent technical and legal loopholes” that the NSA could use to snoop on American citizens inside the U.S.

Arnbak and Goldberg aren’t the only ones raising red flags. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent federal agency that ensures “liberty concerns” are considered in anti-terrorism policy, is reviewing the same NSA legal authority as the researchers, and a former State Department official warned in a recent op-ed the legal authority is prone to abuse.

The researchers focus on Executive Order 12333, which was issued by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 to authorize foreign intelligence investigations, and the U.S. Signals Intelligence Directive 18. The executive order “has largely been ignored by the public and other branches of Government in recent months, especially since relevant legal documents related to EO 12333 remain classified or redacted,” the working paper said.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) limit the NSA’s authority to carry out domestic electronic surveillance, whereas the executive order does not have any congressional oversight and has never been subject to court review.

If messages between two people in the U.S. are intercepted and rerouted through overseas routers, Arnbak and Goldberg say, the NSA could stockpile massive amounts of data and content without violating U.S. law.

“There are various ways one could ‘deliberately’ reroute traffic international[ly] in a manner that is very hard to detect,” such as through “DNS cache poisoning,” Goldberg told The College Fix. She clarified that there’s no evidence “that the NSA or any other government agency is actually doing this,” and that her study with Arnbak was meant to shine a light on loopholes, not to disclose illegal wiretaps.

Executive Order 12333 is on the “short-term agenda” of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, following its review of Section 215 and FISA Section 702, Chairman David Medine said at the body’s July 23 public meeting.

The attorney general’s guidelines for implementing the executive order – some of which go back 30 years – had already been identified as “outdated, to say the least,” when Medine joined the board last year, he said. The board will keep advocating not only for the guidelines to be updated, but consider “how to approach 12333 more broadly” and look at staff recommendations for the order’s operations, he said.

It’s legal to collect an individual’s communications if that collection happens “incidentally” during the course of a lawful overseas foreign intelligence investigation, The Washington Post reported last month following a four-month investigation. An affected U.S. person, who may have never directly interacted with a lawful target, does not have to be suspected of wrongdoing, and there’s no limit on the volume of communications that may be collected and retained through such incidental eavesdropping.

Former State Department official John Napier Tye, who served as section chief for Internet freedom in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor until January and testified at Medine’s public meeting, warned in a Washington Post op-ed last month that Executive Order 12333’s definition of “incidental” is vague and ripe for abuse.

“‘Incidental’ collection may sound insignificant, but it is a legal loophole that can be stretched very wide,” Tye said. Citing reports that the NSA is building a Utah data center with its own power plant, he said. “‘Incidental collection’ might need its own power plant.”

While the executive order might have been a sensible measure in the past, with different levels of privacy for information depending on where it was gathered, “an email from New York to New Jersey is likely to wind up on servers in Brazil, Japan and Britain,” Tye wrote. “The same is true for most purely domestic communications.”

Arnbak agreed. “As long as you tailor your operation to those ancient laws,” he told The College Fix via email, “we find that a range of new surveillance techniques may be conducted fairly unrestrained.”

The NSA told the Boston Globe that neither the executive order nor the directive “authorizes targeting of US persons for electronic surveillance by routing their communications outside of the US.” The agency said that under federal law, it still needs to get a judge to approve a court order before it can “target any US person anywhere in the world for electronic surveillance.”

College Fix contributor Christopher White is a University of Missouri graduate student and an editorial assistant for The College Fix.

Like The College Fix on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

IMAGE: EFF Photos/Flickr


Via E! Online News:

While some may shriek with excitement at learning that Robin Thicke will perform at their school, a number of Boston University students are feeling quite the opposite.

In fact, members of the Humanists of Boston University have started a petition urging the school to cancel Thicke’s performance at their spring concert on March 4, at the Agganis Arena, arguing that “it is a dishonor to our feminist history to symbolically idolize Robin Thicke by allowing him to perform his misogynist music at our university.”

The petition, which as of (recently) had more than 1,500 names attached to it in support, also states, “Thicke’s hit song ‘Blurred Lines’ celebrates having sex with women against their will. Lyrics such as, “I know you want it,” explicitly use non-consensual language. And while watching the extremely explicit video, the insinuations grow from subtle to explicit to obnoxious.”

Read more.

Click HERE to Like The College Fix on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter! Click HERE

IMAGE: Floyd Brown / Flickr


The Daily Free Press, the independent student newspaper at Boston University, has issued an apology and has made plans for its employees to undergo “mandatory sensitivity training” for its tradition of turning headlines on its campus crime blotter into jokes.

The tradition was deemed offensive because the paper made light of sexual assaults and rapes.

Editors wrote:

As illustrated by a posting on XOJane … the Crime Logs sections of The Daily Free Press have repeatedly published callous sub-headlines making light of serious issues and inadvertently exploiting victims of crime for humor. On behalf of the Board of Directors of The Daily Free Press, we sincerely apologize for these headlines and any other material that may have caused harm or offense.

Though Crime Logs have traditionally aimed to satirize harmless, victimless crimes, these examples demonstrate a lack of sensitivity and empathy on the part of several editors. … Going forward, the Free Press will publish Crime Logs with only serious headlines … (and) we are updating past sub-headlines to reflect our new standards.

In addition to changing Crime Logs, we plan to begin mandatory sensitivity training for new editors at the start of each semester. …

The anonymous XOJane column in question was titled “It happened to me: I was raped at Boston University and the student newspaper made a joke of it.” She declined to cite the headline referencing her case, but did cite other examples:

  • A man tried to break into a female BU student’s on-campus dorm via her balcony. The classy title of this traumatizing incident that could have ended in theft/rape/kidnapping/murder? “Where for art thou, creepy dude?”

  • A man was beaten to the ground and had his head stomped on until he was unconscious and bleeding. “Stomp the yard.” I am sure the victim and his family are touched by this sweet, concerned commentary on his life-threatening injuries in the form of a Ne-Yo movie.

  • A female BU student was pushed over on the street and held down to have her genitals photographed by a stranger. “Trashford.” You know, a fun, in-joke pun, because it happened on Ashford Street which is inhabited by many BU students and therefore said to be fratty/trashy?! So funny! Like, seriously, give this writer a promotion! The victim will totally forget her trauma and feelings of dehumanization to congratulate you on your funny thing!

  • A female BU student’s door to her dorm room was vandalized with racial slurs. “Haters gonna hate.” Yes, I do hate you, you ignorant, thoughtless person whom I refuse to call a “writer.”

Click here to read the full XOJane column.

Click here to Like The College Fix on Facebook  /  Twitter: @CollegeFix


One of the three victims killed by the blasts at the Boston Marathon has been identified as a Boston University graduate student, campus officials said Tuesday.

The student’s name has not been released, pending permission from the family.

According to a campus press release, “the student was one of three friends who watched the race near the finish line. Another of the three students, also a BU grad student, was injured and is in stable condition at Boston Medical Center.”

The campus news release went on to say:

In a letter sent to the Boston University community Tuesday afternoon announcing the student’s death, President Robert A. Brown wrote that “our hearts and thoughts go out to the family and friends of both victims.”

Rev. Robert Hill, dean of Marsh Chapel, visited the injured student Monday evening and again yesterday afternoon. He reports that she underwent surgery on Monday and on Tuesday. “She is doing well,” says Hill. “She has her friends around her, and she will soon have family around her.”

The third BU student was unharmed.

The explosions, detonated seconds apart at about 3 p.m. near the finish line on Boylston Street, killed 3 people and injured more than 170. The Boston Globe identified two of the deceased as 8-year-old Martin Richard of Dorchester, Mass., and 29-year-old Krystle Campbell of Arlington, Mass.

Click here to Like The College Fix on Facebook.


Boston University issued an emergency alert on its homepage this afternoon, in response to news that two bombs were detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, in close proximity to the Boston University campus.

Initial reports indicate a dozen people are dead, with many more seriously injured.

University police advised all students and faculty:

“BUPD working with BPD and are requesting all people to stay clear of Kenmore Sq. and surrounding areas. Please return to your residence and remain indoors. Report any suspicious articles or activity to police.”

The Telegraph is streaming live updates on the story as news of the deadly attack unfolds.


Boston University professor Margaret A. Hagen was accused of uttering a politically incorrect sentence in the privacy of her office. Before long, she found herself in the Orwellian grasp of her campus’ liberal thought police–under investigation for possibly uttering words that offended a “protected class.”

Hagen tells her story today in an article for National Review Online.

‘F**k! The Maine same-sex-marriage initiative passed!”

This is what someone who does not know me and happened to be passing my university office the day after the fall elections allegedly heard me say on the telephone.

He filed a complaint with my employer’s Equal Opportunity Office.

On November 19, 2012, I was forced to meet with the executive director of the EOO, and with the chair of my department, to have a “conversation” about the complaint.

The director threatened to investigate on her own if I did not show up.

The complainant said that he found the allegedly overheard expression “offensive.” He said — or the director inferred — that he was gay, that the remark indicated a demeaning attitude toward his lifestyle and made him uncomfortable, and that believing that a senior professor felt vehement opposition to the passing of the Maine initiative created for him a “hostile work environment.”

The director assured me that the complaint was in an unspecified category that did not rise to the level of an actual legalcomplaint of harassment or discrimination.

I asked if she would investigate a complaint by someone with a traditional religious orientation who overheard a senior faculty member vehemently expressing joy that a state same-sex-marriage initiative had passed. She said, “No,” such a person would not be a member of a “protected class.”

Persevering, the director asked me again what I had said on the phone. I objected that she was inquiring about my political views. She denied that, saying she wanted to know what I had said only because a complainant’s knowing that a “senior faculty member” held a view different from his could make him “very uncomfortable.”

But only some discomfort-causing views are investigated by the university.

On April 29, 2009, my school’s official newspaper, BU Today, ran an interview with a Boston University law professor described as a gay-rights supporter and “an advisor for Outlaw, the law school’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender student group.” When asked about arguments against same-sex marriage, he replied, “Most of them are religiously based, but marriage is a civil institution. So I don’t think private morals have any place in this debate, and I don’t think I should have to live by someone else’s moral code or religion.”

I wrote to the university provost asking, “Is there a listing of political opinions that are acceptable to the university and/or to the EOO Director posted somewhere on our Web site to inform employees when they have the wrong views?” More than two months later, I got a reply stating that the university enforces all federal and state discrimination and harassment laws and, in addition, is a supporter of academic freedom.

Now, three and a half years later, the issue of political opinions acceptable to the university has arisen again. While there is no actual posting anywhere on the university website of political views that may not be expressed on the school campus, there is certainly an unwritten list that includes opposition to same-sex marriage, and there are real consequences to ignoring that list.

Accompanied as it was by the clear threat to undertake an “investigation” — presumably by questioning colleagues and students about my political beliefs — and the direct demand to know what political view I had expressed on the Maine marriage initiative, the EOO director ‘s coerced “conversation,” with the department chair present, was an unambiguous attempt to intimidate me…

Read professor Hagen’s full story, entitled “McCarthyism on Campus,” here.

Click here to Like The College Fix on Facebook.

Twitter: @CollegeFix