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Johns Hopkins Dean Apologizes to Researcher for NSA Blogging Kerfuffle

A Johns Hopkins University dean has publicly apologized to a research professor a day after demanding that he remove a blog post about the National Security Agency from university servers.

On Monday, Andrew Douglas, interim dean of the engineering school at Johns Hopkins, instructed Matthew Green, a cryptography researcher, to take down a post he had written about the NSA’s encryption-breaking tactics. The dean had received a complaint alleging that Mr. Green’s post contained links to classified material and improper use of the agency’s logo.

Mr. Green wrote about the dean’s demand on Twitter. Outrage, and news coverage, ensued. Several hours later, university officials announced that the claims about links to classified material had been incorrect, the NSA logo had been removed, and Mr. Green would be allowed to restore his blog post to the university network. (The post was only a “mirror” copy of an item that was never taken off the blog’s primary server, which is not on the Hopkins site.)

On Tuesday the university released an apologetic letter from Mr. Douglas to Mr. Green:

Dear Matt

I write to apologize for any difficulty I caused you yesterday over the post on your blog.  I realize now that I acted too quickly, on the basis of inadequate and–as it turns out–incorrect information.  I requested that you take down the post without adequately checking that information and without first providing you with an opportunity to correct it.

As an academic and as a member of the faculty at Johns Hopkins for 30 years, I am wholly supportive of academic freedom and keenly aware of its centrality to our enterprise.  It is for this reason that I attached the 1940 AAUP Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

Moreover, as interim dean of the Whiting School of Engineering, I am also aware of the contributions you are making to your field of information security and of the relevance of your comments to the important public debate that is now under way.

I am sorry that my request to you yesterday may have, in some minds, undeservedly undercut your reputation as a scholar and scientist.  I am also sorry if I have raised in anyone’s mind a question as to my commitment to academic freedom.  I am pleased that we were able to correct the error quickly.

I hope that you understand that my motivation–again, based on inadequate information–was to protect the university and you from legal consequences.  I look forward to discussing your work with you, as you suggested yesterday.

Sincerely,
Andrew

Andrew S Douglas
Interim Dean
Whiting School of Engineering

The university would not confirm the origin of the initial complaint about Mr. Green’s post, except to say that it was not the federal government. The Chronicle asked again on Tuesday and received this response from Dennis O’Shea, a spokesman for the university:

The blog post originally was spotted by someone at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. A message was sent from a staff member at APL to a staff member at the Homewood campus calling attention to the post. That message may have been understood as a request for action, though I am told it was intended only as an FYI. The Homewood staff member called the post to the attention of the dean. The dean wrote to Professor Green, and you know the rest.

 

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