August 22, 2019 | 89° F

EDITORIAL: Even at Rutgers, knowledge is power

Administration has ability to view your school emails


The importance of knowledge in relation to power is a recurring theme in the history of our world. Considering the increasingly digital and technologically-dominated age we live in, knowledge of a people is seemingly becoming easier and easier for those in power to acquire. With knowledge of a people’s actions, an authority or elite not only has an increased influence over them, but can learn how they might effectively stay in power and stamp out uprisings of sorts. 

The CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, was questioned in a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees yesterday in the wake of the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal. Cambridge Analytica is company that specializes in data-driven campaigns and marketing and is hired to help businesses and politicians. They apparently acquired data on up to 87 million Facebook users, which was likely used for some campaigning purposes. Interestingly on Cambridge Analytica’s Political homepage, one of the first things it says is, “We find your voters and move them to action. CA Political has redefined the relationship between data and campaigns. By knowing your electorate better, you can achieve greater influence while lowering overall costs.” The campaign brands of President Donald J. Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-T.X.) and Ben Carson are all included directly underneath the aforementioned quote. This brings up interesting questions, especially ethical questions, with regard to the way we want our electoral system to work — if politicians can tailor their campaign to pander toward groups and win votes, does that not seemingly defeat the purpose of campaigning based on genuine ideas and goals? In general, though, this scandal shows that there is at least some truth in the fact that knowledge helps people attain and maintain power. 

The relationship between knowledge and power is not necessarily much different here at Rutgers. In August of 2016, the University adopted Rutgers Connect, which is a system modeled on Microsoft Office 365. One of the main features of Rutgers Connect is the subsequent merging of the University’s departmental email systems into a single cloud-based system — something Rutgers faculty have been rather skeptical of. Some faculty worries are related to the fact that, as it turns out, through Office 365 administrators have the ability to capture and surveil the emails of anyone on the server, as well as other information. This is not to say that the University had any sort of nefarious or sinister intentions in adopting Rutgers Connect, but it is interesting to think about the power that the administration acquires through its implementation. 

By having access to the emails and other actions of Rutgers students and faculty, the administration has the ability to do things like more effectively investigate sexual assaults, harassment or other sorts of misconduct. Additionally, they might be able to prevent cyber crimes against University affiliates. But knowing the administration may be peeking over our shoulders can have other unforeseen negative consequences. With regard to academia, it could conceivably chill academic debate. Faculty may watch what they say more closely, especially when it is about Old Queens — which is troubling because any subject of an authority should be able to question and criticize that authority without feeling the need to be cautious. 

If the connection between knowledge and power can be shown even with regard to our own University’s administration, it seems to be worth at least thinking about. Allowing the administration to acquire more power may in turn make us more secure — kind of like putting our shoes and bags through the X-ray in an airport — but whether we are more secure in giving up our privacy also depends on the nature of the people who end up acquiring that information. We just have to hope those we elect have good intentions, since they may very well be running campaigns based on the popular prejudices they compiled from our internet data. 


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 150th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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