If Executive Chancellor Ilene Nagel’s office phone was interfered with, as she claims it was last year, it could only have been done illegally by a person familiar with the UCSB phone system.
Under California law, wiretaps must be cleared by the Attorney General, Chief Deputy Attorney or District Attorney’s office. Assistant Santa Barbara District Attorney Patrick McKinley said he has not seen an application for a wiretap involving anyone at UCSB recently or in the 30 years he has worked at the DA’s office.
“There was no wiretap application; there were no orders,” he said. “If there is a wiretap out there, it is illegal.”
UC auditors and the UC General Counsel are currently investigating whether security violations occurred within the offices of Nagel and Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Personnel Stanley Awramik in Cheadle Hall. According to a statement written by Nagel, UCSB personnel confirmed in June 2001 that “electronic security and privacy violations” had occurred.
Any form of interference – even if carried out by a police officer – is considered illegal without a warrant, McKinley said.
“It’s a crime to listen in on someone else’s phone call,” he said.
In Santa Barbara County, the Chief of Police has to sign a warrant involving phone interception, which is then approved by one of two judges in the County and is then signed by the District Attorney, McKinley said. Applications that are 30 or 40 pages in length are not unusual, McKinley said, and warrants for phone interceptions are extremely restrictive and often only used as a last resort in cases involving a serious crime.
A warrant gives a law enforcement officer permission to intercept telephone communications usually through a phone company, McKinley said. Without a warrant, intercepting a phone would require other methods.
At UCSB, phones are connected to terminals on every floor of a building. In Cheadle Hall there are 10 wiring closets, or two for every floor.
Many of the floor terminals are located in common space – shared by many people – and can be accessed by custodians, electricians, networkers and others, said Paul Valenzuela, the associate director and operations manager for Communications Services.
Reilly Pollard, the customer relations manager for Communications Services, said these closets are easy to access, but the act of intercepting phone conversations would require specialized equipment and a knowledge of which wires are connected to which phone – information that is protected by Communications Services.
“I wouldn’t expect an average office person to know that,” he said.
Every department on campus is responsible for its own equipment and can make arrangements with commercial providers for extra services like conference calls for more than four people. Every department also has its own password for the phone system, Valenzuela said.
Phones on campus such as the digital multi-line telephone system have services such as an intercom line for internal departmental conversations or three-way calls. The intercom system indicates that another person in the department is communicating through a beeping sound.
Pollard said it is impossible to access another phone conversation on one campus phone from another campus phone because there is no contact between the lines.
“It’s analogous to being in your home and trying to access your neighbor’s,” he said. “On this campus you just can’t join someone’s call without them knowing.
“I just think it would be pretty hard to do it,” he said.
The only other way a phone conversation can be legally recorded or monitored, without a warrant, is if the person making the call is told his or her phone call is being monitored or recorded, McKinley said. An example would be when a customer calls a service line for a company and is told the call is monitored for quality.
Awramik said he had never heard a recording that said his phone calls were being monitored or recorded while talking on the phone in his Cheadle Hall office.
The phone system at UCSB operates through Centrex, a telephone relay service located in Elwood. Centrex is connected to an Optical Remote Module – which can only be accessed by Verizon agents – and the mainframe for the university. The frame is responsible for the approximately 8,000 phone customers on campus, including students in the dorms. The frame is protected by a security alarm and is restricted to only eight people, said Pollard.
Pollard said there has never been a security breach within the mainframe.
Valenzuela said he could not comment on who confirmed the security violations or how these violations were discovered due to the investigation. He said the usual procedure for checking security violations would be a visual inspection – checking the wires – or a system query.