By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Douglas Woodlock

MIT gag order has been lifted

Media Nation reader J.H. passes along word from the Electronic Frontier Foundation that the MIT gag order has been lifted. U.S. District Judge George O’Toole reportedly found that the MBTA is unlikely to prevail in its lawsuit against three MIT students and the university itself.

Background on the case here and here.

Although this is clearly better than not lifting the gag order, it’s also not much of a victory for the First Amendment. The fact is that the MIT students had every right to make their presentation on flaws in the MBTA’s electronic fare system, and they were not allowed to do so.

It makes a mockery of the principle that prior restraint is to be reserved only for serious issues of national security, obscenity and incitement to violence.

Here you go, Your Honor

U.S. District Judge George O’Toole yesterday continued the restraining order against three MIT students who had been prevented from telling what they know about security problems with the MBTA’s automated fare system.

Among other things, O’Toole demanded that the students hand over a paper they wrote for class by today at 4 p.m.

Well, I don’t know if this will expedite matters, but here’s the slideshow (PDF) they were planning to use during their presentation in Las Vegas last weekend. Does that help?

Ridiculous. And good for The Tech for putting it online.

Sorry, Charlie — no free speech for you

Charles Evans Hughes forgot something when he wrote the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Near v. Minnesota decision in 1931.

The chief justice listed national security, obscenity and the imminent threat of violence as essentially the only three reasons that the courts could ever step in and order someone not to exercise his right to free speech. What he left out: information that could result in the MBTA’s losing some fare money. What a bonehead, eh?

Boston Globe reporter John Guilfoil (a former student of mine, by the way) wrote yesterday that U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock had granted the T’s request for an injunction preventing three MIT students from presenting their findings on security defects in the Charlie Card, the T’s electronic ticketing system. They had been scheduled to speak at the DEFCON 16 conference in Las Vegas.

For good measure, the T is suing MIT, too, for the grave offense of not teaching its students how to be good, Charlie Card-paying citizens.

In today’s Boston Herald, O’Ryan Johnson reports that one of the students is saying the trio offered to show MBTA officials their findings so they could fix their flawed system. Instead, the T decided to sue them.

For those of you with long memories, you may recall that Judge Woodlock is a piece of work. During the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Woodlock ruled that a cage set up by officials for the use of protesters was “an offense to the spirit of the First Amendment” — but then declined to do anything about it. He’s not big on newspaper boxes, either.

In 2005, Woodlock was the proud winner of a Boston Phoenix Muzzle Award for his outrages against free speech. It looks like he’s well on his way to a second statuette.

This story had gone nationwide — heck, worldwide — even before the Globe and the Herald got hold of it, as Universal Hub showed on Saturday. This will not end well for Woodlock. In the meantime, though, he’s created an unnecessary hassle for everyone concerned, and emboldened the T, which — wouldn’t you know — won a Muzzle in 2006.

Photo (cc) by David Bruce and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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