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. identicon
    Scote, 17 Jun 2014 @ 11:36am

    Context counts in criminal trials

    First off, let me say I favored Aaron Swartz goal of liberating public domain documents. However, in a criminal trial about whether his attempts to access those documents on a network were criminal, any extra steps he used to avoid the network security could be used as evidence against him, that he was taking extra steps to get around security that was designed to stop an individual from doing what he was doing on that specific network.

    It isn't as simple as "switching MAC addresses" is criminal when Swartz did vs "switching MAC addresses" is good when Apple does it any more than "driving" is bad when someone drives away from a bank robbery, but driving is good when Google Maps drives. The context does make a difference. And if MAC address switching had been a standard feature, enabled by default by the manufacturer, on his laptop, it wouldn't have been an issue at trial. The issue was that he specifically invoked it to get around security measures. Now, I don't think that rose to the level of criminality alleged by the publicity happy fed, nor that it necessarily was sufficient evidence that he violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse act, but it was evidence that he knew what he was doing wasn't within the way the network was designed to be accessed.

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