PFF Says BU Helps Terrorists By Not Handing Over Students To RIAA

from the today's-shill-brought-to-you-by... dept

I really try to avoid reading the Progress & Freedom Foundation’s intellectual property blog, because it just raises my blood pressure with a near constant stream of highly misleading arguments or just purely ridiculous claims. However, Tim Lee points out that Tom Sydnor is up to his usual tricks of taking some bit of news, twisting the context around completely, leaving out fairly important details and coming up with a conclusion that doesn’t even add up from his own twisted reasoning. This time, it’s about the recent story where a judge correctly dropped RIAA lawsuits against some Boston University students after the school noted that it could not identify who the alleged infringers were with certainty.

This set off quite the rant from Sydnor, who claims that this now means that BU’s network is a “safe harbor” for “terrorists, pedophiles, phishing-scheme operators, hackers [and] identity thieves” by giving them a “get out of jail free” card. This is similar to those silly and easily disproved arguments from years ago that open WiFi would allow criminals to all get away with any online crimes they wanted.

This makes two faulty assumptions that Sydnor either knows and ignores, or is ignorant about (neither of these are good options). First, it assumes that all of those other activities wouldn’t leave any other trail. That, of course, is ridiculous. Your network usage is hardly the only bit of information all of those other criminal uses leave. Second, it assumes that every person on a network is easy to identify. In fact, it’s quite difficult to establish, with any degree of certainty, who a particular IP address belongs to. Thanks to a variety of different factors, an IP address is not at all a good identifier of who is doing something online. This has been one of our problems with lawsuits relying on such info. It’s notoriously unreliable, leading to many bogus charges (collateral damage to supporters like Sydnor, apparently, but not to those of us who believe in actually having evidence before accusing someone of a crime). It also does not mean, as Sydnor claims, that BU network administrators are “incompetent.” It just means they’re honest.

But, rather than face up to any of those facts, Sydnor skips over them and goes for the emotional charge:

Perhaps the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security should explain the broader implications of this ruling to BU before clumsy efforts that coddle student piracy help get someone defrauded, molested, or killed. BU’s IT Department might also consider the potential legal implications of acts that tend to conceal the identity of lawbreakers.

Yes, or perhaps anyone with a bit of common sense could explain to Sydnor how networks work and the difference between not being able to identify a user vs. “concealing the identity of a lawbreaker.” Apparently, based on Sydnor’s twisted reasoning here, any network operator who cannot identify each and every user on its network may be guilty of being an accessory to a crime. Sydnor, who rushes to point to legal precedents supposedly (though often not really) supporting his position at every opportunity, somehow misses out on the right to anonymity which has been established many times in court. But why let little things like facts and reality get in the way of claiming that a reasonable response from BU sysadmins is going to lead to a safe haven for terrorists and pedophiles and criminal charges against BU network operators?

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Comments on “PFF Says BU Helps Terrorists By Not Handing Over Students To RIAA”

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Unless they do. (

Maybe your logs will show who had leased the IP address at any one time correctly (assuming nobody’s tampered with the logs). That doesn’t mean that the correct IP address is being investigated to begin with. Remember the case a few months ago where a college was accused of downloading copyrighted files, but the IP address belonged to a laser printer?

I’d hope that you’re not the sys admin of any company I work for if you’re that easily fooled by fake information, and apparently willing to give people up based on such flimsy evidence.

Gorshkov says:

Re: Re:

I can tell you who had an IP address on a given day and time for seven years. Damn, logs people,logs. They do not lie.

You can tell what ACCOUNT had a given IP address on any given time of day …. assuming all clocks involved were in sync, and you actually know the time to look for in the logs.

But that doesn’t tell you WHO was in front of the computer at the time – or even *what* computer, if you’re dealing with an internal, NATed network.

ike says:

Re: Re:

I can tell you who had an IP address on a given day and time for seven years.

No, you can tell which client pays the bill for the IP.

Which of the household’s computer initiated the connection or was it via the WiFi? Was it a person in the household that initiated the connection, or was it software (trojan, proxy, etc)? And if it was a person, which member of the household initiated the connection, or was it a guest? Knowing the IP doesn’t answer any of those questions.

OldGeek says:


Well this proves that he hasn’t been in college or on a campus with any type of laptop. Anyone who’s done they’re homework and tried to upload it to the professors site knows just how well the network runs. All the youngin’s I’m in school with wait till they get home to do any serious downloading, it beats an overloaded school network.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The Shill

Mr. Beckerman,

Some months ago you felt (and with clear justification) you had been professionally slighted on this site. An apology was promptly given.

No matter what one’s views may be with respect to Mr. Sydnor’s opinions, I do believe he deserves the same courtesy of being treated respectfully.

Perhaps you may wish to consider revising your comment with this in mind.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The Shill

A fair point that I failed to consider. Thank you for pointing it out.

Merely FYI, I made the assumption (perhaps in error) that Mr. Beckerman was the source of the comment given that in the very few instances he has commented here he has always done so using his full name and the URL associated with his blog site.

Peter Blaise Monahon (profile) says:

Unreasonable fear superscedes reasoned logic every time!


Peter Blaise responds:

This is the Rush Limbaugh syndrome where someone links three consecutive sentences only by saying them quickly in succession, otherwise there is no underlying logic whatsoever that could possibly tie them together.

In Catholic grammar school, I saw this all the time: “If I let YOU go the bathroom, I’ll have to let EVERYONE go to the bathroom, then there will be CHAOS.” Conclusion? Sit down and hold it till the end of class. Result? Kidney stones!

BS then as now. In fact, that’s all Catholic school ever really helped me refine is a BS filter a mile thick.


Gabriel says:

It still really, really bothers me that these people seem to be operating from a fundamental assumption that everything we do online can, in fact, be tracked.

The fact that they’re affiliated with many of the companies whose websites who do a lot of online tracking, makes me wonder if they’re operating from a position of practical knowledge in this regard.

Democracy only works when you have privacy. These people seem to tacitly assume that there is no such thing. I wonder if they know something we don’t.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It still really, really bothers me that these people seem to be operating from a fundamental assumption that everything we do online can, in fact, be tracked.

The fact that they’re affiliated with many of the companies whose websites who do a lot of online tracking, makes me wonder if they’re operating from a position of practical knowledge in this regard.

Short answer: No, they are not – and no, they can’t.
Working for a company that does a lot of tracking does NOT imply any special knowledge ….. think of a secretary working for Ford or GM – do you really think that secretary knows how to design or build a car?

Duodave (user link) says:

Just because we can, doesnt mean we should

Ages and ages ago when computers were first designed maybe every computer should have been built with cameras, eye scanners and fingerprint scanners. Then, maybe we could have established with some certainty, who was using them at any given time.

But no, we didn’t do that. The early inventors of computers never foresaw the need for that. The inventors of the internet didn’t foresee the need for archival identification using IP addresses, either. It’s only now people are trying to forensically associate IP addresses with identities – and it’s like putting a square peg in a round hole. Not an exact fit.

You can't be serious says:

Re: Just because we can, doesnt mean we should

Even if the early inventors had seen the need, it still would be impractical, unethical and easily circumvented.

BTW, there is no NEED for id of computer users. There is a desire on the part of advertisers, and there is a attempt on the part of government – in the name of fighting terror, drugs, child pron, etc, etc, (insert latest OMG item of the day).

Even if they had such surveillance capabilities, it would only affect the typical, mostly honest, users. The nefarious would find ways around it.

Matthew Miller (user link) says:

so, the point is...

Of course BU has logs, and perfectly reasonable ones. And BU was required to provide them to the judge, who and made the (impressively tech savvy) determination that DHCP matchings aren’t sufficient to demonstrate that a given _person_ was behind a certain activity from that IP address at a given time. And therefore that turning those logs over to the RIAA would very likely produce an unreasonable legal burden on completely innocent students.

Hasatan says:

Seems to me that rather than relying on a frequently changing network address, which identifies a CONNECTION on the network, not WHO is using that connection, security should be implemented on the HUMAN level, like using badges at the door or some other means of security so you know who the PERSONS are using your equipment.

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