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UNR camera policy clashes with privacy, critics claim Frank

RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL | September 14, 2005
By X. Mullen

Critics of the University of Nevada, Reno's draft policy on campus video surveillance say the proposal does little to protect privacy rights, would allow cameras to be used to "snoop" on professors and employees and provide evidence to defend the university from lawsuits.

"The university faculty should recognize that their privacy is being submerged significantly because of the university's policy to maximize its position in litigation," said Richard Siegel, an emeritus professor of political science who also is president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.

Siegel and Frank Hartigan, the president of the Nevada Faculty Alliance, submitted a version of the policy weeks ago but said the text was rewritten by the UNR administration. They said the current version -- to be considered at 4 p.m. Thursday by the Faculty Senate in room 304 of the Reynolds School of Journalism -- doesn't contain protections they suggested and includes new language that further erodes faculty rights.

"I see very little in the draft policy that will protect the campus from excessive use of the cameras ... from allowing the cameras to be used for petty snooping," Siegel said. "The (draft) Frank and I worked on had the endorsement of the ACLU. This (draft) doesn't and it won't."

Jane Tors, UNR spokeswoman, said the new policy would provide for updated and clearer standards and procedures regarding the use of hidden and visible security cameras. Development of the policy included suggestions from faculty and staff, she said.

"We live in a different world since 9/11," Tors said. "I've seen national polls that have shown a vast majority of Americans will put up with video cameras in public places to support homeland security. Nonetheless, the use of video cameras by this university is conducted in compliance with the law and in a manner that seeks to minimize any intrusion on privacy."

But others said the policy is too broad.

"It seems big brother-ish to me," said Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who was concerned when a hidden police camera was discovered on campus in January. "It seems out of step with policies from other universities and it seems that for UNR, the climate of administrative control is continuing. They should be making the use of surveillance cameras more restrictive, not less."

Tors said the administration incorporated camera policies from other universities into UNR's draft. Yet, other institutions, including the University of Illinois, state that diversions of security technology for other purposes "would undermine the acceptability of these resources for critical safety goals" and is prohibited. Under UNR's proposed policy, the cameras could be used for disciplinary actions and to defend the university against lawsuits filed by faculty members or other employees.

Siegel said the provision to allow security camera footage to be used in lawsuits and a provision that subjects anyone who "tampers" with a hidden camera to disciplinary proceedings seems to be a reaction to the case of UNR Associate Professor Hussein S. Hussein. Hussein, who has filed two civil-rights suits against the university and reported animal mistreatment at UNR to federal authorities, found a UNR police camera hidden in a smoke detector outside his lab doors in January.

UNR tried to prosecute him for finding and "disabling" the camera, which campus police said was there to investigate graffiti on his door, but the Nevada Attorney General's Office determined Hussein had committed no crime. The UNR police removed the hidden camera, but then redirected a "homeland security" camera to keep an eye on Hussein's hallway doors.

"Some things in this policy seem to be a result of Hussein's case," Siegel said. "Under certain circumstances, such as his case, cameras might be used to limit or monitor the comings and goings of faculty members. This policy does not set that fear to rest."

Leah Wilds, Faculty Senate chairwoman, said she expects the members to vote Thursday to accept the camera policy.

"I can't predict how that will go," she said. "The concerns being raised (by Siegel and others) are shared by some of the senators, but I don't know how many."

She said Siegel and Hartigan will be invited to speak at the meeting.

 

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