Wednesday, April 22, 2009

EFF ducks the issue in Boston College Linux case

I previously wrote about the Boston College Linux user, represented by the EFF, whose computer equipment was seized by police. The District Court judge denied the EFF's motion to quash, and the EFF will appeal. Although there's no opinion, you can find several other court documents here.

The EFF has also updated its Deeplinks blog post to defend its deceptive publicity attempts. The response is more horse hockey.* Instead of addressing an issue that touches on the rights of virtually every person who uses the internet, the EFF is pushing a bogus story about supposed persecution of Linux users.

The EFF's Deeplinks blog originally said that "the investigating officer argued that the computer expertise of the student itself supported a finding of probable cause to seize the student's property". The blog then asked "Should Boston College Linux users be looking over their shoulders?". EFF wanted people to believe that the suspect was targeted just because he's a Linux user.

The internet happily took up this bogus cause. Credulous stories hit digg, reddit, and slashdot. Currently, the number one google result for "boston college linux" is "Linux Use Illegal at Boston College". Linux use is not now and never has been illegal at Boston College. This is bullhonkery.*

The warrant alleged that the suspect sent prank emails and that these emails are a crime. U of Dayton law prof Susan Brenner (who uses 1337 in her blog's name) confirms this: "his use of Linux is not being defined as a crime; instead, it’s simply evidence that connects Calixte to the emails at issue."

The EFF replied to Prof. Brenner. EFF maintains that the warrant's reference to Linux is unfair. First, EFF says that "no 'connection' is provided by the operating systems" because the witness didn't specify that the suspect used Ubuntu Linux. He could have used another flavor of Linux or, heck, even a Windows terminal. EFF's second response is that the warrant makes an unfounded assertion that the student uses Linux to hide illegal activities, and that "[t]he unwarranted implication -- that because the student used an "uncommon" operating system and/or is technically sophisticated, he is more likely to be engaged in criminal activity -- should give one considerable pause."

The warrant makes no such implication. The warrant clearly states the connection. The witness reported that the suspect used a second operating system to engage in illegal activities. Boston College's server logs confirmed that the suspect used Linux to commit the alleged crimes (sending prank emails). The server logs clearly identify both the suspect and the fact that the suspect uses Ubuntu Linux. Independent confirmation of a witness's story is a strong indicator of the witness's reliability. The suspect's Linux use is therefore vitally important to the search warrant.

There is no "baseless assertion that a computer science major's use of 'two different operating systems' must be 'to hide his illegal activities'". There are allegations of specific activities confirmed by a reliable, disinterested, independent source. The Deeplinks author doesn't want to acknowledge that the server logs finger the suspect - he's happy to push the fable that it's the suspect's Linux use and not the alleged emails which supply probable cause.

As for the notion that the witness didn't specify the flavor of Linux, that's splitting hairs. Linux adoption stands at about 1-2%, and only 2 students in the dorm used Linux. The suspect is in a pretty small minority of computer users. Also, the witness reported that the suspect used two operating systems (with separate logins), so we can rule out the use of the Windows terminal.

It's a shame that the EFF is going with this "Boston College Outlaws Linux! Shock! Horror!" story, because there's a real legal issue here that's relevant to far more people than just Linux users (among whom, again, I number). Namely, should the state be able to punish violations of website Terms of Service contracts as a crime? This is a key issue in the Lori Drew case. It's an issue that touches on the rights of virtually every single internet user. Instead of focusing on the important issue, the EFF engaged in deceptive fear mongering. What a load of bullbutter.*

*I don't want to offend any delicate sensibilities. Also, I love wikipedia.


Onideus Mad Hatter said...

Are you an idiot? No...really. I mean, there's a reason the EFF is ignoring you, and it's not because you're some clever little tweenage blogger who thinks they've uncovered some massive conspiracy. You obviously haven't actually read the warrant application, or you ran out of Ritalin about halfway through as it's more than blindingly obvious that the entire thing is just one giant pile of shite. And of course the EFF went with the most obvious angle of attack, given the material in the warrant application. I mean, they're not stupid, they're not *YOU*. No freakin DUH they're going to use the most obviously inflammatory aspect, in order to get the most attention onto the case. Only a complete fool like yourself would do otherwise. You obviously have no idea at all how journalism works or why you should do something like that.

Matt said...

You've commented twice on this subject, and I can't figure out why.

You agree that the warrant was granted on grounds other than the suspect's use of Linux. You also agree that the EFF misrepresented the warrant.

So I'm thinking - hey, just a troll. But I got curious, so I do a little searching. And I find your not-work-safe Encyclopedia Dramatica entry, which recounts a very colorful tale. That entry also points me to your blog and what you've written about the subject.

I disagree with much of what you write and certainly with the tone of your writing, but I note your interest in the Lori Drew case and the "terms of use/unauthorized access" angle to the Calixte case.

Specifically, you write about how people may present themselves online as a character, and you believe in "the artistic right to create a character and use that character in the use of Internet Performance Art (IPA), no different than any other comedian, actor, artist, etc who creates and uses a character in a public venue."

You mention your own interest in the subject because "I myself have a whole variety of characters and personas I use online and have used online for nearly two decades now. Those characters may not be reflective of who I actually am in the real world, but those characters are my works of art and they are just as real to me (and those that interact with them) as any real person."

In order to perform your art, you have to violate various terms of use agreements. You have to provide false registration information and you probably use the service to annoy and harass or act contrary to the terms of use policies.

Which leads to the question - is this a private matter between two parties, or is it a criminal matter for the state to punish. Are you pulling a harmless prank? Should you face criminal liability for your actions?

While we don't have all the details, it seems that the Calixte case involves this terms of use issue. Instead of publicizing the issue, the EFF put out an "OMFG! Boston declares Linux illegal!" press release, which I think even you agree misrepresents the case.

What's puzzling about the EFF's behavior is that this terms of use issue affects a greater number of people than just you and Calixte. This issue affects everybody who mindlessly clicks through a terms of service agreement. That's a lot of people and a lot of potential criminals.

Why would you make up an issue and peddle some BS when you had a hotcake issue like that on your plate?