Judge Lifts Gag Order on MIT ‘Subway Hackers’

By August 19, 2008

CNETNews.com is reporting that a federal judge in Boston has lifted the order that was preventing three MIT students from discussing vulnerabilities they found in the Boston MBTA’s fare-collection system. According to CNET, "Judge O’Toole said he disagreed with the basic premise of the MBTA’s argument: that the students’ presentation was a likely violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a 1986 federal law meant to protect computers from malicious attacks such as worms and viruses." Apparently, since Judge O’Toole did not think that the MBTA would prevail on the merits of its suit (which means that the agency is not entitled to a preliminary injunction), he therefore saw no need to get into the First Amendment implications of the case.

The case is still slated to proceed to trial, however, and for supporters of free speech there are still unanswered questions. For instance, if the students were not likely to have been violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, was there any justification at all for the prior restraint on their speech? It remains to be seen if the students’ counsel from the Electronic Frontier Foundation will pursue the constitutional implications of the case any further, but at least we know that this episode of unconstitutional prior review has come to a welcome end, even if the students’ travails have not.