Law School affiliates discovered additional physical evidence of illegal audio recording activity over the weekend and on Monday, heightening activists’ concerns about surveillance of private conversations.
Early last week, activists with the group Reclaim Harvard Law first found a recording device stuck beneath a table in the Caspersen Student Center lounge, which they call “Belinda Hall” and have been occupying since February. Activists said the device had captured conversations in the hall—some of which they considered sensitive—for four days. They disclosed their findings to administrators and the public with a press release last Friday, prompting the Harvard University Police Department to open an investigation at the request of administrators.
Recording conversations without the consent of both parties is a crime in Massachusetts, punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and five years in prison.
The discovery of a second recording device complicated the investigation over the weekend. A student approached administrators Saturday to report that they had discovered the device in a classroom early last week. The student gave the recorder to administrators, who provided it to HUPD, according to an email the Law School’s Dean of Students Marcia L. Sells sent to Law School affiliates Monday evening. Activists said the student who found the second recorder is not affiliated with Reclaim Harvard Law.
Separate inspections of Law School facilities by staff, student activists, and HUPD officers also uncovered strips of velcro used to affix recording devices to furniture in several classrooms and sites in the lounge. Reclaim Harvard Law member Bianca S. Tylek said the classrooms where velcro was found hold classes that have extensively discussed recent activism at the school.
Activists said they have not yet turned the first recording device over to investigating officers because they are working with attorneys to protect the people whose sensitive conversations were captured, Tylek said. She also said activists have only briefly interacted with police officers and felt uncomfortable divulging information with administrators present. She said Sells requested that they hand over the device to HUPD.
Reclaim Harvard Law members publicly aired concerns about what they perceive as collaboration between administrators and HUPD during the investigation in a press release Tuesday.
“We find it hard to trust the Harvard University Police Department charged with the investigation given their close relationship with the administration,” second-year Law student Simratpal Kaur wrote in the statement.
Administrators initially offered to assist in the HUPD sweep of the student lounge on Monday. Law School spokesperson Robb London said administrators who were present only offered to lift furniture and were not sent to intervene in the sweep. Still, Tylek said activists found this behavior inappropriate in a criminal investigation, even one occurring at the school at the request of administrators.
“If it is a criminal investigation, it should be conducted by the police without the input of an interested party,” Tylek said.
London denied any inappropriate partnership with police officers.
“There is no collaboration beyond our passing along information we learn about, or trying to accommodate or facilitate HUPD’s requests to examine publicly accessible locations on our campus or to interview students,” he wrote in an email.
London deferred to HUPD to answer whether officers were sharing their findings with administrators. HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano wrote that HUPD does not comment on ongoing investigations as a matter of policy.
—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.
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