On Friday, the MBTA sued MIT and three MIT students, claiming that the students planned to present a paper at the DEFCON hacker’s conference explaining how to circumvent the security on the T’s Charlie Cards and thus create counterfeit cards. At a hearing held on Saturday (!), Judge Douglas Woodlock of the U.S. District Court in Boston granted the T a temporary restraining order forbidding the students to provide any information that would assist someone else to circumvent the T’s security system.
I’m sorry I don’t have links–the lawsuit documents are available on the PACER system at the Court’s website to those of you with PACER passwords, or at the courthouse. The docket number is 08-11364.
There is obviously a concern here about the constitutionality of a prior restraint on speech–the idea is that in general, the government can’t forbid speech, even if the speech can be punished after the fact. There is probably an exception for national security secrets, etc. My suspicion is that Judge Woodlock’s order wouldn’t pass constitutional muster.
But also worrisome is the notion that trying to keep a lid on these undergrads’ results will improve the T’s security. The truth of the matter is that if these three undergraduates can defeat the Charlie card, than lots of people can. The T is opting for the illusion of security rather than real security, e.g., open-source security that can be vetted and tested by anyone.