Wired reports that the showdown between MIT’s Tidbit team the authorities in New Jersey went to trial yesterday. In the words of Wired, the case stands out “for the measure of aggression” used by the state in the subpoena.
Tidbit is a tool that replaces advertising revenue generating from website visits with mining revenue generated from the user’s computing power. It was conceived in MIT’s 2013 Node knockout competition, where it received the highest innovation score.
The New Jersey division of consumer affairs subpoenaed the team behind Tidbit, alleging they violated state computer crime laws. They demanded the team hand over: all source code, associated Bitcoin addresses, web sites that may have run the code and the names of anyone whose computer may have been used for mining for the project.
The project was a prototype and may have never mined real bitcoins. It has since disbanded.
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MIT, led by its President, has steadfastly backed the team. The team also enlisted the legal help of the electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which managed to arrange several extensions. In the interim, they filed a complaint for the “unconstitutional subpoena”. EFF staff attorney Hanni Fakhoury commented:
“It’s a very broad subpoena that hints at criminal liability and civil liability,” he says. “For a bunch of college kids who put something together for a hackathon—they didn’t make any money, the project never got off the ground and now is completely disbanded—there are some very serious implications.”
One of the oddities in the case is the involvement of a NJ body in out of state matters. But the main ammunition of support is that the team claims to have never done anything wrong. Said Fakhoury:
“While the state certainly has a right to investigate consumer fraud, threatening out of state college students with subpoenas isn’t the way to do it.”
He added that demanding the submission of source code is in contravention of Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.