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University of Toronto's Citizen Lab cuts ties with researcher after sexual assault allegation

Response comes as other prominent organizations back away from world-renowned security expert.

Morgan Marquis-Boire speaks during a “cyber self-defense course” in London in 2014.

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Raphael Satter / The Associated Press

Morgan Marquis-Boire speaks during a “cyber self-defense course” in London in 2014.

The University of Toronto's Citizen Lab has publicly distanced itself from prominent security researcher and humans rights crusader Morgan Marquis-Boire following an allegation of sex assault.

In an open letter posted online Friday, Citizen Lab executive director Ronald Deibert writes he "was made aware of an account of sexual assault involving Morgan Marquis-Boire that coincided with a Citizen Lab event, the Cyber Dialogue, in 2014."

The letter says Marquis-Boire had already contacted Deibert about resigning from the organization's technical advisory group when the lab learned of the allegation in September 2017.

"Once the other person involved reached out to me, and with that person’s consent, I spoke to Morgan about the reported assault. I subsequently removed him from the advisory group," Deibert writes.

"I also acted to ensure that his access to internal communications channels and other digital assets was immediately revoked. The Citizen Lab is no longer working with Morgan Marquis-Boire in any capacity, formally or informally."

Deibert's letter notes the person who made the compliant did not want to go public or pursue legal action.

Toronto police Const. Jenifferjit Sidhu told Metro there are no active or closed police reports filed under Marquis-Boire's name. Marquis-Boire did not immediately respond to a request for comment via social media on Monday.

Marquis-Boire drew international attention in 2012-13 for his research on cyber attacks targeting Syrian activists. The research, done for Citizen Lab and other organizations, gained a high profile after being discussed in publications around the world, including the New York Times.

A 2014 Wired profile describes Marquis-Boire as a New Zealand native and "ex Google hacker taking on the world's spy agencies." Marquis-Boire once worked as a Google security researcher before using his security skills to protect human rights and journalists, the profile says. He's currently based in San Francisco, according to his Twitter account.

He was named a 2015 Young Global leader by the World Economic Forum, an elite distinction shared with past honorees Anderson Cooper and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Citizen Lab is not the only organization distancing itself. Amnesty International sent a statement to Metro on Monday saying they've recently been made aware of allegations against Marquis-Boire, who was a member of their Tech and Human Rights Advisory Council.

"This was a voluntary, unpaid role, which he undertook from April 2015 to when the council was disbanded in September 2017. In light of these serious allegations, we expect authorities to undertake a full and effective criminal investigation," said spokesperson Kharunya Paramaguru.

It's not clear what allegations Paramaguru was referring to. She did not respond to followup requests by deadline.

A spokesperson for First Look Media told Metro they were not aware of any allegations involving Marquis-Boire and his role was phased out in September 2017. He at one time oversaw security for the company and was also an occasional contributor to the Intercept, an investigative nonprofit news organization that has published many of Edward Snowden's leaks, the spokesperson said.

Citizen Lab is based at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs and is described on it's website as a interdisciplinary laboratory that focuses on the intersections between information and communication technologies, human rights and global security.

The letter posted Friday notes the lab is "deeply troubled" by the accusation.

Contacted by Metro, a media spokesperson for Citizen Lab said Marquis-Boire was acting in an informal advisory role.

"He was not an employee of the Citizen Lab and the alleged assault did not take place on campus," Miles Kenyon wrote in an email.

"We are not in a position to comment on the case outside of the statement we released on Friday," Kenyon added.

may.warren@metronews.ca

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