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MBTA refuses to lift Order for M.I.T. Students

by on15 August 2008


Gag Order still in place

As we reported earlier, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) sued three students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) and got an injunction prohibiting the students from doing a presentation that disclosed flaws in the MBTA’s electronic ticketing subway system. Rather than listening to reason, however, the MBTA appears to be going on the offense and has declared that, the three "defendants enjoy no protections under the First Amendment."

The Judge denied a request from the students' attorneys to lift the gag order, and then ordered the students to divulge more information about the transit system’s ticketing flaws by today. The students’ presentation was a class project at M.I.T. and described a method that could be used to gain free access to Boston's transit system. The presentation pointed out physical security problems they found with the system and also described techniques to clone and reverse-engineer the MBTA's CharlieTicket magnetic stripe tickets and CharlieCard smartcards.

MBTA has demanded copies of documents from the students, including correspondence with the Defcon conference, the M.I.T. classroom paper, software, equipment and MBTA fare cards that were modified.  MBTA also plans to depose one of the students who is a computer science major, as well as his M.I.T. Professor today. It has requested the court to change the short-term Temporary Restraining Order already granted to a longer-term preliminary injunction.

The MBTA has come under criticism by The Boston Globe and the Electronic Freedom Foundation for violating the students’ First Amendment rights.  The Boston Globe published an editorial that the Judge "ought to lift" the gag order and that security concerns "should not trump First Amendment rights."  The Judge, however, seems to be more intent on enforcing the MBTA rights and focusing on security interests, rather than on freedom of speech rights.

Last modified on 20 August 2008
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