MIT and EFF's Freedom to Innovate Summit: defending students' and hackers' right to tinker

The Oct 10/11 event is run jointly by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Civic Media at MIT and will be hosted at the MIT Media Lab.

The mission of the event is to "brainstorm and discuss ways to protect student hackers from future legal threats," to "reform laws like the CFAA, the DMCA, and other laws that are used to attack or silence researchers" and to figure out "how current students might bring similar legal clinics or other initiatives to their own institutions."

I'll be leading a one-day brainstorming session for the "Catalog of Missing Devices," a collection of design fiction that demonstrates the tools, gadgets and services that could exist, except for bad laws like the DMCA and the CFAA. I hope to see you there!

On the one hand, students are encouraged to tinker: recent years have seen technology companies actively aiming to 'move fast and break things,' while security conferences like DEFCON and the Chaos Computer Congress have grown to record sizes. It should come as no surprise that high school students, college undergrads, and graduate researchers are tinkering with the software and hardware electronics that they use.

Unfortunately, overbroad and outdated laws can impose serious repercussions for these actions. Sometimes, legal threats emerge because local authorities are technologically illiterate, such as when one MIT student was arrested (and very nearly killed) for wearing lights on her shirt, and another was sued for making a Bitcoin app. More recently, even high school students have been impacted, with 14 year-old Ahmed Mohamed dragged out of school in handcuffs after a teacher mistook his homemade digital clock for an explosive.

Other times, hackers confront companies with a vested interest in keeping their security flaws secret, or preventing their customers from modifying the devices they buy. Just ask the MIT grad student who discovered how to improve his gaming console and then wrote a book about it, only to see the publisher back out to avoid a DMCA suit.

Join us at the Freedom to Innovate Summit
[Shahid Buttar and Noah Swartz/EFF]