The University’s research activities take place in a heavily regulated environment and are subject to oversight by a wide range of federal and state agencies, including law enforcement agencies such as the FBI. As a result, the University can expect occasional site visits by outside agencies, both as part of routine oversight activities, as well as specific ongoing investigations. Two issues, in particular, often prompt a site visit: export control issues and compliance with immigration laws. In both instances, site visits are routinely conducted as part of ongoing compliance initiatives and are not necessarily an indication of a specific enforcement initiative.
It is University policy to cooperate with outside investigating agencies to the fullest extent required by law, while fully protecting the rights and privacy of our students, faculty, staff and research subjects. To accomplish this, the Office of Research recommends that all researchers and research staff be generally aware of the possibility of a site visit by an oversight agency and be prepared to respond appropriately.
In many cases, the most important action taken by the individual who is the first point of contact (whether a Principal Investigator, a graduate student or a research staff member) is to promptly contact the Office of Research so that an individual familiar with state and federal law and the University’s obligations can participate in the event of a site visit. It is particularly important to immediately notify the Office of Research if an outside investigating agency presents a subpoena, search warrant, court order, national security letter or other document compelling the University or an individual to produce documents or otherwise provide information.
What are the steps I should take if I am contacted by an outside investigating agency?
If a student, faculty or staff member is contacted by an outside investigating agency, we recommend the following simple steps:
1. Ask the agency representative for official identification with their name and agency affiliation. If the investigator presents only a business card, contact their office to verify their identity;
2. State that you are willing to cooperate, but as a UC employee you would like to have a University representative present;
3. If the agency representative presents a subpoena, court order, national security letter or other legal document, ask for a copy and time sufficient to contact the Office of Research so that it can review the legal documentation in advance of the agency carrying out its search or investigation. If you are unable to contact anyone or the agency presents a search warrant and does not provide you with a copy or the time to reach out to anyone, take the time to review the documentation presented carefully and understand the authorized scope of the inquiry before any interview or search begins;
4. Contact the Office of Research if the investigator wants to proceed immediately (e.g., pursuant to a search warrant) so that a University representative can be present as soon as possible for any interview or search;
5. If possible, set up a future scheduled time for any requested interview so that a University representative can be present; and
6. Decline to provide the names and nationalities of any students, faculty or staff, but inform the investigator that they can contact the Office of Research regarding their request for information. You may state that you are not authorized to release the information under state law and University policy.
Do outside investigating agencies have the right to come on University property and compel University students, faculty and staff to answer questions and provide documents?
Nothing can stop an outside investigating agency from attempting to interview members of the University community and we cannot prohibit an individual from engaging in an interview if they choose to participate. Unless the investigating agency presents a subpoena, court order, national security letter or other legal document compelling participation, our students, faculty and staff can decline to participate in an immediate interview and can ask that the agency contact the Office of Research to schedule a site visit when a University representative can be present.
What should I do if the outside investigating agency presents a search warrant?
In the unlikely event that an agency presents a search warrant compelling immediate action (as opposed to a subpoena or other document that provides a date by which the University must comply), the individual to whom the search warrant is presented should carefully review the document to verify that it is a search warrant. Although the investigating agency is unlikely to defer its search, the individual should immediately contact the Office of Research so that a University representative can be present as soon as possible.
What should I do if an outside investigating agency presents a national security letter addressed to the University and asks that I not tell anyone about the letter or its visit?
Generally, this sort of document should be served on the Office of Research and not individual students, faculty or staff. If an investigating agency attempts to serve a document addressed to the University on you, you may state that you are not authorized to accept service of such a document and direct the agency to the Office of Research.
Can outside investigation agencies require that the University provide the names and nationalities of University students, faculty or staff?
The University does not provide the names and nationalities of our students, faculty or staff, absent a subpoena, court order, national security letter or other legal document. To do so could violate both state law and UC policy. All questions regarding our students, faculty or staff should be referred to the Office of Research or Campus Counsel. These offices can provide the outside investigating agency with a clear explanation of our policies.
Is it all right for a student, faculty or staff member to participate in an interview with an investigating agency without any University representative present?
The University’s strong preference is to have a University representative from either the Office of Research or Campus Counsel attend any interviews of our employees. We ask that interviews be scheduled in advance to accommodate this. In instances where a student is not an employee, we cannot require that they have a representative present; however, a student can always request that University representative be present while they are interviewed. All of our students, faculty and staff can decline to be interviewed, absent a subpoena, court order, national security letter or other document compelling their participation.
What should a student, faculty or staff member do if they are contacted by an investigating agency outside of their office or laboratory?
In the unlikely event that an individual is contacted outside of the University setting (e.g. at home), the individual may ask the agency to contact them in the workplace so as to take advantage of the opportunity to have a University representative present in any interview. If the agency presents a search warrant you may be compelled to cooperate, but you should still contact the Office of Research or Campus Counsel as soon as possible. Should I cooperate with an investigating agency that comes into my office or lab for an unannounced site visit? In the event that our students, faculty or staff are contacted by an investigating agency, we encourage them to be cooperative, but to be firm about the need to review any legal documents presented prior to taking any action and to involve the Office of Research in the site visit and investigation