December 5, 2020

Security Research Muzzled in Georgia

A state court in Georgia has issued temporary restraining order, which forced the cancellation of a conference panel this past weekend. A company called Blackboard, which sells campus automation systems to colleges and universities, convinced the court to block the publication of embarrassing details about Blackboard products.

Blackboard sent a demand letter. Blackboard filed a complaint, which convinced the court to issue a temporary restraining order. A mirror of one defendant’s web site is also available.

The complaint is constructed, as the lawyers say, “artfully”. They vilify one of the defendants, without saying much about the other defendant; but they ask for an injunction against both. They gleefully quote one defendant calling himself a “hacker”, apparently unaware that “hacker” is still a legitimate term of respect in some circles. They quote a law against distributing “access codes” and then trumpet a defendant’s distribution of “code”. And so on.

There is no mention in these documents of the enormous free speech issue here. The injunction is a prior restraint on speech, which prevented the defendants from speaking to an specific audience that had gathered to hear them. Yet somehow neither Blackboard nor the court indicated that any consideration of the First Amendment was even necessary.

The court will hold a hearing on the case tomorrow.

UPDATE (April 17, 8:50 AM): The hearing has been deferred for 45 days. Also note that, contrary to some reports, the complaint and injunction did not mention the DMCA. For more information about this case, see John R. Hall’s FAQ.

Comments

  1. What Was Blackboard Thinking?

    Most businesses know that it’s wise to honor the values of their customers. So you’ve got to wonder what Blackboard was thinking when it sued to block a conference presentation last weekend. Blackboard’s customers are colleges and universities. These a…