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Higher education associations and groups promoting free speech on campus released a statement today in response to reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has advised research universities to monitor students and scholars from Chinese state-affiliated research institutions.

“This is an area where the government must tread carefully,” says the statement from Pen America, the American Association of University Professors, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and 19 other groups.

“If there are articulable concerns about specific individuals because of their activities and affiliations, those should be pursued without regard to the individual’s country of origin. Disclosure requirements, information sharing and export control enforcement all offer powerful means to protect against intellectual property theft and espionage without resorting to tactics that cast suspicion on potentially hundreds of thousands of students and scholars. Federal agencies need to clarify and specify their concerns, and ensure that their efforts do not trample on individual rights nor on the principle of free and open academic inquiry and exchange.”

The statement comes in the context of growing concerns among national security officials and lawmakers alike about the risk of Chinese students and scholars exploiting the open and collaborative environments of U.S. universities to steal technology and intellectual property.