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OSU role in FBI program raises questions

Ohio State is involved in an FBI information sharing program called InfraGard that some critics say lacks transparency and raises questions about privacy rights.

InfraGard, which began in the FBI’s Cleveland Field Office in 1996, is a private organization that serves as a public-private partnership for sharing information and intelligence to prevent hostile acts against the United States. Many civil and privacy rights groups are wary of InfraGard’s transparency policies.

Amy Murray, OSU spokeswoman, confirmed in an email that OSU is an Infragard member after she spoke to OSU security network personnel.

“OSU is an InfraGard member, and in the past, several of the university’s Office of the Chief Information Officer security staff have served on the local InfraGard board,” Murray said in the email. “However, none currently are.”

Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said InfraGard is deceptive in how they present themselves.

“What they are doing looks illegal. They are presenting themselves as a federal agency program, but they are not,” Coney said.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center is a public interest group that focuses on protecting privacy, the First Amendment and constitutional values.

Matthew Rothschild, editor of “The Progressive,” a monthly political magazine, has written about InfraGard’s activities in the past. Rothschild said the activities of InfraGard should raise some questions.

“I am very surprised OSU is a member of this secretive organization … The university should be open for truth and it’s troubling they have anything to do with InfraGard,” Rothschild said. “If I was a student or an employee, I would question what this organization is up to.”

Jenny Shearer, an FBI spokeswoman for the Washington D.C. headquarters, said in an email that InfraGard partnerships can involve universities.

“It brings together subject matter experts from the public and private sectors to help protect our nation’s critical infrastructure and key resources from attacks by terrorists, criminals and others who wish us harm,” Shearer wrote in the email.

When asked if InfraGard has ever been used to access college students records, data or communications for national security reasons, Shearer said no.

“InfraGard is made up of individual citizens interested in protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure. It is not used for investigative activity,” Shearer said.

John Young, founder of Cryptome.org, a website that releases financial and government information to the public, said that because of InfraGard’s private status, it is able to access information other public agencies cannot.

“InfraGard is a quasi-information organization that does things the government cannot do,” Young said.

Private groups are less regulated than government agencies, and Young said InfraGard is a combination of both.

“The disclosure of student information disclosed to Ohio State or other institutions is not disclosed to the FBI,” Young said. “These organizations gather the classified data that the FBI cannot legally access.”

Ron Reed, a member of the FBI’s Public Private Alliance Unit, said in an email that InfraGard’s partnerships work by networking with InfraGard members from within critical infrastructure sectors.

Reed wrote that InfraGard and the intelligence community are linked. He said there are currently about 43,000 individual members.

Brian Moeller, an ex-InfraGard member who currently works as a senior system developer at OSU, said in an email that in 1996, the FBI realized they didn’t have all the knowledge necessary to protect the information infrastructure.

Moeller wrote that InfraGard’s organization would be somehow protected by forming a partnership with the FBI and that in return, the FBI assisted InfraGard with knowledge regarding how U.S. law applies to cybercrime.

While other groups are worried about transparency, one organization is concerned that InfraGard might be involved in spying.

Mike Brickner, communications and public policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union said in a email that InfraGard might be linked to spying.

“The ACLU is concerned that InfraGard may be used by the FBI as a way to spy on average citizens,” Brickner said. “While there is certainly an interest in the government working with private businesses on specific cases where there is credible evidence of terrorist activity, InfraGard seems to work by having the private companies cast as wide a net as possible.”

Brickner said there was a lack of transparency of how InfraGard works.

“There is very little transparency or accountability, so the average citizen, government watchdogs and the media have very little knowledge about the inner workings of InfraGard and who has or has not been investigated,” Brickner wrote.

Luis Bustamante, a graduate in medicine from OSU, said InfraGard should be transparent in its work with OSU.

“(I) don’t like that OSU is part of this organization, especially because it’s a public university,” Bustamante said. “The tax-paying public should have more knowledge about InfraGard’s activities.”

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