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Harvard police are investigating allegations that an audio recording device illegally documented sensitive conversations Harvard Law School activists held in a hall they are occupying.
Several students with the activist group Reclaim Harvard Law School said they found a recording device on Tuesday that was taped under a table in the Caspersen Student Center Lounge and contained recordings of their conversations and events since last Saturday. According to a press release Reclaim Harvard Law published Friday, the recorder captured discussion that included personal conversations between students, a sexual assault bystander training at which victims recounted their assaults, and Boston-area residents sharing stories of eviction from their homes.
“It was just really scary,” second-year Law student and Reclaim Harvard Law member Simratpal Kaur said. “We were really surprised that anyone who maybe disagreed with our movement would go to this length.”
Students in Reclaim Harvard Law have been occupying the Caspersen Student Center Lounge—which they term “Belinda Hall”—since February in order to create the space they say has been denied to minority students at the school.
The students said they waited several days to report their discovery to the school so they could seek legal counsel and ensure that the people recorded on the device would be protected. They came forward with their finding in the press release Friday, and once notified, Law School spokesperson Robb London said administrators referred the matter to the Harvard University Police Department.
“Our mission as an institution of higher learning depends on protecting and promoting the free exchange of ideas in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. We deeply prize those values,” London said. “The Law School administration is troubled by an allegation that anyone in our community would attempt to surreptitiously record anyone else's conversation.”
Massachusetts state law states that all parties must consent to being recorded, and prohibits secretly recording communications. Violators of the law can face up to $10,000 in fines and five years in prison.
HUPD sent one officer to investigate Friday afternoon, but students declined to provide HUPD with evidence, HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano wrote in a statement.
While the school placed surveillance cameras in the adjacent Wasserstein Hall after a racially-charged incident of vandalism in November, it did not install cameras in the student lounge.
The incident comes as activists are embroiled in an intense debate about free speech at the Law School. Kaur said the discovery of the recording device has had a “chilling effect” on Reclaim Harvard Law activists’ occupation, since students feel uncomfortable speaking freely in the lounge.
“Students are shocked that this would happen, especially since Reclaim has been in this space for months and is super open,” Kaur said. “This almost seems like an intimidation tactic or a threat to say ‘this space was never really yours.’”
Kaur said activists are worried that the incident will create an environment of mistrust in the space. “We’re really going to push back against that, because that’s not the spirit of our movement,” she said.
Catalano said the HUPD investigation is continuing and officers are waiting for students to come forward with evidence and information.
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