According to an Associated Press report released Saturday, the Columbia University’s Muslim Students Association’s website was subject to monitoring by the New York Police Department. An October report, also from AP, revealed that the NYPD had been monitoring eight other colleges in the city. Saturday’s report uncovered further details regarding the NYPD’s monitoring activities with an expanded list of colleges, including University of Pennsylvania and Yale University, and is the first to mention Columbia’s Muslim Students Association.
The report limits its mention of Columbia to stating that the NYPD had monitored MSA’s website. At other colleges, the NYPD has engaged in activities with other Muslim student associations that are far more alarming. In one example, an undercover officer was sent on a whitewater rafting trip with Muslim students from the City College of New York. This level of surveillance seems excessive and unjustified.
Moreover, this program’s invasion of privacy is disturbing, and its profiling is offensive. A 2006 NYPD report shows the NYPD’s Cyber Intelligence unit had by then made visiting Muslim student associations’ websites a “daily routine.” More than five years later, there has been no indication that this has stopped or that surveillance has not been expanded.
Columbia spokesman Robert Hornsby’s statement to the AP is a promising initial reaction. “Like New York City itself, American universities are admired across the globe as places that welcome a diversity of people and viewpoints. So we would obviously be concerned about anything that could chill our essential values of academic freedom or intrude on student privacy,” Hornsby wrote.
Columbia should continue to pressure the NYPD to be more forthcoming about its surveillance of MSA. While we understand that the NYPD has security concerns, its rationale connecting Muslim student associations to terrorism is weak.