Boston - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged a federal judge Tuesday to lift an unconstitutional gag order issued to three students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) whose academic research uncovered vulnerabilities in Boston's transit fare payment system.
A hearing on the temporary restraining order is set for 11am Thursday at the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts in Boston.
The students -- Zack Anderson, RJ Ryan and Alessandro Chiesa -- would like to resolve this dispute amicably with the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA). However, it has been hard to find an amicable resolution when the students are the subjects of a vigorous lawsuit and under the restrictions of a temporary restraining order. This remains true even though the MBTA filed a motion earlier this week to modify the restraining order to only prohibit disclosure of "non-public" information.
"We appreciate the gesture," said EFF Staff Attorney Marcia Hofmann. "But it does not resolve the dispute. Indeed, we would hope everyone acknowledges that it is impermissible under the Constitution for a court to order someone not to repeat publicly available truthful information."
"The restraining order, even if modified, remains an improper prior restraint restricting speech," said EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. "The First Amendment does not allow people to be silenced because their speech exposes flaws, even if those flaws might someday be illegally misused by others. To protect our clients' rights, we had no choice but to ask the court to reconsider the gag order."
As part of EFF's court filing Tuesday, 11 computer scientists and researchers from the nation's top research and educational institutions submitted a letter in support of the MIT students, including Professor David Farber of Carnegie Mellon, Professor Steve Bellovin of Columbia University, and computer security expert Bruce Schneier. The group explained that security research and information are critical for scientific advancement, and stated that restraining orders such as the one issued by the court over the weekend could have a devastating chilling effect on future academic endeavors.
"The students' ultimate goal in the security research was to help the MBTA improve its security," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "Despite colorful marketing rhetoric advertising a presentation of the students' work at a security conference, the students never intended to provide sufficient information to the public to replicate the attack."
For more details on Thursday's hearing, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the full motion to reconsider:
For the full letter from the computer scientists and researchers:
For more on MBTA v. Anderson:
Electronic Frontier Foundation