Breaking: Recording Device Allegedly Found in the Lounge

Reclaim Harvard Law School occupiers have found a recording device that they suspect of surveilling their ongoing occupation.

The voice-activated Sony machine was uncovered in the lounge, which Reclaimers call Belinda Hall, early Tuesday. It was adhered by Velcro under one of the tables. Reclaimers worry that it was used to spy on students for multiple days.

Though protesters do not know the contents of the recording, Reclaim HLS issued a press release detailing several of the events that occurred during the time frame in which the device is alleged to have been planted under the table.

Keaton Allen-Gessesse, a third-year student, noted that “[i]n this time frame, Belinda Hall hosted admitted students engaging in personal conversation, a sexual assault bystander training complete with survivor narratives, and tenants from the Greater Boston area sharing their stories of eviction.”

The HLS Administration was not informed of the incident prior to Reclaim Harvard’s press release this morning. Instead, members contacted lawyers who they felt they could trust.

HLS Director of Communications Robb London issued a statement to The Record.

“Our mission as an institution of higher learning depends on protecting and promoting the free exchange of ideas in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. We deeply prize those values. The Law School administration is troubled by an allegation that anyone in our community would attempt to surreptitiously record anyone else’s conversation. Having learned of this allegation today, after a group of students sent out a press release, the Law School has referred the matter to the Harvard University Police Department for investigation.”

It is a violation of Massachusetts state law to surreptitiously record a conversation. The identity of who placed the tape recorder in the lounge is currently unknown.

Members of the movement say they remain committed to its reform campaigns related to critical race theory, financial justice, and workers’ rights.

“Surveillance has historically been used to distract from the substance of what is happening, but we will not be distracted,” third-year student Rena Karefa-Johnson said. “We are going to push forward.”

This story is developing. Please send updates to Lindsay Church, Co-Editor-in-Chief, at lchurch@jd16.law.harvard.edu. You may also email our News Editor, Brianna Rennix, at brennix@jd18.law.harvard.edu.

Update 1Friday afternoon, Francis McCrossin, HLS Dean for Administration, issued the following statement to members of the Law School community:

Earlier today, the Law School administration became aware of an account in a Reclaim press release and web post (both of which were made public this morning) alleging that several days ago, a voice-activated tape recorder was discovered in the lounge. The account alleges further that this tape recorder was placed there by persons unknown to engage in surveillance of conversations in the lounge.

Our mission as an institution of higher learning depends on protecting and promoting the free exchange of ideas in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. We deeply prize those values. The Law School administration is troubled by an allegation that anyone in our community would attempt to surreptitiously record anyone else’s conversation. After learning of this allegation this morning, the Law School referred the matter to the Harvard University Police Department for investigation.

Anyone who may have information relevant to this matter is asked to contact the Dean of Students Office or HUPD.

Update 2: On Monday, April 11, Francis McCrossin issued a second statement to the HLS community:

After learning about allegations of unauthorized digital recording on campus, in order to insure student safety and privacy, the Law School with the help of Harvard University Police has checked classrooms and public work spaces to ensure that there are no unauthorized recording devices there.  No such devices have been found.

Update 3: Later on Monday, April 11, Dean of Students Marcia Sells sent a clarification email to HLS students with additional information about recording devices. It was revealed that students reported finding additional recording devices in a WCC classroom. Velcro strips were also found on three pieces of furniture in the Haas Lounge and Simpson Thatcher Lounge.

I write to provide some additional information on developments since the Law School administration was notified last Friday that a group of students reported that they had discovered a concealed audio recorder in the Haas Lounge.  On Saturday morning, two students came to me to report that a second audio recorder was said to have been discovered by a student in a classroom in the WCC early last week. Later on Saturday, an audio recorder was received from a student in connection with this second report and I turned it over to HUPD. 

Over the weekend and early this morning, Law School staff conducted a check of classrooms and public work spaces on campus. There was velcro found under desks in two classrooms in the WCC. Today, the Haas Lounge and Simpson Thacher lounge were thoroughly checked by HUPD. Velcro strips were found on three pieces of furniture. No recording devices were found.

Anyone with information relevant to the investigation is asked to contact HUPD.

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