Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Nationally Directed Effort to Take Down Aaron Swartz

The death of Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit, co-author of the specifications for the Web feed format RSS 1.0 (Rich Site Summary), pioneer of open-source, and  Internet activist against the monopoly of information, was sadly, a death that was coerced. Yes, he apparently killed himself, but it's the government--with the assistance of MIT who over-zealously persecuted through prosecution, and pushed him to that point.  Not the first time, I might add.

The issue here is the abusive treatment of citizens, in particular, one citizen who courageously spoke truth to power, Aaron Swartz, by a government bureaucracy intent on intimidating activists. In this case, prosecuting a person accused of a victimless "crime," if it was a crime at all, and threatening a severe sentence--35-years in jail-- in retaliation for, in this case, advocating on behalf of the free flow of information on the Internet.

What was Aaron Swartz's crime? Attempting to liberate taxpayer paid research journals--that already belonged to the public--to the public for free, journals that the "owner" of the records, JSTOR, declined to press charges. Swartz did not seek to profit from the information he liberated, and the writers/researchers had already been compensated for the work, unlike all of corrupt banksters, CEOs, and politicians, who not only go free but are rewarded for intentionally bringing down the global economy.
..he used an open network connection at MIT, which explicitly allowed free guest access, to download academic research papers that were available for free for any user on that particular network."
According to a good friend of his, Aaron Swartz had a "much broader agenda than the information freedom fights for which he had become known." He was also a "political activist interested in health care, financial corruption, and the drug war."  To sum it up, Aaron's goal was making "life a little less unfair." And for that, he paid the ultimate price.

Here are some of the more unusual aspects in this case:

Two days before Aaron Swartz was arrested, the Secret Service took over the investigation.
"On the morning of January 4, 2011, at approximately 8:00 am, MIT personnel located the netbook being used for the downloads and decided to leave it in place and institute a packet capture of the network traffic to and from the netbook.4 Timeline at 6. This was accomplished using the laptop of Dave Newman, MIT Senior Network Engineer, which was connected to the netbook and intercepted the communications coming to and from it. Id. Later that day, beginning at 11:00 am, the Secret Service assumed control of the investigation."

The top federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz and her assistant Stephen Heymann rejected any deal that did not involve a prison sentence.

Aaron Swartz prosecutor 'drove another hacker to suicide in 2008 after he named him in a cyber crime case'
In his suicide note, James said he had no faith in the justice system, which he believed were trying to tie him to a crime he did not commit.

'I have no faith in the "justice" system. Perhaps my actions today, and this letter, will send a stronger message to the public.

'Either way, I have lost control over this situation, and this is my only way to regain control.

'Remember, it's not whether you win or lose, it's whether I win or lose, and sitting in jail for 20, ten, or even five years for a crime I didn't commit is not me winning. I die free.'

James was the first juvenile put into confinement for a federal cyber crime case.

And last, but certainly not least, from emptywheel, who seems to be breaking most of the news regarding the death of Aaron Swartz, the Department of Justice invoked Aaron Swartz’ manifesto to justify investigative methods.
And look at the passage from the Manifesto they quote in the brief, which appears in this larger passage.
There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks.
In context, much of the manifesto advocates for things that are perfectly legal: sharing documents under Fair Use. Taking information that is out of copyright and making it accessible. Purchasing databases and putting them on the web.

Aside from sharing passwords, about the only thing that might be illegal here (depending on copyright!) is downloading scientific journals and uploading them to file sharing networks.

Precisely what the government accused Swartz of.

But they don’t cite that passage. Rather, they cite the “making copies” passage–something not inherently illegal. As if that justified the investigative tactics they used.

Used as it is in this page-limited brief arguing why their tactics were legal, the citation is really bizarre. But it does seem to admit that the government considers Swartz’ role in the Open Access movement to be as much proof he was a criminal as that he chose to download the documents at MIT and not Harvard.
This is just one more example of how distorted the whole US justice system has become in order to please the elite few who want to retain their power and wealth at any cost.
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.” Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig,


Anonymous,  21:00  

and yet no one from wall street has even been charged with wrong doing.

Mr. Wilson,  21:03  

IP laws and the intellectual copyright laws that last forever were written by and intended for big powerful institutions and corporations with many resources. Anyone that violates these laws written by and for them, or stands in the way of their financial gain, is a threat to their status and authority and so they should be severely punished.

Roth's stepchild 22:41  

That's the bottom line, 21:03. Tptb wanted to get rid of this guy because, given his intelligence and passion to "make life less unfair," he was a huge threat to them.

Another thing I find very suspicious is his suicide. It's very rare that people with his kind of passion and purpose commit suicide. He was a man on a mission, and I'm sure he, as well as those in power, understood the chances of him getting 35 years was slim to none, so they didn't want to take a chance that he would go free. In other words, I really don't think Swartz believed he would get 35 years, so why kill himself when he had so much to do, to live for?

Young computer geniuses who can't be bought off, and who have an activist spirit, are in real danger at present because controlling the flow of information is of utmost importance to the ruling class.

Anonymous,  02:36  

This first point about him committing wire fraud... He violated a terms of service agreement. That's not a federal crime. This also covers the "unauthorized access" charge. I question why in the name of all that's decent we treat computer fraud and wire fraud as two different things. Possibly to circumvent laws against double jeopardy? It's insipid.

Part of the "unauthorized access" discussion seems to be that the gentleman writing the article doesn't seem to know the difference between stealing someone's password and changing your own IP address in terms of whether you gained "unauthorized access". Passwords designate authority. IP addresses do not.

All of this to say, Aaron had authorized access by dint of being on the MIT network. He attempted to violate the terms of service. This is not a crime. Period. End of story. Stop lying.

The guy has been dealing with this law for years. I get that he seems to you to gain some credibility because of that, but any lawyer has a vested interest in making the law and its mechanisms seem reasonable. The man is attempting to blur the line between malignant attempts at theft or damage and violating a terms of service agreement.

The typical punishment for violating a terms of service agreement is to not be allowed to use the service, and neither MIT nor JSTOR seemed interested in bothering with it.

Your government, on the other hand, wanted blood. This, in no small part, is the fault of people who stubbornly defend the indefensible. They get away with murder because no one stands up to them like men and says, "no farther."

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