Four MIT students behind an award-winning Bitcoin mining tool will face off against New Jersey state authorities in court today when they attempt to fight back against a subpoena demanding their source code.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is representing 19-year-old MIT student Jeremy Rubin and three classmates in a remarkable case that stands out for the measure of aggression the state is using to obtain the code and identify anyone who might have tested the mining tool.
The case is reminiscent of a federal one that targeted Aaron Swartz after he was arrested by MIT police in 2011 for downloading more than 4 million scholarly journal articles from the JSTOR digital library, offered to MIT students, to make them more widely available. Swartz faced multiple charges for his activity and killed himself as he was preparing for trial. Although there is currently no indictment or pending criminal charges against Rubin and his friends, state authorities have indicated that they believe the researchers may have violated state laws. The case marks a disturbing trend among authorities to go after researchers, innovators, tinkerers and others who try to do cutting-edge projects to help the tech community, says EFF staff attorney Hanni Fakhoury.
"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."
The mining tool, known as Tidbit, was developed in late 2013 by Rubin and his classmates for the Node Knockout hackathon—only Rubin is identified on the subpoena but his three classmates are identified on the hackathon web site as Oliver Song, Kevin King and Carolyn Zhang. The now defunct tool was designed to offer web site visitors an alternative way to support the sites they visited by using thei...