Aaron Swartz – This Worries Me

The prominent internet developer and activist Aaron Swartz hung himself due to a Federal Investigation, involving publication of academic papers.

According to Wikipedia:

On January 6, 2011, as a result of a federal investigation, Swartz was arrested in connection with systematic downloading of academic journal articles from JSTOR. Swartz…

  1. Misthiocracy

    Swartz knew what he was doing would be considered illegal by the authorities. His hacking was an act of civil disobedience.

    One of the most basic tenets of civil disobedience is that you are willing to endure the state’s punishment for what you believe. Thoreau went to jail rather than pay taxes for the Spanish American War. 

    If Swartz was a rational human being, then he should have known what he was getting into, and accepted the risks involved.

    If Swartz was not a rational human being (as his history of mental illness suggests), then the prosecutor cannot be held responsible for Swartz’s actions.

  2. Barkha Herman

    @Misthiocracy -

    So, in other words, one should only speak up if they are in perfect health and stand up to the moral character and philosophies of Thoreau.  All others need not apply?

  3. Misthiocracy
    Barkha Herman: @Misthiocracy -

    So, in other words, one should only speak up if they are in perfect health and stand up to the moral character and philosophies of Thoreau.  All others need not apply? · 2 minutes ago

    He did not merely “speak up”. If he had limited himself to “speaking up” he would never have been prosecuted.

    He engaged in computer hacking which he knew would be considered a criminal act but which he believed shouldn’t be a criminal act.

    One should only engage in criminal acts of civil disobedience if one is willing and able to endure the consequences. All others need not apply.

  4. Barkha Herman

    I guess one gets the Government one deserves…

  5. Donald Todd

    This is a conundrum for me.  

    The power of the state to run roughshod over an individual and spend that individual into the ground, using the court’s demands to force massive and excessive legal expenditures on the part of the defendant, is a fact of life these days.   A real contempt for the worth of the individual and of how “innocent until proven guilty” citizens are treated appears to be de rigueur by government prosecutors in cases that are or could be highly visible.

    On the other hand, it is not the place of the individual to mandate “law” on his or her own authority.  Mr. Swartz could have paid for the info and been spared the legal problems.

    As to whether Mr. Swartz was suffering a mental condition is an open question.  I would not trust the government attorney to diagnose a person’s mental condition.  That belongs to people trained to look for mental conditions, not to those who attempt to cause mental conditions to abet their cases.

  6. Roberto
    Donald Todd: On the other hand, it is not the place of the individual to mandate “law” on his or her own authority.  Mr. Swartz could have paid for the info and been spared the legal problems. · 50 minutes ago

    That would have completely defeated the point of what he was attempting though. This imbroglio came about because of Mr. Swartz’s displeasure with U.S. intellectual property law, the course of action you suggest would have undermined his point.

    It is an interesting case as it highlights what appears to be a rather obscure issue, IP reform, that has a significant number of passionate supporters among youth and information technology professionals yet is completely ignored by both political parties.

    Barkha Herman: To those who worry about the future, here is the case that has potential to change many minds. · · 2 hours ago

    Yes a chance likely to be squandered. The firing of GOP staffer Derek Khanna for even bringing up the topic of IP reform rather shows how there is no one in the GOP willing to even discuss this topic.

  7. Fake John Galt

    This is a prosecutorial zeal issue or maybe a prosecutorial punishment issue. Aaron Swatz downloaded public domain documents in mass from JSTOR for distribute via bit torrent. Any of these documents can be viewed at most public libraries and colleges around the world for free. MITs network caught the data dump and shut him down. He surrendered himself, the equipment used, and data copied. MIT kept out of it, JSTOR declined pressing charges in both criminal and civil courts, the US government soldiered on even increasing the number of charges and going after to a max of 35 years. Most of us in the industry believe that he was being punished not for the JSTOR hack but because of his contributions in defeating SOPA. BTW-since his death all charges have been dismissed.

  8. Barkha Herman
    Roberto

    Yes a chance likely to be squandered. The firing of GOP staffer Derek Khanna for even bringing up the topic of IP reform rather shows how there is no one in the GOP willing to even discuss this topic. · 5 minutes ago.

    I looked for anything concerning this on Drudge.  No dice.  Glenn Reynolds has it though, as does Reason. 

    There may yet be hope.  

  9. Barkha Herman
    Fake John Galt: …

    The action of MIT in this case worry me more than the current administration’s action.

    That there is not more outrage also worries me.

  10. Mr. Bildo

    An overzealous team of federal attorneys trying to make a name for themselves as “tough on hackers” decided to treat this like it was a breach of national security. It was not…

    What he did was hardly “hacking”, but it was wrong. Should he have been punished? Of course. However, threatening to send him to federal prison is just bullying. Heymann is a cyber-justice crusader who already has blood on his hands. Ortiz should have reined him in, but she didn’t. She either sat on her hands or was a willing participant. Just another stellar Obama appointee happy to let government overreach happen on their watch.

  11. Roberto
    Barkha Herman

    Roberto

    Yes a chance likely to be squandered. The firing of GOP staffer Derek Khanna for even bringing up the topic of IP reform rather shows how there is no one in the GOP willing to even discuss this topic. · 5 minutes ago.

    I looked for anything concerning this on Drudge.  No dice.  Glenn Reynolds has it though, as does Reason. 

    There may yet be hope.   · 42 minutes ago

    Note the nature of both of those sites though, libertarian. Libertarian inclined voters get ignored by the GOP on issues they are far more vocal about than a matter such as this.

    If a story such as this showed up at say NRO or American Spectator that would be another matter.

  12. Barkha Herman
    Roberto

    Note the nature of both of those sites though, libertarian. Libertarian inclined voters get ignored by the GOP on issues they are far more vocal about than a matter such as this.

    Tragedy, that is.

  13. jarhead
    C

    The best defense of Aaron Swartz is by Alex Stamos at Unhandled:

    http://unhandled.com/2013/01/12/the-truth-about-aaron-swartzs-crime/

  14. Barkha Herman

    @jarhead:  or this one from quartz.  

    This thing promises to grow.

    We can sit it out at our peril (center right that is).

  15. Paul Dougherty

    I am running a risk here, because I am fairly ambivalent with regards to intellectual property/internet and am coming into the story, at this point here. I found both of the arguments in favor of Mr. Swarz referenced in posts#13 an #14, completely unconvincing. They both tried too hard, with eloquence, to paint what was done as equivalent to checking out too many books in the library, no big deal. Or that MIT didn’t try hard enough to keep these materials from being taken. I think that a more apt description would be that he went into the library and made myriad copies of all the books and left, without checking out, and then commence to give away the copies. Various people will have differing opinions on the level of criminality or moral trespass this is, but this is what he did. They were not his to handle as he did.

     I can buy a book from Barnes & Noble. I can download it  from Itunes. I can get a  card and check out the same book from a library. I can not give away the books that Barnes & Noble, Itunes and the Library offer. 

  16. Douglas

    Looks like the man had mental problems to me. Protest IP laws all you like… I think there’s plenty of room for reform there… but the Constitution says Congress has the exclusive jurisdiction on copyright law. You don’t simply ignore it.

  17. Jan-Michael Rives

    Journal subscriptions (and all things research-related) cost immense sums because they are paid for by the university, which, in turn, is largely funded by the government. Aaron did not understand this, and so blamed the concept of intellectual property itself. Foolish, very foolish.

  18. DocJay

    The issue of prosecutorial zeal has eaten me since Johnny Sutton burned agents Ramos and Compean on pretty bogus charges.  I lost all respect for George Bush because of this issue.   

    What boggles my mind is that these self serving aggressive  lawyers don’t get murdered more often.  This boggling  is likely because I’m wired wrong.  

  19. Donald Todd

    Roberto:  #6 This imbroglio came about because of Mr. Swartz’s displeasure with U.S. intellectual property law, the course of action you suggest [paying for the info] would have undermined his point.

    A man who committed suicide over who gets paid for ownership of professional articles no longer has a point to make.  He himself undermined his point.  He won’t be heard in a court of law after having taken what was not his to take, and giving away what was not his to give away.

    If there was a point to be made, if the law was as disagreeable as Mr. Swartz thought, he should have made the point elsewhere.  He failed to do so in a dramatic fashion. 

  20. Barkha Herman

    Unlike Barnes and Nobles, which is a commercial enterprise, these are Academic Papers and are not for sale.  Also, the authors get no money from JSTOR.

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