Adams arrested in connection to Boston College's Belfast Oral History Project.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Academic Freedom Questioned In Boston College Archive Case

May 2, 2014

  WGBH reporter Kirk Carapezza peels back some of the layers of the Boston College- Belfast Oral History Project case which has resulted in the recent arrest of Sinn Féin Gerry Adams.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams remains in an Irish prison, being questioned about the murder 42 years ago of a Belfast woman.  It’s widely believed that information from a Boston College oral history project that was supposed to be kept confidential helped lead to that arrest.  Some are questioning how this case will impact academic freedom.

The Boston College project called The Belfast Project included interviews with both catholics and protestants and they were to be kept secret until the parties died. But federal court orders challenged that confidentiality and the US Department of Justice handed the tapes over to British authorities.  “Very frequently the challenge for the interviewer is to get the person to speak truly and freely,” says Noah Feldman, a constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School.

In January, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported BC would have to give federal prosecutors tapes and documents of interviews that researchers conducted with members of the Irish Republican Army.   Feldman says the BC project will have a chilling effect on academic expression at universities, which are often the best repositories of oral histories.

Find Kirk's full report on the On Campus blog here

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