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The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sent a letter to the U.S. attorney general and the secretary of homeland security Tuesday urging them to ensure a recent initiative to track hate threats and antisemitism on college campuses does not threaten First Amendment rights.  

Although the letter states that it is “entirely appropriate” for the Biden administration to address threats of violence on campus, it also notes past surveillance abuses involving “racial, religious and political minorities” and calls on the agencies to clarify the scope of the initiative and to institute the proper safeguards. 

Reporting by NBC News and Government Executive suggests the initiative will delegate 100 cybersecurity advisers and 125 protective security advisers to work directly with campus law enforcement. Online threats will also be included in the scope of surveillance. The news outlets reported that limited information has been shared about how the speech will be monitored and whether any guardrails will be used.

“In the absence of those limits and oversight, there is a risk that the new initiative will result in the surveillance and investigation of students’ constitutionally protected speech and protest about the war,” the Knight Institute letter reads.

“The administration is right to be concerned about the safety of students,” Adriana Lamirande, a Knight Institute spokesperson, wrote in an email. “Federal agencies have a role to play in tracking and investigating such incidents, but they must be careful not to expand their mandate in a way that infringes on constitutionally protected activity.”