Columbia student group panics amidst House investigation into school’s anti-Semitism

Columbia’s SJP claimed that ‘Columbia Wi-Fi & services are being surveilled in a McCarthyite program to provide evidence for the House committee investigation.’

In a message to Campus Reform, the Ivy League school denied the allegation that it is spying on students’ messages.

A pro-Palestinian group at Columbia University warned students to be cautious about what they do online in the face of a Congressional investigation into the Ivy League over anti-Semitism.

In a March 5 Instagram post, Columbia’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) issued an “Urgent Notice To The Student Body,” warning that “Columbia Wi-Fi & services are being surveilled in a McCarthyite program to provide evidence for the House committee investigation.”

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The SJP announcement comes after the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, led by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), began investigating Columbia this February over its alleged “environment of pervasive antisemitism,” as Campus Reform wrote

In its Instagram post, SJP advised students to “download a VPN on your [personal devices],” “enable a hotspot that is connected to your personal cell phone data,” “disable WiFi connection to Columbia WiFi unless absolutely necessary,” “use Signal at all times for sensitive messages,” and “use Cryptpad for all sensitive document sharing,” among other measures.

The group also warned students not to “open anything you wouldn’t want an administrator to see while on the Columbia WiFi or while using a Columbia service,” “send anything sensitive over iMessage or WiFi based messaging app, except Signal,” or “post anything on Sidechat that you wouldn’t want law enforcement to see.” 

SJP concluded: “To be clear, this is an egregious infringement on student privacy with the goal of suppressing pro-Palestine advocacy. Every student has a right to privacy and a right to be informed when your right to privacy is being violated. We keep us safe.” 

[RELATED: A history of Students for Justice in Palestine, the anti-Israel group behind recent campus controversy]

A Columbia official denied claims that it is surveilling students, telling Campus Reform: “The claim that Columbia is surveilling users of university Wi-Fi and services is not true. Columbia University Information Technology manages and maintains the network (wired and Wi-Fi connections), email, and other services for the Columbia community and does not surveil these (or any) systems or its users. There are systems put in place to protect our users and our assets - such as email filters for spam and firewalls/Access Control Lists to prevent bad actors from accessing our systems. Those are rule-based automations and they do not screen for content.”

As Campus Reform noted last December, Columbia’s SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace were previously suspended by the school “for allegations of anti-Semitism” but seemed to “still be holding unauthorized events on campus.”

Campus Reform has reached out to Columbia’s SJP for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.