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MIT Students Gagged by Federal Court Judge
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Sat, 9 Aug 2008 17:21:27 -0400

Bad decision by the Judge djf

Begin forwarded message:

From: EFF Press <press () eff org>
Date: August 9, 2008 5:14:30 PM EDT
To: presslist () eff org
Subject: [E-B] EFF: MIT Students Gagged by Federal Court Judge
Reply-To: press () eff org

Electronic Frontier Foundation Media Release

For Immediate Release: Saturday, August 09, 2008


Jennifer Stisa Granick
  Civil Liberties Director
  Electronic Frontier Foundation
  jennifer () eff org
  +1 415 271-4879

Marcia Hofmann
  Staff Attorney
  Electronic Frontier Foundation
  marcia () eff org
  +1 415 436-9333 x116

Rebecca Jeschke
  Media Coordinator
  Electronic Frontier Foundation
  press () eff org
  +1 415 436-9333 x125

MIT Students Gagged by Federal Court Judge

EFF Backs Researchers Forced to Cancel Presentation on
Transit Fare Payment System

Las Vegas - Three students at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (MIT) were ordered this morning by a federal
court judge to cancel their scheduled presentation about
vulnerabilities in Boston's transit fare payment system,
violating their First Amendment right to discuss their
important research.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) represents Zack
Anderson, RJ Ryan and Alessandro Chiesa, who were set to
present their findings Sunday at DEFCON, a security
conference held in Las Vegas.  However, the Massachusetts
Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) sued the students and MIT in
United States District Court in Massachusetts on Friday,
claiming that the students violated the Computer Fraud and
Abuse Act (CFAA) by delivering information to conference
attendees that could be used to defraud the MBTA of transit
fares.  This morning District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock,
meeting in a special Saturday session, ordered the trio not
to disclose for ten days any information that could be used
by others to get free subway rides.

"We wanted to share our academic work with the security
community and had planned to withhold a key detail of our
results so that a malicious attacker could not use our
research for fraudulent purposes," said Anderson.  "We're
disappointed that the court is preventing us from
presenting our findings even with this safeguard."

Vulnerabilities in magnetic stripe and RFID card payment
systems implemented by many urban transit systems are
generally known. The student research applied this
information to the specific case of Boston's Charlie Card
and Charlie Ticket, and the project earned an A from
renowned computer scientist and MIT professor Dr. Ron

The court relied on a federal law aimed at computer
intrusions in issuing its order, holding that even
discussing the flaws at a public conference constituted a
"transmission" of a computer program that could harm the
fare collection system.

"The court's order is an illegal prior restraint on
legitimate academic research in violation of the First
Amendment," said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer
Granick.  "The court has adopted an interpretation of the
statute that is blatantly unconstitutional, equating
discussion in a public forum with computer intrusion.
Security and the public interest benefit immensely from the
free flow of ideas and information on vulnerabilities. More
importantly, squelching research and scientific discussion
won't stop the attackers.  It will just stop the public
from knowing that these systems are vulnerable and from
pressuring the companies that develop and implement them to
fix security holes."

This case is part of EFF's Coders' Rights Project, launched
just this week to protect programmers and developers from
legal threats hampering their cutting-edge research.  EFF
will seek relief for the researchers in the courts.

For the full temporary restraining order:

For more on the Coders' Rights Project:

For this release:

About EFF

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading civil
liberties organization working to protect rights in the
digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF actively encourages and
challenges industry and government to support free
expression and privacy online. EFF is a member-supported
organization and maintains one of the most linked-to
websites in the world at http://www.eff.org/


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