Apparently, using Linux is a crime at Boston College

Apparently, using Linux is a crime at Boston College

Summary: The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported over the last couple of days that a Boston College computer science student has been targeted by BC police largely on the basis of using Linux. No, really - I'm serious.

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation reported over the last couple of days that a Boston College computer science student has been targeted by BC police largely on the basis of using Linux. No, really - I'm serious.

School officials allege that this student sent an email to a school list outing another student as gay. Assuming he actually did this, it's clear that this wasn't particularly nice, professional, or tolerant; I'll leave it to the lawyers to judge whether it was illegal. Regardless, the real problem here is not whether the student was professional or respectful of his peers, but that Boston College police seized several items, citing his use of Linux as probable cause supporting their actions.

According to the EFF,

In his application, the investigating officer asked that he be permitted to seize the student's computers and other personal effects because they might yield evidence of the crimes of "Obtaining computer services by Fraud or Misrepresentation" and "Unauthorized access to a computer system."

Access to the school's computer system would hardly have been unauthorized since the computer science major is employed by the BC IT department and even their warrant application notes that he is considered a "master of his trade among his peers." The warrant application, though, takes on comic proportions as the investigating officer describes the young man's computer system:

Mr. Calixte [the student in question] uses two different operating systems to hide his illegal activities. One is the regular BC operating system and the other is a black screen with white font which he uses prompt commands on.

I'm not saying that Mr. Calixte didn't do anything wrong. It's even possible that the BC police know something we don't. However, their seizure of, among other items, his Ubuntu CD, seems to suggest that not using "BC's operating system" (I was under the impression that Microsoft designed and sold Windows, but perhaps Boston College has an in with the folks in Redmond) is evidence of a crime in and of itself.

The kid's a CS major. Do you think maybe, just maybe, he might be able to navigate a command line in Linux?

A note to all college geeks: be respectful of your fellow students and beware those black screens with white fonts. They're a sure sign of subversive elements. Our parents had long hair, beads, and pot to identify the subversives on campus; we have Jaunty Jackalopes.

Topics: Linux, CXO, Hardware, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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49 comments
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  • Are "they" sure it was Linux?

    It could have been DOS. ;-)
    IT_Guy_z
    • It shows how pathetic some people can be.

      Perhaps knowledge workers should be brought to their knees and everybody forced to use MicroTripe so that those in power can think they look cleverer.

      Authority will destroy the advancement of knowledge workers anyway.
      Amelioration
    • It could have been almost any OS.

      Most of them have a command line option hidden somewhere.

      On the other hand I noted when testing linux at school that some things meant to control the school computers didn't work with it.
      deowll
  • RE: Apparently, using Linux is a crime at Boston College

    Hell, it could have been a skinned Windows! It's pretty obvious that these campus cops have absolutley no idea what they're looking for. They see someone with something out of the ordinary and just assume it could only be evil...jackasses
    NamelessFor Now
    • I agree totally

      And to point out something to the idiots on here who are saying "Someone told them he hacked grades for other students!"... that was the guy he supposedly accused of being gay.... not the most 'reliable' witness in the world?

      Basically, the police should have:

      1. Gone to the teacher and ask them "Could you look and see if X's grades were changed? We have reports that someone hacked your system and did this!"
      Did they do that? F' NO! Which makes me think either these cops were IDIOTS or they are on a persecution hunt.

      2. They should have gone to the network admin and asked him "Is there any 'strange' access from this students IP address to these things that only teachers should have access to?" Again: No, they didn't do that (f'heads).

      Basically, they searched and siezed without a LEGITIMATE CAUSE! That is illegal and my boss (a 40 year lawyer) says it is illegal, and his peers.... agreed!

      The bottom line is that you ACTUALLY HAVE TO DO SOME INVESTIGATION BEFORE SEIZURE! Unless (and this is the VERY slight, smaller than an atom exclusion) you think someone is committing the crime AT THAT VERY MOMENT [B]AND[/B] there is danger of serious bodily harm to someone.

      If those two things aren't meant.... do some investigation first!

      The kid has a (bottom line) EXCELLENT justification for suing the Boston College police for illegal search and seizure. And the stupid judge who gave out this warrant.... retirement time, because he has NO IDEA of the standards of the law.
      Lerianis
      • Your facts are WRONG

        [i]2. They should have gone to the network admin and asked him "Is there any 'strange' access from this students IP address to these things that only teachers should have access to?" Again: No, they didn't do that (f'heads).[/i]

        Yes, they DID do that. Read the warrant. Don't rely on other people to handpick quotes for you. This was one of the worst jobs of selective quoting I've ever seen in my life.

        READ THE WARRANT.
        NonZealot
        • RE: "Read the Warrant"

          I haven't taken time to read the warrant yet, but I do agree. Any good lawyer would read the warrant before trying to make a case against it.
          jeh_it
      • Read pages 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the warrent

        It looks like they are way ahead of you, and it looks as though [i]the kid has ABSOLUTELLY NO justification for suing the Boston College police for illegal search and seizure.[/i]
        GuidingLight
  • The evidence you have provided does not support the conclusion.

    [i]Access to the school's computer system would hardly have been unauthorized since the computer science major is employed by the BC IT department[/i]

    Just because you are an employee doesn't mean that you are authorized to use a computer system in every way a computer system can be used. If he wasn't authorized to send that email to that email list, or if he did it with a fake account, that would constitute unauthorized access of a computer system.

    However, you (and the EFF) either totally lost it or have not posted enough evidence to suggest that his use of Linux was a factor in his arrest.

    [i]Mr. Calixte (the student in question) uses two different operating systems to hide his illegal activities.[/i]

    How do you get that it was his use of a second operating system that got him arrested? It says very clearly that they believed he used 2 OSs to hide his illegal activities, not that the use of 2 OSs [b]is[/b] an illegal activity or even that it was what caused him to get arrested. Consider this scenario:
    [i]The man robbing the bank tried to hide his identity by wearing a fake moustache. He was eventually arrested because his license plate was seen by a witness. The fake moustache was found in his car.[/i]
    Would that sentence suggest that when this guy got arrested, it was because he wore a fake moustache or because he robbed a bank? Seriously, how ridiculous can you get?

    If you have more evidence that he was arrested [b]because[/b] he was using Linux and not because they traced the illegal activity to him through other means and were simply stating that he [b]had[/b] used a 2nd OS to hide his crime, then show it to us. So far though, the conclusion you and the EFF have arrived to is not supported by the statements you have provided.
    NonZealot
    • Did you even read the warrant? Please read it and decide for yourself

      The warrant states very clearly that the officer had been told by someone (the name is blanked out) that Mr. Calixte is involved in hacking activities and that he has changed grades for students. Sounds like unauthorized access to me! Also sounds like he is the type of person who has a history of using computer systems in an unauthorized manner for his benefit. Mr. Calixte is a roommate of the guy who was outed and it is on record that they are involved in a dispute that is currently being investigated. Sounds like motive.

      As far as describing the computer systems in the warrant, they were describing the systems they wanted to seize. You have to do that with a warrant.

      Later on the warrant describes how they traced the IP address to the building Calixte lived in, the computer name that the email was sent from was called "bootleg-laptop" and that a computer registered to Calixte in Aug of 2008 was called "bootleg-laptop".

      There is WAY more stuff in the warrant that has [b]nothing[/b] to do with Linux but I'm not going spend more time retyping it. While Linux (and the mystery command line based OS) was mentioned a couple times, it truly was a very small part of the warrant and was in a section that was describing the computer systems of interest, not that this use of a command line prompt (or Linux) was why they wanted the search warrant.

      Unbelievable that the EFF did such a blatant job of selective quoting from the warrant and that you simply repeated it without investigating it yourself. It took me all of 5 minutes to do your job.
      NonZealot
      • And does it say there that they did ANY investigation

        To see if there was: an actual hacking attempt, an actual changing of the grades, anything more than this roommate's (yes, it was the roommate he was having the problem with) say-so?

        Bottom line: [B]NO![/B]

        You did NOT do your homework, like you said they did. The fact is that the ONLY thing they had him for (maybe) was posting the 'slanderous accusation' to a mail list.... which isn't criminally illegal, therefore the police have NO RIGHT TO ASK FOR A WARRANT!

        The other stuff? They didn't do basic investigation: asking the teachers to get out their old records and see if any grades were changed, asking the network admin if there was any access from this students IP address to stuff he shouldn't have been in as a student, etc. etc. etc.

        They FAILED (completely and totally) at their investigation, and guess what? Any evidence they got off his computers (if there was any)? Thrown out (as fruits of illegal search), as soon as he makes any argument pointing out the above!

        The police need to realize that they cannot search and seize without justification and without doing basic investigation.
        The say-so of a person who was..... not reliable because of his on-going problems with the 'suspect' here, is not good enough.
        Lerianis
        • Yes, it does

          [i]Bottom line: NO![/i]

          Bottom line: [b]YES[/b]

          Read the warrant. They traced IP addresses back to him, among other things.

          READ THE WARRANT.
          NonZealot
      • Does the warrant mention explicitly the word <b>Linux</b>? (nt)

        .
        InAction Man
        • Yes, in the IP traces

          The 2 IP traces (one of which traced back to Mr. Calixte's computer) mentions the OS as being "Unix Linux", along with the computer name, the dhcp lease start time, and the lease end time.

          It also mentions it where it says there have only been 2 Linux computers registered on the network from the building Calixte lived in: Calixte's computer and the computer that sent the email. Both of these computers accessed www.adam4adam.com frequently which is the site that hosted a screenshot that was included in the email. The computer name of the 2nd Linux computer was the same as a name Calixte had used for his computers in the past.

          So you can see, there is a [b]ton[/b] of other evidence linking Calixte to the email. To say the warrant was granted [b]because[/b] he used Linux is ridiculous.
          NonZealot
          • I agree, up to a point.

            The police did not know what Linux is, so they had no motivations against it. But they believed that Linux was a hacking tool, so, the article might be correct after all.
            InAction Man
  • RE: Apparently, using Linux is a crime at Boston College

    Chris writes another blog where he whines about how linux doesn't get any respect. And there is good reason why it doesn't. You and Paul Murphy would do well together to combine your blogs, just call it the "pro-linux and if anyone says anything bad about it I'm going to whine on my blog" blog.

    While linux isn't mentioned specifically we can all agree that it has to be linux because this is the typical behavior of a linux user. They are very rude, obnoxious, and issue death threats. It doesn't surprise me that this linux user would behave in some a criminal way as to out another student as gay.

    For further proof that it is a linux user who would commit such a hateful act consider that linux comes with a built in mail server whether you want it or not which is designed specifically for this kind of activity. So it comes as no surprise that he would resort to this type of activity. The kid gets what he deserves.
    Loverock Davidson
    • Nope, the kid doesn't get what he deserves

      Because basic investigations into the accusations against him were not done, as you can see in my two other postings.

      Not going to bother to write it all again, just look at the other two posts and you will see the VERY big problems with this investigation..... if I can even honestly call it that!
      Lerianis
      • But there is no doubt

        that this is a troubled kid because he uses linux.
        Loverock Davidson
        • Troubled because he uses Linux.

          This is a very dim view of people that are different. Some of us are very well adjusted and just like used different operating systems for different jobs that are completely legal.
          wwilkins
        • Deleted

          [After reading warrant]
          AndyCee