Sunday, August 10, 2008

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority tries to suppress speech; massively screws up

From the Wired blog:
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority filed a suit in federal court on Friday seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent three undergraduate students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from presenting a talk at the DefCon hacker conference this weekend about security vulnerabilities in payment systems used in the Massachusetts mass transit system.

The transit authority, known as the MBTA, is seeking to prevent the students from "publicly stating or indicating" that electronic passenger tickets used on the transit system have been compromised until the MBTA can fix security flaws in the system. It further seeks to bar the students from releasing any tools or providing any information that would allow someone to hack the transit system and obtain free rides.
"We screwed up. You found out. Therefore we can suppress your speech." But the stupidity of government doesn't stop there! The restraining order was issued, but:
the restraining order would have little effect in suppressing the information at this point since the speakers’ slides were on the conference CD-ROM, which had already been distributed to conference attendees Friday morning.
But wait! There's more:
Among the documents the MBTA filed with its declaration to the court today is a vulnerability assessment report (.pdf) that the three students gave the MBTA about the flaws in its system. The document is dated August 8, the day the MBTA filed its lawsuit against the students, and is essentially the information the students declined to give the MBTA before it filed its lawsuit.

Ironically, the document reveals more about the vulnerability in the MBTA system than the slides that the restraining order sought to suppress contain. The vulnerability assessment report is now available for anyone to download from the Massachusetts court's electronic records system.

They try to suppress the information, and end up publishing it themselves. Idiots.

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