Eviscerating civil liberties in Foggy Bottom

Imagine a place where video cameras monitor your every move, a central computer records when you walk through a door and what you buy at the store and the police can search your room on a whim without your knowledge or permission. Imagine that you have to carry an identity card with you at all times, even when walking down a public street. And imagine that the security organization that patrols this place is seeking more authority, and now dogs.

Nope, you’re not in Beijing, Moscow or the year 1984.

University administrators are considering adding additional drug detection equipment to the University Police Department arsenal which could include police dogs, further eviscerating the paltry civil liberties GW students cling to. And drug offenses, presumably the only use for four-legged officers, have not even significantly increased.

GW students already live in one of the most invasive campuses security-wise in the nation. Student Judicial Services can apportion more severe penalties in certain circumstances than the city courts. The addition of police dogs seems a needless invasion of students’ privacy – a further over-extension of the megalomanical campus security force.

While the University’s desire to provide security is laudable, the excess is evident. It will make students feel more like prisoners released from their rooms to attend class, rather than adults.

Foggy Bottom students already endure some of the most invasive security measures in higher education. Cameras not only monitor the doors and courtyards of dorms, but also the hallways. Video surveillance systems are constantly watching students in their dorms, in the Marvin Center and in the Quad. In addition, students are required to use their access cards to gain access to their buildings. A central computer records every time a student uses their GWorld card to open a door or buys a Coke at Provisions, noting the time and place.

Students have to carry these cards at all times and produce them on demand to UPD officers, even when they are walking down a public sidewalk. Remember that one of the great things about America is that we don’t have a national identity card, because it’s considered an over-extension of government. But we are living in the nation’s capital where residents are taxed but not represented in Congress.

While the Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure and gives us rights of personal privacy, students at the “George Washington” University enjoy no such liberties. Currently the UPD and Community Living and Learning Center officials are not bound by warrants, rights of privacy or the due process that our real legal system is designed to protect. Any student can have their room searched entirely at any time, without their consent. Students have been subjected to such invasive and embarrassing searches when angry roommates baselessly tattle for example.

The addition of dogs would only undermine efforts to create a community of living and learning on a campus already populated by some of the most self-admittedly unhappy undergraduates in the nation. And while the University Police already enjoy invasive investigatory powers that that the Communist secret police would be jealous of, a bill before the District City Council would only expand the power of this pseudo-police organization.

While drug possession violations have not significantly increased this year, according to Student Judicial Services, the University is considering the draconian measure of allowing police dogs in our residence halls. Students caught with even miniscule amounts of marijuana in residence halls are already subjected to penalties far and beyond those that dispensed by real courts.

According to the Code of Student Conduct, students face eviction from their halls with no refund of their rent monies and a $50 fine. This means that students who have their housing revoked face a combined financial loss of more than $9,400 for simple possession. Most courts in the District punish such offenses with a few hours of community service. Moreover, the recovery of drugs from students’ rooms by the unwarranted searches conducted by the UPD would be inadmissible in real courts for violating the very liberties the Constitution guarantees.

While countries around the world including England, France and our northern neighbor Canada move to liberalize drug laws that have proven costly and futile in prevention, the University seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Even our University president has argued vehemently that our nation’s drug laws should be relaxed because the penalty for possession outweighs the crime.

Before the University sends its police department to the dogs, the school should think of the consequences. The administration will doubtlessly argue, probably on these very pages, that the addition of dogs will make the campus safer for law-abiding students with nothing to hide. But having officers patrol the hallways with dogs will not better morale at GW. (Who knows? It might even create more paranoia than the dreaded drugs students might consume.) Moreover, the department that is already seeking the expanded authority from the city for arrest powers within campus boundaries should be forced to respect students’ rights to privacy and due process.

-The writer is a student at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and the former Hatchet Metro Editor.

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