CALIFORNIA — School officials at the University of California at San Diego are backing off from their order that a student organization’s Web site hosted on the school’s server cannot link to an alleged terrorist group’s Web site. The university had contended that the link was a clear violation of the U.S.A. Patriot Act and university policies.
Administrators early last month claimed the official Web site for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia, also known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, could be accessed through the site of a student group on the university’s network server. FARC is listed as a foreign terrorist organization on the U.S. State Department’s August list of known terrorist groups.
The school’s claim that the link violated the Patriot Act stirred national media attention and heightened tension on campus between administrators and the student cooperative whose site contains the link.
Administrators sent a letter to the Che Café, the student cooperative that operates burn.ucsd.edu, also known as BURN!, ordering the group to remove all hyperlinks to the FARC Web site.
Gary Ratcliff, the director of University Centers, stated in the letter sent Sept. 16, “Providing material support or resources to a designated [terrorist organization] is a violation of federal law. Using UCSD computing resources to violate federal laws is against UCSD Policies.”
Ratcliff also stated that the Patriot Act not only prohibits providing money and training to terrorist organizations, but the Act also bans supplying communications equipment.
Administrators said they planned to repeal the first letter saying now that the hyperlinks are not the cause of the complaint.
Administrators say they only object to the student group “hosting” the alleged terrorist site, which they are now investigating.
“Hyperlinks are acceptable,” said Nicholas S. Aguilar, director of student policies and judicial affairs. “Our concern is with the Web site that is hosted using university computer resources. In this case it’s very specific. We are concerned that the BURN! Site is being used to host a foreign terrorist organization in violation of federal law.”
But members of the progressive and radical Che Café contend the BURN! site has not hosted a Web page for FARC since 1996.
“The problem with having non-computer savvy lawyers deal with this is that they don’t know what they’re talking about. A simple DNS [Domain Name System] look-up or whois query [a global domain name search] on farc-ep.org would reveal that it’s being hosted in Switzerland,” said Dade Murphy, a representative for BURN!.
In a letter members of the Che Café sent to Ratcliff, students stated, “What does it mean to ‘provide material support’ to support terrorists? If access to information and academic freedom in a public research university constitute material support to terrorists, it should come as no surprise that civil liberties and free speech have been among the casualties of the war on terrorism.”
The Che Café Collective members contend that the student group is not offering financial, training or housing support for the alleged terrorist group but merely offering the hyperlink to the FARC site.
“We simply provide a link to their page so that people can make up their own minds about them,” according to the BURN! site.
This is not the first time that the BURN! site has faced controversy. The Web site initially started as a project of the UCSD Communications Department in 1993 as an experiment in “a new type of media.” After the department was pressured to remove content in spring 2000, a student group, Groundwork Collective Co-op, stepped in and took control of the site.
Shortly after the group took control of the site, UCSD administrators pressured Groundwork to remove some of its content. Administrators said that the link to a different alleged terrorist organization, the Kurdistan Workers Party, violated UCSD policy. And unlike this case with Che Cafe, the Groundwork Collective was ordered to remove the link and was placed on probation. The BURN! Web site was then taken over by the Che Café Collective.
Aguilar said he is unsure what if any disciplinary action the Che Café could possibly face if the group is found to be hosting a Web page for the FARC on the university server.