When Aaron Swartz Spoofed His MAC Address, It Proved He Was A Criminal; When Apple Does It, It's Good For Everyone

from the only-the-second-one-is-true dept

Whenever we write about Aaron Swartz and the criminal prosecution against him, some of our (and Aaron's) critics scream that it was "obvious" that he knew he was up to no good, because he chose to spoof his MAC address on the machine he used to download JSTOR articles. Of course, as many people explained, spoofing a MAC address isn't some crazy nefarious thing to do, and often makes a lot of sense. In fact, Apple recently announced that iOS 8 will have randomized MAC addresses to better protect people's privacy. Simply speaking: Apple is making "MAC spoofing" standard. And, as the folks over at EFF are noting, this is a very good thing for your privacy.

As Cory Doctorow points out, this highlights the ridiculousness of MAC spoofing being used as evidence against Swartz, when now it's going to be a standard feature of iPhones and iPads (and, hopefully, other device makers will quickly follow suit).

This, of course, is one of the unfortunate results when you have law enforcement folks who simply don't understand much technology. People who actually understand both privacy and the ways you might approach problems you face on the internet, recognize that things like MAC spoofing are perfectly reasonable to do at times -- but such actions are twisted by law enforcement as being nefarious and dangerous because it makes it easier to "build a case" and because they don't understand how perfectly common such actions are.

Filed Under: aaron swartz, ios, mac address, privacy, spoofing

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  1. icon
    Rikuo (profile), 17 Jun 2014 @ 12:11pm

    Re: Uh, no.

    "The the point is that if you take *specific* steps to avoid the security in place that can be used as evidence that you A) knew there was security in place B) that you took steps to avoid it, which can be used as evidence that C) you knew what you were doing was prohibited."

    Here, you aren't defining what security is. Not very likely, but it could very well be that the neighbour's security is the fact his router is ac (which is not very common yet), and his thinking is that since only a few people have ac wifi capability in their devices, it acts as a form of security through obscurity.
    Now suddenly here I come with my laptop, I stick in my ac USB device into my laptop, and am able to access the neighbour's router (let's say he's stupid enough to not have a password). Using your reasoning from above, I took a specific step to avoid his security (using an ac device), I knew the ac 'security' was there, thus this then means that anyone using an 802.11ac USB device has done something illegal.
    Which is the problem with the mac address spoofing that is being focused on. Something that millions of IT professionals do on a regular basis, which is a basic concept (spoofing MAC address/using an ac wifi device) becomes determined bad by the court.

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