Aaron Swartz is Dead
Aaron Swartz suicide: Prosecutors have too much power to charge and intimidate people for their crimes. – Slate Magazine
The underlying point Boyd is making, I think, is that the government doesn’t understand hackers and isn’t good at distinguishing between miscreant vigilantes like Swartz who are trying to free information systems and profit-driven or diabolical hackers who are trying to bring down those systems. That’s when an expansive law like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act becomes dangerous. Prosecutors persuaded of their own righteousness, and woodenly equating downloading a deliberately unprotected database with stealing, lose all sense of proportion and bring in the heavy artillery when what’s in order is a far more mild penalty.
I’d like to tell you that the prosecutorial overreach that took place in Swartz’s case rarely happens. But that’s not true. There are many principled prosecutors who only bring charges they believe they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt. But there are also some who bring any charge they can think of to induce a defendant who may be guilty of a minor crime to plead guilty to a major one. These cases usually are hard to call attention to: They’re not about innocence, easy and pure. They’re about the muddier concept of proportionality. If any good at all can come from Swartz’s unspeakably sorrowful death, maybe it will be how this case makes prosecutors—and the rest of us—think about the space between guilt and innocence.
There are some real villains here. The federal prosecutor, Carmen M. Ortiz and, of course, MIT.
I’m disgusted by the government’s and MIT’s actions in the case. There is nothing that Swartz did that was worthy of a day in prison much less 35 years of prison time. MIT did everything they could to actively push the case while giving the public the impression that they weren’t. Nice try, but the simple fact is, that without MIT’s heavy cooperation, the government would have had great difficulty making a case at all.
A few days ago, the government decided not to prosecute HSBC, a bank, that laundered nine billion dollars of money for drug cartels but they were pursuing a case against a man who “stole” documents that should have been accessible to the public for free, a man who sought no monetary profit at all.
I find these remarks by Lawrence Lessig to be dead on point:
Here is where we need a better sense of justice, and shame. For the outrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of the prosecutor’s behavior. From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The “property” Aaron had “stolen,” we were told, was worth “millions of dollars” — with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.
Aaron had literally done nothing in his life “to make money.” He was fortunate Reddit turned out as it did, but from his work building the RSS standard, to his work architecting Creative Commons, to his work liberating public records, to his work building a free public library, to his work supporting Change Congress/FixCongressFirst/Rootstrikers, and then Demand Progress, Aaron was always and only working for (at least his conception of) the public good. He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying. I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.
For remember, we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House — and where even those brought to “justice” never even have to admit any wrongdoing, let alone be labeled “felons.”
From around the web –
From the web site, Shikhar Tech Labs:
This is the most shocking news for the Computer and Internet industries, a deafening blow for all those campaigners who demand internet freedom and for technology enthusiasts in general. Aaron Swartz is dead. Worst still is the fact that he has committed suicide. As the web mourns the demise of a computer prodigy whose body of work had very few parallels, the injustice done to him by the US prosecution and the MIT is very visible and very disheartening, and that’s putting it mildly.
Aaron was facing criminal charges for stealing more than 4 million articles from JSTOR, an online archive and journal distribution service. And if found guilty he faced 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine. But then he was also the face of the struggle against US laws of SOPA and PIPA as well as other government imposed sanctions that threatened to restrict internet freedom and which have been opposed by all major internet organizations including Google and Wikipedia.
A lot of people close to Aaron smelled foul play on the part of the US prosecution and the MIT because even JSTOR decided not to press charges against Aaron.
From the web site, Inundated, Things Matter Only When It Hits Hard:
The Guardian quoted the statement given by Aaron’s family, “Aaron’s death in not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.”
As Aaron said, ” Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves.” It is really painful to see someone brilliant – in fact, an enfant terrible going by what Aaron had done in a span of handful years – heeding to Plato’s injunction, “The punishment suffered by the wise who refuse to take part in Government, is to suffer under the Government of bad men”, ” making an attempt to change the modern powerful structures, go down.
P.S : One of the talks by Swartz How to Get A Job Like Mine, basically his personal story, bookmarked in my folder some time back, is a real classic with “just the facts.”
From the web site, American Everyman:
As I wrote a while ago, the feds decided to push for internet censorship via their last best hope: the free markets.
Big telecom companies are coming up with their own means by which to wipe certain people with certain ideas off the “internets”. I guess it’s payback for all that retroactive immunity they got from the Bush and Obama administrations when they could have been sued out the ying yang for allowing the feds to spy on us.
On the same day Aaron supposedly took his own life, Torrentfreak released a Verizon document detailing their new 6 strikes and your out plan.
The idea is basically this: Verizon will tell it’s customers when someone files a claim against them for copyright infringement. Verizon will give their users “x” amount of warnings then reduce their internet speed to something like a dial-up connection which will basically take them off the web for all intents and purposes.
As Aaron pointed out in a lecture he gave a year or so ago, the use of the ubiquitous “copyright infringement” charge is a dangerous and sweeping tool to use to shut down certain people. Everything is copyrighted by someone out there and the laws governing how much of what one can use are mirky at best.
Verizon claims they will set up a review panel with the American Arbitration Association and if you pay them $35 bucks they will review your case and find in favor of Verizon.
I find it very odd that Aaron just happened to take his own life when Verizon was about to launch this new SOPA/PIPA program of theirs own their own customers. I also find it odd that he was going to try his hacking case in court which would have brought tons of negative publicity down on JSTOR, portraying them as the guardians of knowledge for the elites.