The University of California has gone to the Legislature seeking to restrict public access to information about academics who do animal research and to make it illegal to post personal information about them online. The prohibited online information would include the researchers' names, home addresses and photographs. The measure, AB2296, also would outlaw activities targeting corporate researchers.

Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-San Mateo, agreed to submit the legislation at UC's request after months of harassment, threats and vandalism at the homes and offices of university researchers.

"Several campuses have experienced incidents which are just shocking," said Chancellor George Blumenthal of UC Santa Cruz during a telephone news conference Monday. Protesters in February are accused of trying to break into a UC Santa Cruz professor's home and attacking her husband. "It's the greatest threat to academic freedom that I've ever seen on this campus."

At UCLA, protesters both flooded and lit a fire at a medical professor's home. Activists have visited the homes of UC Berkeley researchers, shouting, posting fliers and , in the past few days, breaking windows.

Such a law would curtail free speech, said Jerry Vlasak, a Los Angeles-area surgeon who acts as a spokesman for the more extreme branch of the animal-rights movement. It would not stop vandalism and other protests, he said.

"The people who are doing underground direct action don't care what the law says anyway," he said. The measure "is aimed at those who are exercising their free-speech rights."

Limits on protests walk a fine line between oppressive and protective, said Michael Risher, a San Francisco-based attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. Courts have ruled that similar restrictions on Web sites targeting abortion doctors are legal, he said, but only when they are likely to incite violence."We would really want to see that there's a threat to people's safety," he said. The bill may "sweep much too broadly."

Mullin acknowledged Monday that he is trying to balance First Amendment rights with protection for researchers. He said he plans to rewrite the information restriction this week to protect a select group of them. "We're not in the business of narrowing constitutional protections," he said. "Finding that balance is what we're all about."

The amended version would limit California's public-records laws, however. Legislators will be asked to exempt information about researchers from disclosure under the California Public Records Act, which makes most government documents available to anyone who asks for them.

UC leaders said they were worried that protesters had obtained personal information on the professors from public records, but they had no specific examples.

Protesters increasingly have targeted professors who use animals in their research, citing examples of drilled skulls, forced dehydration and paralyzation of cats, rats and hyenas. Activists say the research is unnecessary and overly invasive.University administrators said the research could not be done without using animals and have repeatedly called the protesters terrorists. "Free speech is not the issue," said Steven Beckwith, the UC vice president for research. "The issue is violence. We just don't tolerate violence."

Matt Krupnick covers higher education. Reach him at 925-943-8246.

ONLINE: read the proposed animal-researcher law, go to and search for "2296" as the bill number.