EFF clobbers Boston transit's gag order on MIT students' research

Hugh from the Electronic Frontier Foundation sez, "EFF's Coders' Rights project had a big win for free speech when a judge ruled that the gag order against MIT student security researchers should be lifted. Right on!"
Today, a federal judge lifted an unconstitutional gag order that had prevented three Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) students from disclosing academic research regarding vulnerabilities in Boston's transit fare payment system. The court found that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Agency (MBTA) had no likelihood of success on the merits of its claim under the federal computer intrusion law and denied the transit agency's request for a five-month injunction. In papers filed yesterday, the MBTA acknowledged for the first time that their Charlie Ticket system had vulnerabilities and estimated that it would take five months to fix.

Tuesday's ruling lifts the restriction preventing the student researchers from talking about their findings regarding the security vulnerabilities of Boston's Charlie Card and Charlie Ticket -- a project that earned them an "A" from renowned computer scientist and MIT professor Dr. Ron Rivest. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) represents the students as part of its Coders' Rights Project.

Judge Lifts Unconstitutional Gag Order Against MIT Students


  1. Good old MBTA. Besides ignoring their security sucking and being millions of dollars in debt, they just gave the executives a 9% raise.

  2. The judge merely let it expire, because he determined that it didn’t meet the very narrow criteria.

    I have a feeling this was his way of not chastising a fellow judge. But it let me with a pretty unhappy feeling.

    (Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they’re no longer bound by the order. But it’s also pretty moot by this point, and it already achieved the chilling-effects intent they wanted.)

  3. My sister just came back from the US and told me about the ‘Charlie Card’ being like London’s Oyster system. It amused me it’s called a ‘Charlie’ card – Charlie is UK slang for cocaine; in some parts of London I’m sure the Oyster really is a Charlie card, but not for train lines. “Ticket to ride, white line highway, tell all your friends they can go my way”…


    You are exactly right. This is not much of a “win” at all. The judge let a gag order expire because the MBTA couldn’t prove $5,000 in damages and the presentation was not an “electronic transmission” in the sense of a computer hack, it was “intended for people.”

    Basically this get the students of the hook (which is great) but doesn’t really add any new case law protecting free speech (which would be the “win” in this case).

    The outcome is very much ho-hum.

  5. Surely you’ve hear of Charlie and the MTA? (now MBTA)

    It’s an old protest song, protesting the raising the price of the ride to a nickel to get in, and an additional nickel to get out at non-central stations.

    Bit more than a nickel now.

  6. Yay. A win!

    Can we have more of these, pretty please? Not asking re: blog policy, just begging of a heartless, relentless reality…

  7. It is worth noting that Boston progressives used to support lowering fees and taxes… viva Walter A O’Brien

  8. It always struck me as weird that the MBTA would choose to name their payment system after a song about a guy whose life has been ruined by petty-minded money-grubbing subway bureaucrats chiseling him for “one more nickel.” I’m given to understand that the name was chosen by the public… but that just makes them look worse.

    It’s as if you asked the public to name your new national ID card, and they told you to call it the Winston Smith Card. Would you go with that?

  9. @10 “It’s as if you asked the public to name your new national ID card, and they told you to call it the Winston Smith Card. Would you go with that?”


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