Wednesday, April 15, 2009

EFF engages in FUD horseshit in Boston College Linux case

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.


Onideus Mad Hatter said...

So then what you're saying is that it's illegal to go online, post under a name that isn't yours and tell the world you're gay? Wow...I think maybe you really missed the point here. Granted the EFFs headline and such are definite attention grabbers, the bottom line is still the law was broken. His roommate claims that his laptop was "damaged" in some way but the very fact that no investigation into that damage was carried out makes their entire reasoning fall all apart. And even if damage was done that's not reason enough to go and seize someone's property. The proper course of action by the police should have been to simply report the incident and then recommend that his roomate seek legal recourse (ie sue him for proven damages). Essentially what you're saying is that if someone is a fuckhead and they go and break a car windshield then that gives the police the right to go into your home and take whatever they like. Simply put, you sir, are a complete MORON.

Matt said...

No, what I'm saying is that the EFF intentionally sold people on the idea that this kid was tapped by the police for using Linux when the EFF knew that wasn't the case. The headline wasn't just an attention-grabber, it was untrue.

As for the rest, I don't know if the kid's behavior counts as a crime in Mass. If it does, then between the roommate's testimony and the server logs, there's ample evidence to support probable cause.

LeBitch said...

"...what I'm saying is that the EFF intentionally sold people on the idea that..."

And then you try to intentionally sell us the idea that there is a criminal case here.

"These are the allegedly criminal activities, not Calixte's Linux use."

A criminal investigation with search and seizure over what _may_ amount to grounds for a civil suit by the plaintiff or, at most, a misdemeanor? Ah, but paint they guy as a serious computer criminal, that will stir it up and give a bored detective somehting to so. Sorry, the entire premise of this case is built on that shaky nonsense, which I think the EFF rightly points out.

Matt said...

Read what I wrote, because I don't write in support of the state's criminal case at all.

In fact, I have written that this issue is actually more interesting and relevant to more users' rights than this bogus Linux claim.

And if there are grounds for a misdemeanor, there are grounds for a warrant. EFF peddled a line that police got a warrant based on a student's Linux use, and that's just not true.

stentor said...

You should read Judge Botsford's ruling, pinhead.

factory123 said...

I just did, and it's in agreement with me: the real issue in the case was the unauthorized access issue.

The judge devoted precisely 0% of that opinion to this "command prompt" business, instead holding that the cops had an overly broad reading of the unauthorized access statute.

Frankly, as soon as EFF started getting pushback on the linux scare-mongering garbage, they stopped selling that bogus angle. Which suggests they knew they were full of crap.

Anonymous said...

The EFF is the tech equivalent of Infowars and Prison Planet. Right-wing sensationalism.