In July, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Dr Matthew Green, a Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute Assistant Professor of Computer Science; now the US government has asked a court to dismiss Dr Green's claims. A brief from EFF explains what's at stake here: the right of security experts to tell us which computers are vulnerable to attack, and how to make them better.
Green is working on a book whose working title is Practical Cryptographic Engineering, in which he describes the research he's undertaken — including work funded by the National Science Foundation — to investigate the security of all manner of embedded computers. This research often involves bypassing locks that manufacturers use to restrict access to their software — something that puts Green at risk of both criminal and civil prosecution under Section 1201 of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which creates an unprecedented legal right to sue over tampering with these locks, even when they're embedded in your own property, and even for legitimate purposes.
"Under Section 1201, computer researchers can face serious penalties just for selling a book that would help people build better, more secure computer systems," said EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry. "As we explained when we filed a legal challenge to the law in July, such penalties violate the First Amendment and threaten ordinary people for publishing research or even talking about circumventing computer code that's embedded in nearly everything we own. With the lawsuit underway, we're asking the court to bar the government from prosecuting Dr. Green so he can publish a book that's clearly in the public interest."
"If we want our communications and devices to be secure, we need to protect independent security researchers like Dr. Green," said EFF Staff Attorney Kit Walsh. "Researchers should be encouraged to educate the public and the next generation of computer scientists. Instead, they are threatened by an unconstitutional law that has come unmoored from its original purpose of addressing copyright infringement. We're going to court to protect everyone whose speech is squelched by this law, starting with Dr. Green and his book."