Friday, April 17, 2009

EFF engages in deception in Boston College Linux case

Reposting yesterday's entry out of curiosity

The EFF is misleading people in its defense of Riccardo Calixte, a Boston College student whose computer equipment was recently seized by police. EFF are spreading the story that Boston Police seized Calixte's property because he uses Linux and that's inherently suspicious. This is not the case. The warrant doesn't claim that Linux use is illicit behavior. The warrant alleges that Calixte played a prank on his roommate which may be criminal. While the warrant mentions Calixte's Linux use, it does so in a cursory manner to help identify Calixte. It is not a crime to run Linux in Massachusetts.

EFF's Deeplinks blog says "Boston College Campus Police: 'Using Prompt Commands' May Be a Sign of Criminal Activity", and it asks a question that will get the article linked across the web, "Should Boston College Linux users be looking over their shoulders?". The warrant in question, which you can read here as exhibit A, reports the testimony of Calixte's roommate ("Roomy"), who said that Calixte "uses two different operating systems to hide his illegal activities. One is the regular B.C. operating system and the other is a black screen with white font which he uses prompt commands on."

Ok. If you need to, take a break to laugh at that description of a command prompt. Tee hee tee hee.

The EFF highlights the mention of a command prompt, and the story spreads through the net-o-sphere that Boston College police think that Linux use is inherently suspicious and probably criminal:

So basically they're coming for you Linux users. (First, they came for the Ron Paulies, and I did nothing....) This is an appealing tale which garners publicity for the EFF's case, but it is not true.

The warrant doesn't say that Linux use is criminal. Instead, it alleges that Calixte played a prank on Roomy and that this prank is a crime. According to Roomy, he and Calixte got into a fight and Calixte retaliated. Roomy says that Calixte fucked up Roomy's computer. Roomy also says that Calixte sent email to a Boston College listserv which pretended to be Roomy coming out of the closet. The emails linked to a profile Calixte set up on adam4adam, a gay personals site, Rooomy says. These are the allegedly criminal activities, not Calixte's Linux use.

Calixte's Linux use is relevant because it helps identify Calixte as the prankster. According to BC's DHCP logs, a Linux computer, registered on the network as "bootleg-laptop", sent the email. Calixte had previously registered machines on the network as "bootleg-laptop". Another log showed access of adam4adam by a computer running Linux and registered by Calixte. The computer was registered as "calixtri-ubuntu". In the entire 154-student residence hall, only 2 computers ran Linux, and only 1 accessed adam4adam. If the computer which performed the gay spoof ran Linux, and only 2 computers in the hall ran Linux, then the fact that Calixte used Linux is totally relevant.

The Linux use isn't the criminal activity, it's an identifying characteristic. It's ludicrous to suggest that this warrant criminalizes Linux use. It's like saying that a warrant that cites fingerprint evidence criminalizes the possession of fingers.

In fact, I suggest that you go read the EFF's Memorandum in Support of its Motion for Emergency Relief. You will find find a grand total of three sentences in that fifteen page brief which discuss the command prompt. It is a minor aside to section III(C)(1) on page 9. The EFF's real arguments? They spend 5-6 pages arguing that the alleged acts aren't crimes under Massachusetts law and 3.5 pages attacking Roomy's reliability. Maybe I missed it, but I think the brief ignores the warrant's allegation that Calixte damaged Roomy's computer.

Now, let me say that I generally support the EFF and their work (I linked approvingly to them here. It's a funny little video.). I think that they provide a valuable service fighting for the rights of users against a legal system that's stacked against the little guy. I am also a Linux user. But this is just so much fear-mongering. The police are not hunting down Linux users. Running bash in Boston does not make you a cyber Martin Luther King.

I would like to credit Reddit. Although the users voted up the original EFF story twice, they also overwhelmingly upvoted the comment by sfanetti debunking the bogus claims. To quote node_n's summary of the situation:
"God Damn it! I got tricked by another TOTALLY misleading fucking headline. I just read the whole search warrant and got the rest of the story. The way the story was presented made BC and the police sound as if they are insane at best. The real story is different.
Thanks for your fake "story," acrylicist. Dickhead!"
Dickhead, indeed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

why do you to be such a foul mouth? it makes you seem very immature and not worthy of a repeat visit here