When a group of students from Iowa State University (ISU) contacted us earlier this month about forming an ISU Digital Freedom group, they were facing an unexpected problem: despite their simple goal of fostering a healthy conversation around freedom-enhancing software, the university administration denied them official recognition. The university has since granted the Digital Freedom group the green-light to meet on campus, but under unduly restrictive conditions. These students’ story is instructive to students around the country and the world who are concerned about online privacy.
The administration initially denied the Digital Freedom Group's proposal because it did not want ISU students either to advocate for or participate in the “secrecy network” Tor, and would not permit the student group to use any “free software designed to enable online anonymity.” The students had not proposed that a Tor node be established on campus. Rather they asked that they be able to provide a forum to “discuss, learn and practice techniques to anonymize and protect digital communication.”
The students were told they had to gain clearance from the Iowa State University attorneys and security clearance from the university's Chief Information Officer. They were ultimately successful, and Iowa State University is now home to its very own Digital Freedom Group.