Undercover Surveillance Involving MSU Student Organizations¹

In its Resolution of September 21, 2001, the MSU Board of Trustees directed that undercover surveillance of student organizations should occur only in “extraordinary circumstances” and should not be a part of normal police operations. The Board further directed that the University President is responsible for implementation of this Resolution.

Undercover surveillance potentially threatens the delicate balance in an academic community between protecting freedom and ensuring security. To safeguard individual liberties, the President should consider the mission of the university before responding to a request to approve undercover surveillance of student organizations. In addition, the President must have a workable definition of “extraordinary circumstances” to guide him or her.

This statement defines “extraordinary circumstances” as situations in which reasonable cause exists to conclude that actions of MSU student groups on campus could lead to loss of life, physical harm or substantial property damage. Peaceful protests or demonstrations are not “extraordinary circumstances”.

Guidelines for Conducting Undercover Surveillance of MSU Student Organizations

1. If the Police Chief has reason to believe that the conditions for “extraordinary circumstances” have been met, he/she must inform the President before taking action.

2. The President then determines if the situation constitutes “extraordinary circumstances”.

3. Before determining that undercover surveillance is necessary, the President should seek advice and options from the following:

a. General Counsel

b. Vice President for Student Affairs and Services

c. Provost

4. If feasible, the President should seek student input.

5. Given the advice and options provided by these parties, the President should determine an appropriate course of action to ensure the safety of the campus and an environment that promotes and protects individual liberties.

6. If the President determines that undercover surveillance of a student organization is appropriate, he or she should set clear goals and the parameters for the surveillance. Any need for significant changes in the goals or parameters of the surveillance shall be reported to the President to determine whether those changes are authorized in accordance with this procedure.

7. The Police Chief will provide weekly reports regarding the ongoing undercover surveillance to the President.

8. Approval for undercover surveillance of an MSU student organization will expire when the “extraordinary circumstances” no longer exist and, in all cases, after a four month period, unless the President extends the surveillance.

Records Regarding Undercover Surveillance of MSU Student Organizations
If the President authorizes an undercover surveillance, the University will prepare and maintain indefinitely a written record available to the public containing the following procedural information:

1. The fact that undercover surveillance was conducted of an MSU student organization.

2. The fact that such undercover surveillance was approved in accordance with these guidelines, including a list of any other options considered, and a list of University officials consulted.

3. The dates of the surveillance.

4. Whether an arrest or conviction occurred as a result of the surveillance.

If the Police Chief requests an undercover surveillance of an MSU student organization, and if the President refers the matter to a law enforcement agency external to MSU, the University will prepare and maintain indefinitely a written record of this referral.

To protect the privacy of the parties investigated, this written record will not contain the names of the individuals or organizations that were the subject of undercover surveillance.

The maintenance and release of other records, if any, regarding the undercover surveillance will be governed by applicable law and existing university record-keeping and destruction policies.

¹ These recommendations are applicable to undercover police surveillance of registered student organizations as well as to student groups which are not registered student organizations. In other words, the recommendations apply to student organizations as broadly understood. The recommendations do not, however, restrict undercover police activity with respect to groups of students who may be committing crimes for personal benefit like selling drugs or fencing stolen property. The main purpose of the recommendations is to protect individual liberties in the context of political and social activism.

Student Group Regulations, Administrative Rulings, All-University Policies, and Selected Ordinances