Police return electronic gear to BC student
State police have returned electronics gear belonging to a Boston College computer science student, after a state supreme court judge last week threw out a search warrant that had led to its confiscation.
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Margot Botsford on Thursday said that Boston College and Massachusetts State Police had insufficient evidence to justify their search of the dorm room of BC senior Riccardo Calixte. During the search, police confiscated a variety of electronic devices, including three laptop computers, two iPod music players and two cellphones.
Police obtained a warrant to search Calixte's dorm after a roommate accused him of breaking into the school's computer network to change other students' grades, and of spreading a rumor via e-mail that the roommate is gay.
Botsford said that the search warrant affidavit presented considerable evidence that the e-mail came from Calixte's laptop computer. But even if it did, she said, spreading such rumors are probably not illegal. Botsford also said that while breaking into BC's computer network would be criminal activity, the affidavit supporting the warrant presented little evidence that such a break-in had taken place.
During a hearing earlier this month, Middlesex County Assistant District Attorney Anne Pogue said that state police computer forensics experts should be allowed to keep inspecting Calixte's electronic equipment, in a bid to uncover evidence of illegal activity.
But Botsford disagreed.
"The search warrant affidavit fails to establish probable cause," she wrote. "Accordingly, because the search and seizure were not conducted pursuant to a lawful warrant, all ongoing forensic analysis of the items seized from Calixte must cease, and the items must be returned forthwith."
The ruling drew praise from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an Internet civil liberties organization that assisted in Calixte's defense.
"We're grateful that the court was able to see through the commonwealth's smokescreen and rectify this mistake," said the foundation's civil liberties director Jennifer Granick.
The confiscated equipment was delivered to the offices of Calixte's attorney on Tuesday morning.
(By Hiawatha Bray, Globe staff)