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Vest reflects on privacy challenges prompted by Sept. 11 attacks

President Charles M. Vest saluted the MIT community for its actions and activities in the six months since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the United States, and reflected on future challenges revolving around privacy, openness and access to information.

"We have much to be proud of in our communal response to this point, but many issues and opportunities remain before us," Vest wrote in the MIT Faculty Newsletter for January/February.

Executive Vice President John R. Curry, chair of the Task Force on Campus Security, and Dean for Undergraduate Education Robert P. Redwine, head of the Task Force's Working Group on Information Policy and Privacy Issues, wrote on security and privacy in the same edition of the newsletter. The Vest, Curry and Redwine articles are available at /newsoffice/nr/2002/fnl/vest.html . A comprehensive article on campus security will appear in the near future in Tech Talk.

"I do not believe there is an inherent conflict between national security and an appropriately open educational environment," Vest said. "Members of the MIT community are engaged in several working groups in Washington that will help shape new laws and policies that will impinge on the activities of universities. To date, these discussions have been quite collegial. Nonetheless, we must and will remain vigilant with respect to specific proposals."

Noting that "only a few members of the MIT community" have been interviewed by law enforcement officials investigating terrorist-related activities, Vest continued: "We recommend that members of our community cooperate with legitimate investigations, but we have promulgated detailed information about the appropriate conduct of such interviews and the rights of individuals with respect to them." Copies of these guidelines are available from the International Scholars Office and the International Students Office.

Vest said he had asked the Committee on Protection of Human Life and Infrastructure, co-chaired by Associate Provost Claude Canizares and Vice President for Research/Associate Provost Alice Gast, to consider the role MIT can play in using technology to help resolve crucial issues that confront society.

"This has been a dark time, and it has cried out for new understandings and action," Vest said. "I hope that we can and will provide some of them."

Vest singled out Curry, Chancellor Phillip L. Clay, Vice President Kathryn A. Willmore and Faculty Chair Stephen C. Graves for their leadership in bringing the community together in the wake of Sept.11. He also cited the housemasters, residential tutors, graduate resident assistants and others on the staff and faculty "who worked tirelessly to provide support and a sense of security" to MIT's students.

"It was the spontaneous upswelling of thoughtful actions that stands out in my mind," he said, noting the community gathering on Killian Court on Sept. 12, the Reflecting Wall, the campus Muslim community's dinners and forums, the Center for International Studies series of discussions and the students, faculty and staff who organized rallies against violence.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 13, 2002.

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