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BC student fights warrant seizing his computer

Boston College police confiscate his computer, other digital media; lawyers claim warrant unsubstantiated

April 16, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Boston College (BC) is finding itself in the middle of a controversy over its handling of a case involving a student who allegedly sent an e-mail claiming that a fellow student was gay and used a college computer network to change grades.

The alleged action by computer science student Riccardo Calixte resulted in campus and Massachusetts state police searching his dormitory room and seizing several computers, a cell phone, an iPod, storage disks and even a Post-it note on which he was taking notes about the officers' actions during the search. The affidavit seeking the seizure of the materials claimed that Calixte had broken two state laws involving unauthorized access to a computer and defrauding a commercial service provider.

The March 30 search and seizure is being challenged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, and Boston law firm Fish & Richardson, which works with the EFF and has agreed to represent Calixte in the case. In an emergency motion filed last Friday, attorneys for the EFF and the law firm asked for a court trial in Newton, Mass., to quash the search warrant and have the seized property returned to Calixte immediately.

In their motion, the attorneys claimed the affidavit the BC police filed when asking for the search warrant did not show any criminal activity had taken place. Rather, they claim the affidavit was largely based on "cursory, unsubstantiated, and stale" information provided to the police by a student with a grudge against Calixte.

"Nothing cited in the warrant application could possibly constitute the cited criminal offenses," EFF attorney Matthew Zimmerman wrote in a blog on Tuesday.

A hearing on the motion to quash the search warrant has not been scheduled but could happen as soon as this week, Zimmerman said. A BC spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Calixte, 21, has not been charged with any crime. The affidavit presented by the investigating officer to obtain the search warrant claimed there was probable cause to believe that Calixte had gained unauthorized access to computers and had obtained computer services by fraud and misrepresentation.

The affidavit said Calixte had used a BC list server to send e-mails to the college community claiming that another student was gay. That action caused considerable stress to the other student, the affidavit said, while also presenting evidence gathered from BC's director of IT security that ties Calixte's computer to the e-mails. The affidavit also cited Calixte as having used BC's computer networks to change grades for multiple students and for having "fixed" other students' computers so they can't be scanned for illegal music downloads.

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