Judge Rejects Seizure Of Student's Computer Over Suspicious Activity... Such As Using A Command Line

from the good-news dept

Back in April, we wrote about how a student at Boston College had his computer seized for supposedly sending a hoax email. The evidence used to allow the seizure was incredibly questionable, including (among a few other things) the fact that the student in question: "uses two different operating systems to hide his illegal activities. One is the regular B.C. operating system and the other is a black screen with white font which he uses prompt commands on." Yes, that damn command line prompt is a sign of suspicious activities. Luckily, a judge has now ruled the search and the seizure illegal, noting that there didn't seem to be any clear violation of the law, and that the reasons behind allowing the search did not establish probable cause. So, feel free to go back to using an operating system via a command line prompt in Massachussetts again. Apparently, you're no longer an automatic suspect for hacking.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Bettawrekonize, May 26th, 2009 @ 1:35pm

    Wow, so I can use a Dos box to send spam E - Mails and hide my activity more efficiently than using other means? I never knew this. To think that command line interfaces were such an ideal means of doing such things never crossed my mind.

     

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  2.  
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    Bettawrekonize, May 26th, 2009 @ 1:38pm

    What did this kid do, did he build a program that runs in a dos box just to send a hoax e - mail? I really have to give him credit for doing all that, though I never would have thought such effort was necessary.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2009 @ 1:59pm

    I wonder what they'll do if they saw you with a Matrix screen saver.

     

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  4.  
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    PRMan, May 26th, 2009 @ 2:02pm

    I'm pretty sure...

    I'm pretty sure the other operating system was Linux.

    Can't have that. Must be a crime.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2009 @ 2:08pm

    Clerk Magitrate?

    The original search warrant was issued by a "clerk magistrate". Is that even a real judge or are court clerks issuing search warrants nowadays?

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2009 @ 2:19pm

    Re: I'm pretty sure...

    Linux is free so it must be illegal!

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymou12, May 26th, 2009 @ 2:28pm

    If you read the ORIGINAL article you would see that he happened to share the same- OS with the e-mail sender, and that the only one to visit the web site he set up with falsified data was someone using this same OS. An OS used by only ONE person on campus. Him. While the search MAY have not met the probable cause standard here, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to put two and two together....

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Shohat, May 26th, 2009 @ 2:31pm

    Re: I'm pretty sure...

    Linux isn't illegal, it's just fucking 8 years backwards.


    P.S There's a Ubuntu running in a Sun VirtualBox on my screen and this is posted from FF.
    On a MS Vista.
    Because it's awesome.

    And Unbuntu isn't.
    And I can grep faster than you can think.

     

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  9.  
    icon
    Jim (profile), May 26th, 2009 @ 2:42pm

    Whatever really,

    They got what they needed, he can't get in trouble for what's on his computer now, but they know what was there and that's all they wanted, I am sure...

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2009 @ 2:46pm

    Re:

    Yeh especially as it's one line in PHP... what a farce!

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    bob, May 26th, 2009 @ 3:20pm

    Remember The Right of Jury Nullification

    All I can say is, thank god for a sane judge.

     

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  12.  
    icon
    Esahc (profile), May 26th, 2009 @ 3:23pm

    Re:

    "You would see that he happened to share the same- OS with the e-mail sender, and that the only one to visit the web site he set up with falsified data was someone using this same OS. An OS used by only ONE person on campus. Him."

    How hard would it have been for the police to say that in the warrant? All this would have been a non issue.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2009 @ 3:37pm

    I'm sure the Powers That Be got what they wanted, but now the evidence is Fruit of the Poisonous tree.

    I suspect if they kick the kid out, he'll sue, go to school elsewhere, and it'll be paid for.

     

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  14.  
    icon
    Marcus Carab (profile), May 26th, 2009 @ 4:03pm

    Command line

    He didn't even necessarily use the command prompt as part of sending the hoax e-mail. All that had to happen was some administrator - who never used a computer before Windows (which always baffles me) let alone using Linux command prompts now - saw him at some point typing into a terminal screen. It could have been Linux, or a DOS-Box, or hell just "cmd" running full screen inside windows. To someone who had never seen that outside of Hollywood movies, it would be suspicious. It would lead them to write exactly the sort of hilarious description we saw in this case.

     

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  15.  
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    SuperSparky, May 26th, 2009 @ 4:16pm

    A College!!!

    This was a College?! If I was the judge, I'd have those involved in the illegal seizure attend the computer science professor's classes.

    There's nothing that annoys me more than a teacher that is a colossal retard when it comes to computers, even more so for a so-called "computer" teacher. Like the one high school teacher that went berserk over Firefox, or the other that sent a student to detention over "illegal" software (Linux), saying there is no such thing as free software and that Linux was illegal.

    Having a College, the entire administration, participate in this mass stupidity doesn't say much for the quality of the institution. Nevertheless, I'm sure they were all tenured union professors.

     

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  16.  
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    Vic, May 26th, 2009 @ 4:22pm

    And who's the wellwisher?

    Just wondering - who is that rat? You know, the one that looked over the guy's shoulder and later described the OS in question to the interested parties? Because that is a pretty lame description. (Could be anything from CP/M to just a console window in any Windows to Linux/Unix.) But could not stop ratting...

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    SRS2000, May 26th, 2009 @ 4:28pm

    Re:

    I can guarantee that he is not the only person on campus with that operating system. Perhaps thats all the incompetent cops could find in 2 minutes.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Christopher Smith, May 26th, 2009 @ 4:30pm

    Lawsuit, anyone?

    While the magistrate who signed off on the warrant certainly bears some blame, it seems to me that the warrant application in this case is so incompetent as to be frivolous (someone investigating computer crime thinks selection of colors is relevant?). Would there be grounds for a lawsuit alleging that the initial paperwork didn't meet the criteria for probable cause?

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    SRS2000, May 26th, 2009 @ 4:30pm

    Lawsuit

    I hope he sues everyone involved.

    I hate BS lawsuits.. But I think it needs to happen so that it does not happen to other people. Make an example out of the cops.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    SRS2000, May 26th, 2009 @ 4:33pm

    Re: Lawsuit

    Just a side note...

    The courts and cops LOVE to say how "Ignorance of the law is no excuse."

    I would love to make them eat their words.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    chris (profile), May 26th, 2009 @ 5:09pm

    Re: Command line

    All that had to happen was some administrator - who never used a computer before Windows (which always baffles me) let alone using Linux command prompts now - saw him at some point typing into a terminal screen.

    you can use putty full screen as well.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    The infamous Joe, May 26th, 2009 @ 5:34pm

    Re: Re: I'm pretty sure...

    I'm not saying you're wrong, but I really can't think of more than one thing MS Vista has that Ubuntu doesn't do better. (The one thing is obviously amount of software)

    I keep my tiny MS Vista partition around solely for iPhone jailbreaking, as it isn't possible in VirtualBox or WINE.

    Again, I'm not flaming, I'd really like to know-- because I left Windows and never looked back once.

    Sorry about the off-topic post, but I'm curious.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Easily Amused, May 26th, 2009 @ 6:14pm

    Re: Re: Re: I'm pretty sure...

    I can't believe I am about to defend M$ here...

    but that question is seriously tortured. That's pretty much the same as saying you can't think of one reason why someone would date a supermodel, other than being gorgeous, famous, and rich.

    Applications are the reason. Vista sucks in many ways, and is inherently unstable and slow compared to most Linux distros. But I would way rather deal with a few crashes and restarts while enjoying the hundreds of thousands of games and applications written for Windows, than brag about my system uptime in #ubuntu on IRC while waiting for the GiMP to render a sweet new penguin graphic.

    I run several FreeBSD servers, and I will not use a windows webhost on pain of death, but for a personal computer? No contest.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2009 @ 6:21pm

    Re:

    so if he weighs the same as a duck, then he's made of wood, and therefore a witch

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2009 @ 6:25pm

    Re:

    An OS used by only ONE person on campus. Him.

    I think you're making crap up now. You sound like that roommate of his.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2009 @ 6:34pm

    Re: Lawsuit, anyone?

    Would there be grounds for a lawsuit alleging that the initial paperwork didn't meet the criteria for probable cause?

    Unfortunately not. I know of a case where the cops busted into someone's house, busted and ripped up everything they could with axes and sledge hammers, killed their dog and then said "Oops, looks like we forgot the warrant!" before walking away laughing. Their attorney told them that about all they could do is have any evidence collected excluded from any criminal trial.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Bettawrekonize, May 26th, 2009 @ 7:16pm

    Re: Re: Lawsuit, anyone?

    They should be able to sue and be compensated for damages.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 26th, 2009 @ 11:30pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: I'm pretty sure...

    .... sucks in many ways, and is inherently unstable and slow compared to most Linux distros.

    Part of the problem is the rework. Software development is often offshored as a financial decision to reduce headcount. The perceived reduction in development costs is deemed okay by the business, however from a development perspective, the resulting code is rarely of good quality and there is usually a larger expense in reworking and support over the life of an offshored application. As a program manager who has to work with offshore efforts on daily basis, I often see no savings at all over the lifetime of a software product, and in some cases actually see projects costing a fortune to rework.

    On another note, inflation is a huge risk for a good part of the software industry. This is especially true for companies with large stakes in India. When the inflation tsunami hits (which it will) many software and IT companies that have offshored core development will be in real trouble. Part of the problem also is that tomorrow's IT and Development managers are not learning the ropes of the business for the simple fact that the lower level jobs don't exist in America.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Techsupoort, May 26th, 2009 @ 11:53pm

    Operating system

    I'm pretty sure the other operating system was Linux.
    Linux is free so it must be illegal!

     

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  30.  
    icon
    mark Rosedale (profile), May 27th, 2009 @ 8:23am

    Good thing for me

    That is very good news. It was so absurd and showed their ignorance in the wording. It would be funny if they weren't serious :-)

     

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  31.  
    icon
    RomeoSidVicious (profile), May 27th, 2009 @ 9:09am

    Re:

    If you read the ORIGINAL article you would see that he happened to share the same- OS with the e-mail sender, and that the only one to visit the web site he set up with falsified data was someone using this same OS. An OS used by only ONE person on campus. Him. While the search MAY have not met the probable cause standard here, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to put two and two together.... You have got to be kidding me. Linux is not used by ONE person on the Boston College campus. I can personally attest to more than that without even starting to look at students. I have been on site at Boston College, I cannot mention in what capacity, and can assure you that members of the IT department use Linux in various forms on laptops and workstations and I would be shocked, from what I saw, if there weren't quite a few Linux junkies among the student body. IF the original warrant stated these things and IIRC it didn't then it was false information to begin with and it only re-affirms the judge's ruling. Luddites who don't know OSX from OS/2 shouldn't be allowed to request warrants for anything that even displays text on a screen. All that aside the information from the original warrant could easily be construed to say the kid was using a hackintosh and I am 100% certain that Boston College supports Macs. There is no way in hell the warrant could have met probable cause based on the OS and furthermore the amount of stuff confiscated was insane. The original issuer of the warrant got smacked down, and rightly so, by a judge who doesn't have his head up his ass.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    Almost Anonymous, May 27th, 2009 @ 12:58pm

    Hate to say it

    But I agree with the overall gist of the warrant. After reading it, sounds to me like there was probable cause for the search and seizure.

    Yes, the part about the white font on a black background was asinine. But the sum total of indicators pointed to the roommate committing some sort of crime, although I wouldn't want to be the one to decide exactly what crime.

    Also, nobody stated the roommate was the only person running Linux on campus. They stated that during the five days prior to "the incident", the roommate was one of two people running Ubuntu in Gabelli Hall (sounds like a dorm hall). I would assume that this comes from SysAdmin records which evidently identify the OS requesting an IP.

    In this case, making a stink about the command line business was much ado about nothing, I think the warrant could (and should) have stood with or without that bit.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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