SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: September 09, 2013

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Johns Hopkins University

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On September 9, 2013 Matthew Green, a computer science professor at John Hopkins University, was asked to take down a blog post criticizing the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) for allegedly interfering with encryption standards and  attempting to gain access to encrypted information by bypassing security mechanisms. The blog post contained a link to a media article and the NSA logo.
In an email, Andrew Douglas, the interim dean of the Whiting School of Engineering, reportedly asked Professor Green to either take down the post or get a lawyer. Dennis O’Shea, a university spokesperson, stated that the takedown request was made following allegations that the post hosted or linked to classified material. According to O’Shea, Professor Green’s blog post was noticed initially by an employee of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, which does work for the NSA. However, O’Shea has stated that the decision was made solely by the university, without any involvement by the NSA.
After concerns were raised about the incident, the university administration reversed its decision, allowing Professor Green to repost his blog. Andrew Douglas reportedly stated that the motivation for the request had been protecting the university and Green from “legal consequences.”  
Professor Green, a well-known cryptographer, has been actively involved in recent discussions around NSA’s reportedly controversial access to private information online. The original blog post is in wide circulation and experts view it as integral to the public debate around the issue.
Scholars at Risk welcomes the results of Johns Hopkins’ internal review process, allowing Professor Green to repost his blog. Scholars at Risk remains concerned, however, about apparent interference with a scholar’s expressive activity in the area of his or her professional expertise. State and university authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with such expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Unreasonable restrictions on such expressive activity undermine academic freedom and related higher education values including institutional autonomy and social responsibility.