Stanford Daily Records Private Senate Meeting in Violation of California Law

Stanford Daily Records Private Senate Meeting in Violation of California Law

As an Undergraduate Senator, I am deeply concerned that the Stanford Daily secretly recorded a private discussion between members of the Undergraduate Senate without the knowledge or consent of any of the fourteen participants.

Yesterday, the undergraduate Senate set aside part of our meeting to discuss UGS-W2020-23: BILL TO IMPEACH SENATOR [SAM] SCHIMMEL. The impeachment case rests on the anonymous testimony of three female students regarding “abhorrent” interactions with Senator Schimmel. Out of concern for the privacy of the alleged victims, the Senate voted to close the portion of the meeting in which the details of the testimony would be read and discussed.

Senate Chair Munira Alimire repeatedly asked that the many student reporters at the meeting to step out. After some protest, all members of the press appeared to have left the room.

However, before leaving, a member of the Stanford Daily press corps took it upon herself to hide a (still recording) phone under a chair. It had recorded over half an hour of extremely sensitive conversation before it was discovered by a senator. When confronted, Daily Staff Writer Erin Woo admitted that the phone was hers, and Daily representatives continually reaffirmed their right to record the private meeting.

In case the Daily press corps are unfamiliar with California wiretapping laws, California is “two-party consent” state. It is a crime to record confidential communication, including a private conversation or telephone call, without the consent of all parties to the conversation. Hiding a recording device in a private meeting certainly falls under that description.

The Daily has argued that the Senate did not have constitutional grounds to remove student reporters from the meeting. Nonetheless, as the Daily reported themselves, Stanford police officers believed the wiretapping constituted a “crime.” Removing all reporters from the room gave us the “objectively reasonable expectation of confidentiality” required by California law. Particularly, the members of the Undergraduate Senate explicitly did not give our consent for that conversation to be recorded by Woo.

Recording a private discussion of a student’s experience with sexual misconduct also violates the common decency and respect we expect from our fellow Stanford students. Daily reporters were told that the testimony and resulting discussion would contain potentially identifying details about the alleged victims, and that Senators would discuss broad strokes of the allegations in the public portion of the meeting. Whether the recording was intended for private or public use, it is very disturbing that a student newspaper would break the law in order to collect details of their peers’ personal traumas.

I am a strong supporter of student journalism. The potential impeachment of Senator Schimmel should certainly have been covered, given its direct relevance to the undergraduate student body he was elected to represent. But this imperative does not mean student reporters can disregard any semblance of journalistic ethics and the law.

I hope this incident can serve as a wake up call to members of student press corps. If the Stanford Daily and other student publications aspire to be more than muckraking organizations, they must adhere to basic ethical and legal standards in their reporting.

Disclosure: Davis is a staff writer for The Review

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