MIT to New Jersey: Back off our students

MIT President L. Rafael Reif says he and MIT are standing behind students threatened by New Jersey with legal action if they don't turn over detailed information about a "proof of concept" project involving the online currency Bitcoin.

I want to make it clear that the students who created Tidbit have the full and enthusiastic support of MIT. Chancellor Cindy Barnhart and Provost Marty Schmidt met with the students yesterday. They and General Counsel Greg Morgan also spoke with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is providing to the students, pro bono, the independent legal representation that they need. We will remain in close coordination with the students and the EFF to offer assistance in the legal proceedings.

Reif's complete message:

To the members of the MIT community:

I am writing to address a problem that a group of MIT students currently face but that concerns all of us, because it highlights issues central to sustaining the creative culture of MIT.

The students in question are the creators of Tidbit, a proof-of-concept code for a novel Bitcoin-harvesting strategy. After Tidbit won the "most innovative" award in a recent hackathon, the State Attorney General of New Jersey demanded that the students turn over a sweeping set of documents, code and information—a surprising and difficult turn of events for the Tidbit team.

I am grateful to all those who have written to me to express their concern about this situation, and I want to make it clear that the students who created Tidbit have the full and enthusiastic support of MIT. Chancellor Cindy Barnhart and Provost Marty Schmidt met with the students yesterday. They and General Counsel Greg Morgan also spoke with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is providing to the students, pro bono, the independent legal representation that they need. We will remain in close coordination with the students and the EFF to offer assistance in the legal proceedings.

Beyond this specific case, I believe we should provide our student inventors and entrepreneurs with a resource for independent legal advice, singularly devoted to their interests and rights. I have asked the Provost, Chancellor and General Counsel to develop and submit to me a specific proposal for creating such a resource, which will add an essential new strength to MIT's innovation ecosystem.

When the MIT community works together, we spot problems, analyze them and solve them. Let's solve this one together.

Sincerely,
L. Rafael Reif

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    Comments

    This Is Very Good News!

    By on

    Initially, MIT was not going to get involved with assisting the students fend off the scurrilous attack by the State of New Jersey. Over the past few days however, members of the faculty have been petitioning President Reif on behalf of the students. It is heartening to hear the Institute will now be taking action to help them!

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    Big finance/government vs. big tech

    By on

    Two factions of the elite battling. NJ AG in the service of big finance and government, MIT in the service of big tech. Who knows what the law is, and the law does not matter. We are in the middle.

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    Weird, I thought MIT loved

    By on

    Weird, I thought MIT loved helping out federal agents with their investigations.

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    This isn't the feds

    This is the State of New Jersey showing their lacking understanding of technology and making a heavy-handed grandstanding move.

    I think we've seen similar behavior locally before.

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    Who is behind the subpoena?

    By on

    I wonder whether there is a private individual or company who has juice with the New Jersey AG and is attempting to stop what is seen as potential competition? The lack of jurisdiction is obvious. Even if NJ judge was stupid enough to pretend that jurisdiction existed then what would be the enforcement?

    Assuming that someone in the NJ AG's office read about this and thought, "These folks might do the same thing as the Sports company" why would they think they can compel Rubin to hand over documents willy nilly? If Rubin declined what would the consequences be? Is there a reciprocity between Massachusetts and NJ that compels Massachusetts to arrest someone just because a person of officialdom commands it?

    The thing has the tenor of political harassment. On the other hand this is New Jersey state government.

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