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Computer Science Student Targeted for Criminal Investigation for Allegedly Sending Email
Boston - A Boston College computer science student has asked a Massachusetts court to quash an invalid search warrant for his dorm room that resulted in campus police illegally seizing several computers, an iPod, a cell phone, and other technology.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is representing the student, who has petitioned the court for the immediate return of his property and is demanding that investigators be prohibited from any further searches or analysis of his digital data. Massachusetts State Police participated in the search and are overseeing the forensic analysis of the seized property.
"This search warrant is invalid, as there is no probable cause that a crime was committed at all," said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. "Every day this student's private information is in the hands of the police department, he suffers harm to his property interests and his constitutional rights."
The dorm room search stemmed from an investigation into who sent an email to a Boston College mailing list alleging that another student was gay. Police say they know who sent the email and that the sender committed the crimes of "obtaining computer services by fraud or misrepresentation" and obtaining "unauthorized access to a computer system." However, nothing presented by the investigating officer to obtain the warrant, including the allegation that the student sent the email to the mailing list, could constitute the cited criminal offenses.
Some of the supposedly suspicious activities listed in support of the search warrant application include: the student being seen with "unknown laptop computers," which he "says" he was fixing for other students; the student uses multiple names to log on to his computer; and the student uses two different operating systems, including one that is not the "regular B.C. operating system" but instead has "a black screen with white font which he uses prompt commands on."
"The police used inapplicable criminal laws as a basis for a fishing expedition to determine the author of an anonymous email," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "Now, this student has been suspended from his job, and he is without a laptop and other devices he needs to do his schoolwork. His private communications and papers are in the hands of police who are searching for evidence without just cause. Even his cell phone and iPod were taken, clearly an overreach if the goal is tracking the source of an email."
The motion to quash the search warrant was filed with assistance from Fish & Richardson attorneys Adam Kessel, Lawrence Kolodney, and Tom Brown. No court date has been set yet to hear the motion.
For the full motion for emergency relief:
For more on this case:
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation