Surveillance Defense for Campus Protests

Deeplinks 2024-06-07


The recent wave of protests calling for peace in Palestine have been met with unwarranted and aggressive suppression from law enforcement, universities, and other bad actors. It’s clear that the changing role of surveillance on college campuses exacerbates the dangers faced by all of the communities colleges are meant to support, and only serves to suppress lawful speech. These harmful practices must come to an end, and until they do, activists should take precautions to protect themselves and their communities. There are no easy or universal answers, but here we outline some common considerations to help guide campus activists.

Protest Pocket Guide

How We Got Here

Over the past decade, many campuses have been building up their surveillance arsenal and inviting a greater police presence on campus. EFF and fellow privacy and speech advocates have been clear that this is a dangerous trend that chills free expression and makes students feel less safe, while fostering an adversarial and distrustful relationship with the administration.

Many tools used on campuses overlap with the street-level surveillance used by law enforcement, but universities are in a unique position of power over students being monitored. For students, universities are not just their school, but often their home, employer, healthcare provider, visa sponsor, place of worship, and much more. This reliance heightens the risks imposed by surveillance, and brings it into potentially every aspect of students’ lives.

Putting together a security plan is an essential first step to protect yourself from surveillance.

EFF has also been clear for years: as campuses build up their surveillance capabilities in the name of safety, they chill speech and foster a more adversarial relationship between students and the administration. Yet, this expansion has continued in recent years, especially after the COVID-19 lockdowns.

This came to a head in April, when groups across the U.S. pressured their universities to disclose and divest their financial interest in companies doing business in Israel and weapons manufacturers, and to distance themselves from ties to the defense industry. These protests echo similar campus divestment campaigns against the prison industry in 2015, and the campaign against apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. However, the current divestment movement has been met with disroportionate suppression and unprecedented digital surveillance from many universities.

This guide is written with those involved in protests in mind. Student journalists covering protests may also face digital threats and can refer to our previous guide to journalists covering protests.

Campus Security Planning

Putting together a security plan is an essential first step to protect yourself from surveillance. You can’t protect all information from everyone, and as a practical matter you probably wouldn’t want to. Instead, you want to identify what information is sensitive and who should and shouldn’t have access to it.



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Rory Mir, Thorin Klosowski, Christian Romero

Date tagged:

06/07/2024, 20:04

Date published:

06/07/2024, 12:06