Great way to end a Tuesday! Federal Judge George O'Toole ungagged the three MIT students who had planned to speak at Defcon on weaknesses in the Boston T's CharlieCard system. The T's operator, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, had sought a five-month extension on the ban -- until their vendors could address the issues. The judge found that the a temporary restraining order granted 10 days ago was improper, as the students' talk did not violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. That law, barring hacking into other's computers, does not apply to speech, Judge O'Toole ruled. MBTA's other grounds also failed, Wired relates. Technically, the judge vacated the TRO and also denied MBTA's request for a five-month preliminary injunction against the students. Reuters has this quote from ACLU:
"We need academic freedom and an ability to talk about these things, without fearing legal consequences," said Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which helped to defend the students. "The marketplace of ideas does not work when we have gag orders imposed on our scientists," she added.
EFF lawyer Cindy Cohn argued the gag order was an unlawful First Amendement restriction, PC World relates:
[Upholding the TRO would be] "an unprecedented ruling" that would render the scientific community reluctant to publicize research of public benefit, for fear of legal reprisals. "This will set an example that will ultimately leave us all less secure."
She also characterized the MIT students as victims, saying they were only trying to help the MBTA by exposing the weaknesses in the system. "Our clients didn't create a vulnerability, they found it. They are being punished because they want to talk about it."