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College Police Think Using Linux Is Suspicious Behavior 1079

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the so-is-your-mom dept.
FutureDomain writes "The Boston College Campus Police have seized the electronics of a computer science student for allegedly sending an email outing another student. The probable cause? The search warrant application states that he is 'a computer science major' and he uses 'two different operating systems for hiding his illegal activity. One is the regular B.C. operating system and the other is a black screen with white font which he uses prompt commands on.' The EFF is currently representing him."
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College Police Think Using Linux Is Suspicious Behavior

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  • by rolfwind (528248) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @03:47PM (#27575617)

    First time I ever heard that. Does Boston College suddenly come out with their own Linux Distro?

  • Re:sure it is (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GNUbuntu (1528599) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @03:50PM (#27575677)
    Not to mention the fact that Boston College's Research Services runs it's own Linux cluster: []. zOMG TEH CRIMINALS!
  • Re:sure it is (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @03:56PM (#27575811)

    Sadly, I think we're at the point in that tail where they switch to "Four legs good - two legs Better!"

  • Very sadly, IMHO (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Weaselmancer (533834) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @03:57PM (#27575829)

    True enough.

    I was walking through the basement of our student union building many years ago. The building was mostly closed - we were at a gaming con and minimal stuff was open. I noticed the door to the game room was ajar. I went in and started playing video games with a few of my friends.

    Turns out I tripped a silent alarm. About 15 minutes in, campus police busted in and threw us up against the wall at gunpoint. No kidding, I had a gun pressed against the base of my skull.

    All that for 3 geeks who were playing video games.

    We talked a bit with the cops afterwards. They bragged about how they had us "under surveillance" for over five minutes without any of us noticing. I pointed out that if that were true, did any of them notice the fact that we were *leaving* money there rather than taking it? Blank stares.

    So IMHO, they're worse than regular cops. They're bored out of their minds - and have real guns. They so desperately want some crime to deal with, but there just isn't much other than the odd frat house kegger that gets out of control or the occasional parking ticket. I'd be bored to near-insanity too.

  • by krovisser (1056294) * on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @04:01PM (#27575891)
    would think. The warrant is junk, yes. But the kid, judging from what the warrant cites, was asking for it. Also, the cop seems to be a real cop.
  • by EveryNickIsTaken (1054794) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @04:02PM (#27575927)
    My first day at a private college, we were explicitly told that the constitution does not apply within their property.
  • Re:Very sadly, IMHO (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @04:14PM (#27576155)

    That's not true. Many large schools have very serious crime. In my community college we have one car stolen per day off the lot, reports of rapes and muggings on and off again. The campus police have their own cruisers and wear bullet proof vests and swear by them. Guns? Yes. The people they're dealing with are often hardcore car thieves who target schools for a reason, and violent sex offenders are often the cause of the rapes and muggings. Crime is crime whether it's on school grounds or not. And most of it is from outsiders. And the recent campus school shootings should at least show that campus cops have to be prepared for everything.

  • Re:Very sadly, IMHO (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @04:19PM (#27576273)

    Anyways, "real" crime is dangerous. If you're up against murderers, you can get shot or stabbed. On the other hand, giving out parking tickets usually isn't life-threatening. Some cops might prefer not being in danger if they don't have to, since they're human after all.

    Haha. Did you know that UC Berkeley police have a bomb squad? It's kind of sad that a campus police force needs a bomb squad...

  • Re:Rent-a-cops (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sleepy (4551) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @04:21PM (#27576337) Homepage

    Campus police are deputized.

    This simply means if/when they screw up, there's no one to hold accountable (except the University itself.. and as a student, do you REALLY want to go there??).

    They have the exact same powers as the Boston Police though, so it is the perfect job for candidates who crave authoritarian power, but did not pass the psych exam to be a real police officer. I honestly expected "taser" to be in the story.

  • Search warrant... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AdamTrace (255409) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @04:24PM (#27576399)

    Did anyone actually read the search warrant? There's a LOT more in there than "using Linux".

    Changing grades, hacking into unauthorized systems, non-trivial harassment...

    This is one of the most misleading headlines I've seen in a long time.

  • Re:sure it is (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @04:38PM (#27576673)

    Not to mention the amount of damning evidence against the kid. They have DHCP leases of when the mass email went out to the school.

    Roommate problems. One roommate sends out a mass-email to campus saying other roommate is 'gay' and coming out. It all sounds like a sophomoric prank using computers instead of posters, fliers, etc.

    It also alleges that back when the roommates were 'friends' hacker dude put a second account on roommates computer while fixing it.

    Half paranoia on some accounts, but for the most part most accusations sound plausible.

  • this has and will (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nimbius (983462) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @04:52PM (#27576957) Homepage

    continue to happen. personally, i was suspended 3 days in highschool for having the audacity to remotely log into my home pc and download my homework under the guise of "hacking with unix."

    ive been stopped in the laguardia intl. airport for booting a laptop that only posted a command prompt, ordered to produce "the start button" and when i couldnt i was detained for 20 minutes
    for a nice chat with the TSA.

    blame Hollywood. ever since hackers a command prompt is a sign of devious intent. all three matrixes implied it, johnny mnemonic, terminator 2, and the latest die hard to some extent all confirm
    console=evil superhacker.

    i guess on the bright side, im finally pretty cool now :)

  • Re:sure it is (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Altus (1034) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @05:14PM (#27577357) Homepage

    yea, but since when is calling someone gay a matter for the police?

    He is accused of changing grades (a serious offense) and calling someone gay (a civil matter at best) and there is some evidence that he called that person gay so clearly thats enough evidence for a warrant?

  • Re:sure it is (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bensode (203634) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @05:18PM (#27577427)

    Virtual Unix-Like Vexing Apparatus ?

  • Re:sure it is (Score:3, Interesting)

    by platypussrex (594064) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @05:21PM (#27577507)
    The defamation part is in publishing information that might harm the person's character. Nothing there about truth. In some cases truth is a defense, sometimes not, but it's not part of the original tort. So yes, it's sometimes possible for a true statement to be defamatory.
  • Re:nope- not bs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by atraintocry (1183485) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @05:37PM (#27577795)

    Gotta love modding for censorship purposes.

    Let's see him mod me to. Parent is links to a couple of citations backing up the GP's claim, which is that police departments can and do screen out high-IQ candidates.

    What surprises me is that it's going on in Connecticut. Because I've dealt with my share of CT cops and frankly the screening isn't necessary, they're not going to discover any hidden geniuses among those guys.

  • Re:sure it is (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @05:47PM (#27577967)
    What does it mean when the truth harms a person's character?
  • Re:What? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Workaphobia (931620) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @05:54PM (#27578091) Journal

    Apparently so. Slashdot seems to have grossly overlooked this key point, a hybrid cross between the myspace suicide precedent and slander/libel laws: Speech that would be shrugged off if it took place in person, amounts to unauthorized access to a computer network ("hacking") if it happens on a mailing list. This is a disgusting argument, and basically implies that almost all AC trolls could be arrested or their equipment seized, at the will of the police.

    First you make everything a crime. Then you decide which laws to enforce. Britain already does this for the purpose of getting free DNA samples from anyone they please.

  • Re:Probable Cause? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @06:01PM (#27578221)

    Correction: The easiest way to prevent the populace from rising up and defending itself is to take away everyone's rights.

    This is an attractive option for all oppressive governments (and ALL governments which go unchecked by the populace become oppressive over time). The side-effect is that criminals take advantage of the unprotected, unprepared populace just the same way as the oppressive governments.

    This is why "statesman != politician", but "politician == criminal". We've bred a society that selects for voters who elect politicians instead of statesmen, and breeds far more politicians than statesmen anyways.

    Our downfall as a nation (US) has thus been assured. Now, it is only a matter of time.

  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @06:06PM (#27578327)

    For many of them, including municipal police, no, I don't wonder at all.

    Boston College isn't a municipal police force.

    That aside, Boston Police offers a VERY healthy salary increase for each step up the ladder. It is extremely common for Boston Police officers to have at least a bachelors degree or higher because of it.

  • Re:sure it is (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lwsimon (724555) <> on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @06:14PM (#27578463) Homepage Journal

    This is the kind of thing that gun owners - especially licensed dealers - have put up with for years, from the BATFE.

    Coming to America near you!

    What's that you say? Just a gun nut talking? []

    Cavalry Arms, a store in AZ, was raided in Febuary of 2008. Their inventory was taken, along with their complete customer records, including backups. The pretense for the raid was "suspicious of violating federal firearms laws." Today, 14 months later, they have yet to be charged with a crime. Meanwhile, the items seized have been auctioned by the government, and they have not been reimbursed.

    I could go on to show cases where ATF agents killed pets - in one case, stomping on a kitten on their way off the property - trashed citizens' houses and left the door busted in, and one case where the person being raided "committed suicide" - in a room that had already been searched for weapons, with an officer 5' away, and without getting gunshot residue on his hands.

    Please people, I beg you. Wake up and see what's happening before this becomes more common.

  • by Wardish (699865) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @06:32PM (#27578799) Journal

    The accuser was involved in a domestic dispute with the Mr. Calixte shortly before he made the accusations.

    The accuser was deemed credible because he had worked with the police on other investigations.
          The accuser claimed these crimes had been committed previously and over a period of time.
          He only mentioned them after a domestic dispute, doing so might be reasonably labeled as retaliation or revenge. Which puts a big dent in credible.
          In addition he can be considered a co-conspirator as he was aware of these ongoing crimes, committed in his presence, and chose not to report them. Another big dent in credible.

    I would be interested in learning if there was any compensation for providing information to the police in this or any investigation. This would be to determine if the accuser had any incentives or assumption of incentives other than revenge or retaliation.

    As to the Mr. Calixte expertize the warrant stated that he "is a computer science major who is considered a master of the trade amongst his peers."
          Yet such an expert failed to understand that logs are kept, worked for the IT dept (logs can be scrubbed). Failed to take simple precautions using proxy servers available all over the world that can be used to remain anonymous for web browsing/work, for email, for any number of services etc.

    Most amusing:
          If Mr. Calixte created the gay website and the claim is not true then he's (being the roommate) reasonably and predictably going to be assumed to be gay as well. Note: I personally don't care if one or both roommates or even the detective is gay other than as it applies to this matter.

    Last but not least. This was done by someone who is competent but in no way a "master of the trade". Since domestic disputes tend to build up over time, it's just as reasonable to assume the accuser, with the help and skills of another close friend, created this as a setup. Not difficult if Mr. Calixte left his laptop loose in the room when out for the evening or some such.

  • Re:Oh please (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Quothz (683368) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @06:34PM (#27578829) Journal
    I've had a couple cop buddies, and probably more non-friendly interactions with police than average. I think you're spot on, for the most part. I'd like to add a little, tho'.

    Still the reason why cop abuse stories hit the news so hard is because it isn't commonplace

    That, plus police are in a position of strong public trust. When a cop does wrong, people feel extra-betrayed (as well they should). That goes double when it's someone high-ranking, and triple when that person is or appears to be covering for his or her underlings' misbehavior. Police are held to a higher standard by the public; they should be held to that standard by law and practice, but often are not, which fuels discontent.

    As to intelligence, what you said. Police often appear to be dumber than they are, because often they're following carefully-designed and intensely-trained procedures. Particularly when gathering evidence, police are trained to do so carefully and pedantically in a Socratic way.

    A good law enforcement officer usually should appear as dumb as a box of rocks. When handling routine matters, he or she is following a routine procedure in a standard way. When gathering evidence, this helps ensure that the chain of evidence is complete (and doesn't include unwarranted logical leaps or assumptions by the police), and helps avoid the police equivalent of researcher bias (leading a suspect or witness into saying what the cop wants to hear).

    The smartest cops are the ones that appear to be stupid. Stupid cops try to act smart, joking with or about suspects, making "clever" threats, and so forth.

  • Re:sure it is (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @06:59PM (#27579213)

    That's a hoot. The list of items capable of storing digital data is great. He's also confiscating "operating systems." WTF?

    That said, it looks like the roommate is making some pretty serious accusations. There's certainly enough to warrant investigating to some degree. If there's no basis in fact for any of it, the roommate needs to be kicked out of school and charged with filing a false police report and defamation of character.

    And when you read further, the kid's doing a lot of stuff that's easily colored as suspicious. Using Linux is the least of these, and it's not clear whose opinion it is that he's using it to "hide" anything.

    Sensationalist headlines on Slashdot win again.

  • It would seem that Mass is given to crass overreaction, as is evident by the overreactions to The MIT babe wearing an LED circuit on her jacket, and by the LED ads that Time/Warnet (I think) placed all over Boston.

    I know there are idiots in the world. But none are finer than the Mass Holes.

    Perhaps Mass Holes will grow up one day and become real people with brains. Yeah, right.

  • Re:sure it is (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fallen Seraph (808728) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @07:10PM (#27579385)
    Ummm, problem with that. It doesn't say "He says he stole laptops" it says "He has been seen with many different laptops, which he claims are either being fixed for friends, or are being tested for the university (where he works)" [both of these aren't direct quotes, they're paraphrased] and it implies that his roommate thinks they're stolen.

    Right now I have... 3 notebooks in my room, only one of which belongs to me. Even at college it wasn't uncommon for me to have someone else's notebook at any given time. So to say that that represents suspicion of criminal behavior is absurd, since he's described as being an expert in computers, and even works for the university's IT department. If he has no, or few computer skills, then it'd be suspicious.

    And as for the changing of grades, I suspect that's largely false, since the university did not claim to have incurred any intrusions in their network, and surely a professor would have noticed this at some point or another if this were happening often. Their only evidence is hearsay (from the guy who he has a grudge with).

    One a side note, I find it interesting that the warrant is very descriptive of the items which the police are allowed to take, yet describes a computer as "a CPU." Granted it says it's "not limited to this" and that it's for "all object which store data in any form," but when was the last time your scanner stored data? Or your processor for that matter (other than when it's handling data, that is, turned on). It's not like someone's going to store all their secrets in a processor register...
  • Re:sure it is (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Enderandrew (866215) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [werdnaredne]> on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @07:32PM (#27579671) Homepage Journal

    As a scary side-note, the observation I've made working for a newspaper, is that not only is journalism moving to blogs and online sources, but people seem to actually PREFER biased news sources. You'll note that CNN has fallen behind both MSNBC and Fox News, sadly enough. And while newspapers across the country die (and most people say good riddance) few people seem to notice or care that AP feed and local newspaper reporters are often the ones doing the actual investigation and primary reporting so many stories.

    When meta-services exist with no source for their news, what will happen to journalism, especially when people seem more interested with the slant than the details?

    I sincerely fear for the media state we are moving towards.

  • Re:sure it is (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RobertLTux (260313) <robert AT laurencemartin DOT org> on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @08:24PM (#27580335)

    well actually a real lawyer would have a six page header that explains

    1 that he may or may not have the tickets to give legal advise in your location
    2 he is not your lawyer and this communication does not create an attorney client relationship
    3 details of this situation may need to be found out to figure what the law states
    4 you may in fact be without a leg to stand on

  • Re:Rent-a-cops (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wamerocity (1106155) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @08:50PM (#27580619) Journal
    So I have a curious question, are there any circumstances where you can hit/kill a police officer in self-defense? For example, if a policeman was arresting you under false pretenses and using brutal force, could you strike back, or are you required to take it under any and all circumstances?
  • RTFwarrant (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nick_davison (217681) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @09:16PM (#27580897)

    "College Police Think Using Linux Is Suspicious Behavior

    If you read the warrant request...

    A student was falsely outed by a fake profile on adam2adam, a gay site.

    Server logs show it was accessed by two web based email accounts.

    Those accounts were traced by the network registration system to, a machine on 00:23:28:BE:24... a machine runing Linux.

    On page 7, it states that only two machines in the entire hall of residence accessed the network using Linux.

    So, yes, when you narrow down all possible suspects to just two people who both use Linux... and the machine is on an account registered to one of them... Using Linux, in that specific case, really is exceptionally suspicious behavior.

    It's a cheap headline grabber to imply, "Dumb cops think Linux is weird and so criminal!" In reality, it's a computer forensics specialist writing an incredibly clearly, methodical listing, tracking down a harassment issue to a Linux machine, registered under the suspect's name.

    Sorry dude, you were a raging douchebag who falsely outed someone because you two had an argument and you're a lousy enough hacker that your anonymous web based mail accounts led them straight to the specific machine you did it on. Screaming OMG, COPS HATE LINUX doesn't make it any less true.

  • Re:sure it is (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bzipitidoo (647217) <> on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @09:22PM (#27580973) Journal

    The law should be accessible to ordinary folks. Don't talk as if the law is some arcane discipline comprehensible only by high dollar specialists, you'll just make things worse. Self-fulfilling thinking.

    Sadly, much of the law is difficult. Periodically, we have jargon reduction campaigns, which helps. And we have no shortage of armchair lawyers, which is a good thing. If ever the majority gets to the point where we automatically throw up our hands in despair of ever being able to figure out the convolutions of the law, or in disgust at the corruption, trouble of the revolutionary sort will soon follow. Like the Byzantine Empire, with the ugly legacy of its name coming to mean incomprehensible, overly complex bureaucracy and treachery.

  • Re:sure it is (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rubycodez (864176) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @09:44PM (#27581205)

    actually, there are places in the world where you can drive any vehicle you want with no registration or inspection. and if you buy some food that gives you diarrhea you can stab the cook. now that's freedom.

  • Re:sure it is (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ppanon (16583) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @10:19PM (#27581519) Homepage Journal

    All of the accusations come from one source who doesn't meet credibility standards for informants.

    If all there were were uncorroborated accusations then that would be true. However some of the harrassment accusations are backed up by substantial corroborating evidence (presumably the mail system had a copy of the harassment mass e-mail, in addition to all the DHCP and proxy logs identified in the warrant request).

    The accused sounds like he fits the profile of someone with an inferiority complex who bragged to his roommate about what he could accomplish to try to impress the other guy and gain acceptance. Then later, when things didn't work out, our antihero tried to demoralize the roommate into submission by anonymously accusing him of behaviour that (unfortunately due to widespread USA puritanical attitudes) would inflict significant social and emotional stress. This behaviour constitutes cyberbullying and there may be applicable statutes in Massachusetts. []

    All the other accusations of copyright infringement, unauthorized use of a computer system, and academic misconduct are just gravy. However, if they find something relevant to those accusations, it makes the roommate's testimony more credible at trial for having predicted it. It also makes it less likely that the defense could challenge the search warrant as a fishing expedition if the police discovered nothing on the harassment charge but something on the other accusations instead.

    Now mind you, if the guy did what he was accused of and did it under Ubuntu with encrypted partition(s), I suspect it will be beyond Sgt. Murphy's ability to deal with it. Then again, so far the student's purported "cracker skills" sound more like script-kiddie level stuff; something that may have made him 1337 in a backwater high school, but hardly Legion of Doom stuff. If the kid thought "bootleg-laptop" was a smart name for a laptop and left DHCP and proxy log footprints while harassing someone else, he may not have been smart enough to use an encryption password that would resist a dictionary attack. Really, with a laptop, I'd think he would do some WARdriving outside campus to find an open hotspot and cover his tracks better. So if the laptop gets sent to the FBI for further analysis, they may have a chance to crack it.

    Now if some judge fidns him guilty and winds up giving him 10 years for this (while Scooter Libby got his sentence commuted to a 2-year probation), or they find unauthorized copies of media that lead to an RIAA/MPAA demand for a $500,000 punitive fine, I'll get upset. But if he did do what he's accused of, then he's long overdue for a reality check.

  • Re:sure it is (Score:3, Interesting)

    by loxosceles (580563) on Tuesday April 14, 2009 @11:00PM (#27581747)

    However, just because they're "real" sworn police doesn't mean they're the best and the brightest in law enforcement. Campus police tend to be on the lower end of the police officer bell curve.

    (to GP: I'd be rather surprised if any major college these days relied on private security. Maybe some really small colleges do, but when one of the most pressing legal concerns for colleges is what happens if some idiot starts shooting people, having private security seems like a fairly large liability...)

  • Re:sure it is (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Thing 1 (178996) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @12:10AM (#27582213) Journal

    I could be wrong but I think in many cases the money received by states for vehicle registration (and possibly inspections too) go towards paying for varies levies and funds, similar to the majority of a speeding ticket goes to pay for things for schools and only a small portion of your ticket is the real fine. But I do agree with you on the other items you listed.

    While not disagreeing with you, I do very much disagree with the way that we keep increasing "taxes" through other means, which are not directly called "taxes".

    The punishment should fit the crime. Speeding is "essentially" a thought crime; unless and until there is a collision, there is no victim (yes I understand that "people were put at risk"). Crimes without victims should be immediately removed from the books, to help improve the economy.

    (This got a little confusing; what I was getting at is speeding fines tend to be much higher than they really should be based on the amount of damage that the speeder actually caused (i.e., none); and one reason for the increase in speeding fines is to pay for other, completely unrelated, political agendas. Then it morphed into my response to the evening news that Mass has a huge shortfall to recover from, and will be raising taxes, pulling over people whose "speeding" is closer to "2 or 3 mph over the limit" instead of 10, reducing services and salaries (Deval Patrick said he'd even take a pay cut); my response was a simple three words: "legalize victimless crimes" -- remove the mafia incentive to buy and sell drugs and prostitutes, and we'll all be a lot better off, just as re-legalizing alcohol drastically reduced mafia influence back in the 1920s.)

    But, since that doesn't support our prison economy, or the legislative drive to impose harsher and longer sentences (see article on the added "sophistication" charge of using a proxy), it'll never happen.

  • Re:sure it is (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sjames (1099) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @08:44AM (#27584695) Homepage

    I think people are reading it wrong. The student isn't a sus[pect because he uses Linux, he's a suspect because his computer has been identified as the one that was assigned the IP address that was used to create the fake profile on a gay dating site. The DHCP logs further show that the system was running Linux.

    Given that, the rarity of Linux use on the campus DOES legitimately contribute to the detective's certainty that he has the right guy, not because it's Linux, but because it's not what most of the students are using.

    HOWEVER, none of that is what the EFF is complaining about. The problem they have is that the charge is unauthorized access of a computer system. None of the carefully documented and reasoned evidence for probable cause points to that particular crime. Perhaps the harassing activities SHOULD be a crime, but since there's no prosecution for that, I presume that either it is not, or they're trying to inflate things by charging him with a more serious crime without appropriate evidence, possibly using the evidence of a much lesser crime as a license to go fishing.

    If the crime was the harassment of the student, THEN the warrant would be solid.

    The other problem is that even given that, since all of the equipment is in a dorm, proving beyond reasonable doubt that the owner is the one who used the computer(s) to commit the crime would be unlikely at best.

    The other problem is that at least some of the items taken cannot possibly be relevant. For example, his cellphone would not be the UNIX computer that obtained the IP address over a wired ethernet connection, so why was it taken?

    The larger issue is the handling of computer evidence in general. Law enforcement has a long history of sweeping in and taking anything that uses electricity (battery or plug in) when they execute a warrant for computer evidence.

    Effectively, they send the suspect back to the early '70s with not so much as a solar powered 4 function calculator to his name. Then, even though they could expertly image all hard drives and flash content byte for byte sufficiently to document a crime, they tend to hold on to the actual hardware for a considerable period of time. The suspect (who is to be presumed innocent) is then left unable to work or communicate for a long period of time. (no computer and no cellphone for a C.S. major with a job in IT for example).

    While it's understandable that by it's nature law enforcement must impose itself on citizens who have not yet been (and may never be) found guilty of a crime, that imposition must be kept to a minimum in a free society. That means bending over backwards to not leave a person unable to work or communicate for indeterminate periods, especially when it is possible to avoid (and it IS possible by imaging the devices quickly and returning them within a day). If court evidence requires that they examine the originals, they could easily image the hard drive and return the laptop with the copy installed, keeping the original drive for evidence. If it's not worth $100 for the police to do that, they probably shouldn't be pursuing that suspect at all.

    The EFF is concerned about all of that as well.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @09:19AM (#27585057)

    You are wrong and the grandparent is right. The EFF says that "the ... officer argued that the computer expertise of the student itself supported a finding of probable cause." Matt Zimmerman, "Boston College Campus Police: 'Using Prompt Commands' May Be a Sign of Criminal Activity," EFF Deeplinks Blog, April 14, 2009, available at []. This is on their website, written by a Senior Staff Attorney, see EFF, Profile of Matt Zimmerman, []. It is indisputably a "representation of what the EFF said." Their characterization is plainly false if you read the warrant application; the officer argued that a number of factors, all told, supported a finding of probable cause that a crime was being or had been committed.

    Furthermore, my opinion is that there is probable cause to believe a crime was being or had been committed. A reliable witness told the officer so! That's strong enough to support a search warrant even under the older Aguilar-Spinelli test, and a fortiori enough to support a search warrant under the newer, looser "totality of the circumstances" test (though this is irrelevant, as Massachusetts law still requires an analogue of the Aguilar-Spinelli test, see Commonwealth v. Upton, 394 Mass. 363, 373 (1985)). The officer doesn't have to get the statute right; that's the prosecutor's job. The fact that the officer doesn't have the legal acumen to distinguish between "hacking" and, say, harassment of the roommate (which is a chargeable offense under Massachusetts law, see Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, sec. 43A, available at []) is utterly immaterial to the question of whether the search warrant was valid.

    Your bias is evident, as is your ignorance.

  • Re:sure it is (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mpthompson (457482) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @12:22PM (#27587373)

    My experience with cops is that they are a pretty good cross section of the general public. Their biases and technical capabilities tend to be representative of the community they come from.

    If geeks feel that cops lack proper technical capabilities to effectively understand and deal with tech related crime then I recommend they become cops themselves. However, I know that by and large that is not going to happen. Being a cop is very much a blue collar profession where you have to deal on a day-to-day basis with people the rest of us step over on our way to work to our cushy IT jobs -- well insulated from lowest classes of society. Most people with the skills to enter the white collar world would not even consider a blue collar job and I appreciate the few willing to do so.

    Cops adopt a certain demeanor as a matter of survival and keeping some sanity in dealing with the insane situations the rest of "polite" society likes to pretend doesn't exist. Labeling a cop a sociopath because of this demeanor demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the way the real world works.

The F-15 Eagle: If it's up, we'll shoot it down. If it's down, we'll blow it up. -- A McDonnel-Douglas ad from a few years ago