back to article Boston dorm computer raid ruled illegal

A justice from Massachusetts's highest court has ordered police to return a laptop and other gear seized from a Boston student's dorm room after rejecting prosecutors' arguments that hoax emails he was suspected of sending might be illegal under a computer crime statute. The decision, issued Thursday by Justice of the Supreme …


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  1. Cullen Newsom
    Black Helicopters

    plods everywhere plodding along

    What did they reckon he'd hacked with his camera? And the ipod and cellphones?

  2. wsm


    That's all college students are--trouble. Why does anyone let them come to university in the first place?

  3. Steve Evans



    They're the law, surely they should know if something is illegal or not! If "not" then they have no business raiding the place.

    What next, someone being arrested and having their house carted away in vans because owning a bit of cheese that has gone a bit furry in the fridge might be against the Geneva convention on biological weapons?

  4. jake Silver badge

    @Cullen Newsom

    "What did they reckon he'd hacked with his camera? And the ipod and cellphones?"

    It's called a fishing expedition. The cops knew they didn't have a legal leg to stand on, so they were hoping to find "illegal content" (whatever that is) to justify the seizure. Hopefully he'll sue 'em for illegal search & seizure. If he does, I'll bet a wooden nickle that it gets settled out of court. Probably with an agreement to not comment on the details of the settlement (read: cops pay 6 figures).

  5. Anonymous Coward

    @Cullen Newsom

    Well - it's well known that linux users will try to put linux on everything, including phones and cameras. And it's also obvious that linux is a hacker's tool. Therefore, the camera was used for hacking! QED!

  6. Christopher Martin


    Everything in that list of confiscated items probably has a few gigs of data storage. Still, 23 items? Either he has a lot of usb drives, or they just nabbed everything with a pcb in it.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    @ jake

    Fishing expedition - possibly they were hoping for some smut on the phones and camera. But unlike in the UK, now they've been told the search was illegal it wouldn't matter if they'd found pictures of him bonking dead mules while wearing a nazi uniform and in the company of Arnold Schwartzenegger and three Russian hookers. Anything found during an illegal search is inadmissible.

  8. Chris Tucker

    As a resident of Boston...

    ...I can assure you that the local police tend mightily towards cluelessness.

    I refer to the Great LED Freakout of 2007 a few years ago, followed a short time later with the Boston Bomb Squad blowing up a traffic counter.

    This was a small metal box, chained to a lamppost that had cables running across the roadway. The cables are essentially switches that are triggered by automobiles passing over them. The metal box holds the counter. The metal box also had a label identifying it as a Mass Dept of Transportation counter, along with a toll-free number to call if there were any questions about it.

    Despite all that, the bomb squad still blew it up.

    They do a good job if someone is waving a gun about in public, chasing down purse snatchers, dealing with drunk drivers, et al.

    But for something like this, completely and utterly clueless. As amply demonstrated in the article.

  9. Steven
    Paris Hilton


    Who'd have thought it would neccessary to explain that cameras and mobile phones can be used as storage on an IT news website.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    So what happened exactly? Two roommates didn't get along... dude number one supposedly sent a fake e-mail to dude number 2 that implied he was on a gay dating site? Dude number 2 got mad and called the cops, who then took away dude number one's stuff since what he was doing "might" be illegal?

    You know, being a high school dropout who never could ever get a professional job because I'm not educated, it's somewhat hilarious to see stuff like this happen. Even a dumb plod like me knows that doesn't make any sense.

    I would suspect there's more to this story... but then again, you see things like the "hackers on steroids!" video on Youtube and realize that maybe there are that many dumb people.

  11. Chris C

    re: might

    "They're the law, surely they should know if something is illegal or not!"

    You'll obviously be somewhat surprised to find out that this assumption is not correct. It is widely assumed that law enforcement officials will be able to tell you if something is illegal or not, but, as ridiculous as it sounds, that is not the case. I once sent an email to my state's attorney general asking if online gambling was illegal according to my state's laws. The response I received was that he could not tell me, that I would have to seek advice from professional legal counsel. The state DA, the man who decides whether or not to prosecute criminal court cases, could not tell me if something was illegal or not. There's something wrong with your laws when law enforcement officials cannot tell you if something is illegal or not.

    As for the confiscated items, I would venture a guess that, like in many other cases, they confiscated every piece of electronic kit in the room -- PCs, monitors, printers, scanners, keyboards, mice, speakers, storage media, phones, VCR/DVD players, VCR/DVD media, CD players and stereos, music CDs, televisions, etc. When executing seizures, they apparently don't believe in the word "overkill", even when something is clearly outside the scope of the search warrant (like confiscating a television).

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Christopher Martin

    To the untrained plod anything with a flashy light that was nearby or plugged into the laptops was probably fair game... switches, routers, anything USB... there must be around 23 in my living room.

  13. Andus McCoatover

    anyone else misread..

    ..the heading of the PDF pages as 'sjc jerks off' ?

  14. Justin White
    Black Helicopters

    @Chrisopher Martin

    "Either he has a lot of usb drives, or they just nabbed everything with a pcb in it."

    All the more reason, mates, to avoid the need for an Internet-enabled fridge, tele, toaster, etc. :o

  15. Andus McCoatover


    I can't understand why the archaic legal system sends out its decisions in _scanned_ PDF, created on a bloody typewriter! Typewriter (think of the children..), yet using technology like a scanner, and a computer connected to the internet to promulgate the decision?

    Quill pens, sealing wax and thousands of messengers I could understand. Given the arrogance of a judge to refer to himself as "The Court"

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Not only sue

    He should file charges against the ones making the decision, for unlawful entry, break-and-enter, and not performing their duty as law officers.

    I want plods abusing their power this way behind bars. Sends a message to the next flatfoot with a bright idea.

    Anon- for the obvious reasons.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Jackpot Payday

    This is going to cost them

  18. Pete Silver badge

    Why not take his microwave and TV, too?

    This is the modern day equivalent of shoot first, ask questions later.

    One embittered individual makes an accusation and suddenly all your stuff is gone. I get the distinct impression that in cases like these, the punishment is in the confiscation of your assets - and the inconvenience and financial losses you suffer as a result. That nothing has to be proven for this sanction to be applied, nor any "due process" undertaken (except possibly handing out a receipt) by the police makes me think that they have effectively turned themselves into judge, jury and executioner, while the oversight and standards people snooze quietly.

    If all it takes is an uncorroborated whisper from someone you don't like, to have all your high-value electronics removed for an unlimited time, then we're all screwed.

  19. Efros

    If every student

    who had downloaded a movie or an mp3 illegally were to be raided then the cops wouldn't have enough warehouse space for the laptops/usb drives/cameras/phones etc that would be seized.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    You guys have to realize

    As anyone from Boston knows, the BPD simply confiscated anything they could sell on eBay.

  21. Anonymous Coward


    "Calixte was forced to complete much of the final month of the semester without a computer, phone or network access"

    All he had left was the course books, pens and writing books. Must have been a complete shock to find he had to do studying to fill in those long evenings.


    Mines the one with the feint ruled notebook in.

  22. Brezin Bardout

    RE: so....

    'All he had left was the course books, pens and writing books. Must have been a complete shock to find he had to do studying to fill in those long evenings.'

    Well, considering he was studying computer science I would think the loss of his computer would have been a tad inconvenient...

  23. Corrine

    @Not only sue

    The cops in question were following a Judge's order.

    The judge apparently being too stupid to realize that libel/slander (the only thing there was any probable cause for) doesn't warrant a criminal investigation.

  24. jake Silver badge

    @AC 18:16

    "Anything found during an illegal search is inadmissible."

    I know that. Re-read mine. They were hoping to find something (kitty pr0n?) to justify (in their minds) the illegal search. Thus my hope that the kid sues for IS&S. He'll win. They will settle out of court, if only to not have to admit in public how much money the idiots just cost the department or city or county or state (depending).

  25. Dan

    Cops harras student, steal computers.

    Seriously, the crimes alleged are "Sending two emails" "Downloading music"."Gaining access to the grading systems" and "Securing information on computers so that it cannot be retrieved" The judge here rightly threw out the first and last as not illegal, then says that the 'informant' did not provide reliable information regarding the other two.

    Interesting note: The cops apparently haven't broken the encryption on any of the computers, since they were not done examining them. Maybe they should consider hiring a recently graduated compsci major for in-house forensic computer work?

    Oh, and the warrant was apparently for "objects capable of storing digital data in any form", which is why the camera, laptop, cd's, and probably anything else with a battery or power cord was seized.

  26. Dave

    @Chris C

    I would have expected you to know the difference between "could not" and "would not", even when used the wrong way around.

    It is not the job of the Police to tell you whether something is legal or not, partly because it would set awkward precedents, and partly because only the Judiciary are in a position to do so. (That is why lawyers are only ever able to give "advice" - however certain they may be, if a judge disagrees then that is that.)

    Recent legislation in the UK has raised this very fact - there is only one certain method to determine whether an erotic image is legal, and that is via the courts. Even then, if the Obscene Publications Act is anything to go by, what is illegal today may be okay in a decade or so.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Never mind a woman's scorn. Accusations (or even insinuations) of MALE homosexuality will illicit unparalleled levels of fury from the accused.

    So much for the apparent open-mindedness of the 21st century.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Another win for Mr Plod

    Worldwide, Mr Plod is running a campaign: "I don't mind why you are scared of me, JUST BE SCARED!"

  29. Greg Trocchia

    @AC 16:23

    I'm fail to see how this constitutes a "win" for "Mr. Plod". Justice Botsford ruled that the search was illegal and ordered the search of the items halted and the seized property to be returned to Mr. Calixte. If "Mr. Plod" is running a worldwide campaign (which sounds a bit too paranoid to be believable), the Boston branch of that campaign has suffered a rebuff.

  30. Oninoshiko

    Re:Andus McCoatover, Chris Tucker

    @Andus McCoatover: Judges being refered to as "the court" in US legal documents, when fulfilling their duties, is a perfectly normal and acceptable useage of the phrase. You will find this useage in almost every legal opinion from a judges or majority of judges (in appelate and supreme court cases).

    @Chris Tucker: i want a link to that. that is hilarious!

  31. Mark Wills

    The solution is...

    Only use old 1980's retro computing gear in your dorm room:

    Old VAX box running VMS?

    Maybe a Sinclair QL? Who needs USB when you have microdrives?

    How about an old Texas Instruments TI-99/4A with 5.25" disk drives?

    Atari ST?

    Maybe an old Amiga 2000 tower?

    "Well your honour, we confiscated his machine, a Sinclair QL, but we were unable to plug an LCD monitor into it, nor could our highly trained computer consultants determine wher the mouse connected. Furthermore, we couldn't find a compatible cassette player for the Microdrives."

  32. Ray



  33. Dennis

    Re might

    "They're the law, surely they should know if something is illegal or not!"


    The police cannot tell you whether somehing is illegal or not. Nor can the District Attorney.

    It is the outcome of a court case that decides whether something is illegal or not. The police (and DA) can only express an opinion that something is likely to be illegal. They can also say that the effidence appears sufficient to put before a court and that there is a reasonable chance of a guilty verdict.

    We do not want the police or the posecutors deciding for themselves whether something is illegal or not. Where would this end? Before long you'll have the police decide that taking photographs is illegal.

  34. Pierre

    "unauthorized access" to a computer?

    How clueless can you be, seriously? Did anyone in the prosecution side really thought it would work? Then I guess posting a breast-feeding pic on facebook is also "unauthorized access to a computer". Given how the phone grid now works, a prank call to Moe's Tavern is probably "unauthorized access to a computer"... and hey, if you lie on your tax form, it's "unauthorized access to a computer", too: all that data is going in a computer at some point right?

    You gotta love blanket laws and their über-blanket interpretation...

  35. Andus McCoatover
    Thumb Up


    <<Then I guess posting a breast-feeding pic on facebook is also "unauthorized access to a computer">>

    Too right. Thank Fuc*k hasn't been rozzered (rodgered?) yet.


  36. Anonymous Coward

    did you miss it?

    Right at the very end of the decision PDF?

    "Motion to suppress evidence denied"

    While his property is coming back to him, any data the law guys got is good to prosecute, from what I read. .Or am I missing something? Now hopefully this guy at least uses LUKS

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