Major content producers, by pushing for the criminalization of associated “hacking” and data thefts to be treated more harshly in many cases than crimes of violence — all to try protect their obsolete business models — carry much of the guilt.
The politicians who then acted to create associated draconian penalties subject to overzealous invocation, and the publicity-seeking prosecutors who use prosecutorial discretion as a lethal weapon, certainly share the blame as well.
Saddest to say, Aaron himself played a major role too, voluntarily painting a giant target on his own back, not just through the scope of the unauthorized data copying of which he was accused, but by reportedly physically entering MIT network wiring closets and planting computers there for months at a time as part of the process.
That Aaron felt he was morally justified in his actions is clear — and unfortunately irrelevant to the government’s interest in “making an example” of his behaviors in particular.
And while it’s obvious to virtually all observers that the government vastly overstepped the bounds of appropriate prosecution in this case, it is also sadly true that their reaction to this sort of situation — given the recently toughened laws that had been put in place at the time — should not have come as an enormous surprise. Remember that steamroller.
Update: More from the New York Times here.
Update 2: And here is an official statement from Aaron Swartz’ family and partner. An excerpt:
Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.
Update 3: And you can sign a petition at the White House calling for the removal of US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who is responsible for the over-the-top severity of the charges leveled against Aaron Swartz.
From the petition:
It is too late to do anything for Aaron Swartz, but the who used the powers granted to them by their office to hound him into a position where he was facing a ruinous trial, life in prison and the ignominy and shame of being a convicted felon; for an alleged crime that the supposed victims did not wish to prosecute.
A prosecutor who does not understand proportionality and who regularly uses the threat of unjust and overreaching charges to extort plea bargains from defendants regardless of their guilt is a danger to the life and liberty of anyone who might cross her path.
I will not attempt to summarize here the complex events of the past two years. Now is a time for everyone involved to reflect on their actions, and that includes all of us at MIT. I have asked Professor Hal Abelson to lead a thorough analysis of MIT’s involvement from the time that we first perceived unusual activity on our network in fall 2010 up to the present. I have asked that this analysis describe the options MIT had and the decisions MIT made, in order to understand and to learn from the actions MIT took. I will share the report with the MIT community when I receive it.
- The Truth About Aaron Swartz’s “Crime” (unhandled.com)
- Farewell to Aaron Swartz, an extraordinary hacker and activist (eff.org)
- Aaron Swartz, hero of the open world, dies (archive.org)
- Hacker, Activist Aaron Swartz Commits Suicide (zdnet.com)
- The inspiring heroism of Aaron Swartz | Glenn Greenwald (guardian.co.uk)
- Death of internet activist Aaron Swartz prompts flood of Twitter tributes (guardian.co.uk)
- Goodbye, Aaron. (ethanzuckerman.com)
- The Internet Revolution Has Eaten Another Child (3dblogger.typepad.com)
- Open-access activist and internet hero Aaron Swartz dies (slashgear.com)
- Anonymous hacks MIT after Aaron Swartz’s suicide (news.cnet.com)