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11 August 2008, 13:30

MIT students muzzled

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Three students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have been issued with a restraining order preventing them from presenting the full results of their research project at DefCon 16, the security conference. As part of their course, students Zack Anderson, RJ Ryan and Alessandro Chiesa looked at security vulnerabilities in the payment system used by the Boston public transport system and found ways of manipulating the ticketing system to obtain free rides. The transit operator, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), was able to obtain the restraining order with the argument that imitators would be able to defraud the system on a massive scale.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has criticised the decision as an infringement of the right to free speech. According to EFF spokesperson Jennifer Granick, "The court's order is an illegal prior restraint on legitimate academic research." Granick is particularly critical that the court order was made on the basis of a law intended for cases of intrusion into computer systems.

"The court has adopted an interpretation of the statute that is blatantly unconstitutional, equating discussion in a public forum with computer intrusion," stated Granick. The students are disappointed at not being able to present their results. As Zack Anderson explained "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".


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