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Courtesy of The Tech, we have the following summary of what led to the prosecution against Swartz:

In the basement of Building 16 there is a wiring and telephony closet, known as Room 16-004t. Between November and December 2010, Aaron Swartz accessed this room and hard-wired his Acer laptop into the network, assigning himself two IP addresses. The computer was hidden under a cardboard box in the closet, and it remained there undetected for weeks. In this time it downloaded over 2 million JSTOR articles, more than 100 times the number of legitimate JSTOR downloads at MIT during that time period. (Emphasis added.)
It's the boldfaced section that's the most important. He accessed an unauthorized area of a campus of which we was not a community member, and added his computer to the network in a way no "outside" computer should ever be connected to a network like MIT's: directly to the switch system that controls and routes information over the network.

This, ultimately, is the real issue; the JSTOR downloads are ultimately secondary to this (although they may have been the primary source of the prosecutions). It's the unauthorized access to the network that had to have been MIT's biggest concern. While in this particular instance, there was very little in the way of ramifications, that is just a fortuitous happenstance. The next person to try such a stunt might be more malicious—perhaps introduce spyware into the network, or malware that might bring down the network. With more "direct" access to the network than can usually be obtained through standard access points, the damage that could have been inflicted is limited only by the creativity and skill of the hackers in question.

If MIT was indecisive in this matter, I can understand the two positions that they had to try to balance:

* Swartz's actions did not ultimately harm anyone, and had a (somewhat misguided) logic to them.
* However, his actions compromised one of the world's largest and most important computer infrastructures, and did disrupt the work of numerous MIT employees.

Faced with this, I think MIT needed to demand some criminal prosecution. The actions of the prosecutor in question were too overzealous; but to have just let everything slide, or lead to a "slap on the wrist" penalty would have only encouraged further attempts to compromise the network. (Seeing somebody get away with something like this would be a green light for more ignoble hacking attempts.)

There might be those who comment about MIT's reputation for "hacking" and tolerance of outrageous stunts. There is, in fact, a "hacking" culture at MIT, but it should be kept quite distinct from the "hacking" culture outside of MIT. MIT's variety of "hacking" is supposed to be non-destructive and non-disruptive. Getting the marquee in Lobby 7 to display IHTFP on the first day of finals? That's OK. Taking down a research group's website? Not cool.

It should also be kept in mind that Swartz was not a member of the MIT community. That means he isn't bound by MIT community rules—he couldn't be fired or administratively punished—so legal measures were the only option. Would it have been better to go about this via the civil system? I think so, but that wasn't the decision MIT and prosecutors reached.

Also, keep in mind that MIT's vast computer infrastructure supports the entire MIT community. This means that it also supports research projects from DOD, DOE, NSF, and many other sources, private and government. Some of those projects have various levels of confidentiality associated with them—which could be compromised if machines such as the one Swartz attached to the network were allowed to "pry."

Was this whole event a debacle? Absolutely. Aaron Swartz was mistreated by prosecutors, and the whole series of events was unfortunate. But I think it's important to realize that he was an active participant in the events that led to his decision to take his own life. He chose to exploit the MIT network, rather than the one at Harvard, presumably because it was more powerful. He chose to trespass and illegally attach his computers to the network. His actions resulted in disrupting the availability of a major research tool to a large fraction of the campus for a period of several weeks. While his cause was noble, his means were anything but.

(Disclosure: I am an alumnus of MIT.)

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Comment Preferences

  •  35 years? (11+ / 0-)

    You may have a point, but the pursued sanctions were out of all proportion to what he did. Murderers get less time than that. And the people who brought down our financial system get even less. Motives and intent should be considered as well. This was just wrong and unfair.

    •  I agree. (11+ / 0-)

      My point is that MIT couldn't just let the whole thing go—because the next guy might try something a whole lot more serious.

      And unfortunately that appears to have been the catalyst for the prosecutor's actions. If MIT had stood down, it would have made it a lot harder to blow things up out of proportion.

      •  Expert witness on his case (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I think I'll go by what the expert witness has written instead of this diary.  Note that in his title he puts the word "crime" in quotes.  This expert witness is a cybersecurity expert who did not know Aaron personally and had no conflict of interest.

        Also, diarist, your link to The Tech is not working for me.  

        The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s “Crime”
        I know a criminal hack when I see it, and Aaron’s downloading of journal articles from an unlocked closet is not an offense worth 35 years in jail.

        The facts:

        - MIT operates an extraordinarily open network. Very few campus networks offer you a routable public IP address via unauthenticated DHCP and then lack even basic controls to prevent abuse. Very few captured portals on wired networks allow registration by any visitor, nor can they be easily bypassed by just assigning yourself an IP address. In fact, in my 12 years of professional security work I have never seen a network this open.
        - In the spirit of the MIT ethos, the Institute runs this open, unmonitored and unrestricted network on purpose. Their head of network security admitted as much in an interview Aaron’s attorneys and I conducted in December. MIT is aware of the controls they could put in place to prevent what they consider abuse, such as downloading too many PDFs from one website or utilizing too much bandwidth, but they choose not to.  
        - MIT also chooses not to prompt users of their wireless network with terms of use or a definition of abusive practices.
        - At the time of Aaron’s actions, the JSTOR website allowed an unlimited number of downloads by anybody on MIT’s 18.x Class-A network. The JSTOR application lacked even the most basic controls to prevent what they might consider abusive behavior, such as CAPTCHAs triggered on multiple downloads, requiring accounts for bulk downloads, or even the ability to pop a box and warn a repeat downloader.
        - Aaron did not “hack” the JSTOR website for all reasonable definitions of “hack”. Aaron wrote a handful of basic python scripts that first discovered the URLs of journal articles and then used curl to request them. Aaron did not use parameter tampering, break a CAPTCHA, or do anything more complicated than call a basic command line tool that downloads a file in the same manner as right-clicking and choosing “Save As” from your favorite browser.
        Aaron did nothing to cover his tracks or hide his activity, as evidenced by his very verbose .bash_history, his uncleared browser history and lack of any encryption of the laptop he used to download these files. Changing one’s MAC address (which the government inaccurately identified as equivalent to a car’s VIN number) or putting a mailinator email address into a captured portal are not crimes. If they were, you could arrest half of the people who have ever used airport wifi.
        - The government provided no evidence that these downloads caused a negative effect on JSTOR or MIT, except due to silly overreactions such as turning off all of MIT’s JSTOR access due to downloads from a pretty easily identified user agent.
        - I cannot speak as to the criminal implications of accessing an unlocked closet on an open campus, one which was also used to store personal effects by a homeless man. I would note that trespassing charges were dropped against Aaron and were not part of the Federal case.

        "Justice is a commodity"

        by joanneleon on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 09:52:43 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Prosecutors usually charge ... (0+ / 0-)

      everything they can think of, giving them negotiating room downward for the plea bargain process.

      "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

      by Neuroptimalian on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 06:16:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Yeah, this was a tragedy. (6+ / 0-)

    I'm not sure what his family hoped to gain by blaming the authorities for investigating and prosecuting what was a crime after all. That is their job, and even if they knew that a suspect had suicidal inclinations that really is no basis to change course. I guess it is normal for people who are hurt to want to put the blame on someone or some thing.

    •  The statue of Justice has a balance in hand. (3+ / 0-)

      The proposed sentence VS the gravity of the "crime" is so far from balanced as to not even be debateable. Yet these people who want red meat and blood spilled for every slight bending of the IT laws (made by super-national corporatiions and enacted by their congressional minions) seem to have a "off with their heads" attiiude.

      I'd tip you but they cut off my tip box. The TSA would put Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad on the no-fly list.

      by OHdog on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 08:29:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  People are convicted of crimes every (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sue B, Neuroptimalian

        day and do not commit suicide. This is a conflating of two things. Perhaps the sentence sought was excessive. That is what lawyers are for. The fact that this kid committed suicide is really not attributable to the prosecution. Clearly he had issues.

        •  Yes. He had issues. (3+ / 0-)

          Not least that an overreaching prosecutor wanted to make their political career by harassing, hounding and bullying Aaron Schwartz.  

          Empathy may not be your strong suit.

          •  I can have empathy for (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            his family while defending the authorities from blame in his suicide.

            •  If, after you've read about about the (3+ / 0-)

              prosecution's case and their pursuit of Mr. Schwartz (there are several well-written, well-sourced diaries on the recommended list as I write this), you can still "defend the authorities from blame in his suicide" then I would suggest that you are either a poor reader or that, again, empathy is not your strong suit.

              •  They may have been overzealous. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                That happens. But it is outrageous really to blame them for a 26-year old's suicide. If he was so sensitive to being prosecuted in the first place he should have avoided breaking the law even more than the rest of us do. Their job is to prosecute, not to decide who is capable of handling the pressure of a trial and who should be given a pass lest they commit suicide. It is just not fair for a family to accuse outsiders in this case of being responsible for a young man's suicide (any more than it is fair for people to blame the family for not being there for him when he needed it most).

                •  They "may have been overzealous"? (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Massconfusion, Bob Love

                  Schwartz was dangerously depressed.  He struggled with it for most of his life.  Clinical depression has a high fatality rate.  Schwartz is ultimately responsible.

                  Even so, we hold bullies and harassers accountable for their actions when their bullying pushes their victims over the edge.

                  The actions that US Attorney Steve Heymann took in prosecuting the State's case against Schwartz (which you characterize as "overzealous" and have been elsewhere characterized as "bullying", "overreaching", "harassing" and "politically cynical" to state just a few) were not JUST.  In that regard, they, and US Attorney Steve Heymann can be held accountable and culpable in Schwartz's death.  What Heymann did may have been legal, but it was corrupt and wrong.  

                  •  Okay, well, I guess we just disagree on (0+ / 0-)

                    that point.

                    •  If Schwartz was a boy who was bullied, hounded (0+ / 0-)

                      harassed by his classmates for being "other" or gay and subsequently committed suicide, would you feel still that the people who'd done the bullying were without blame?

                      •  No. That's why some are calling this (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:

                        bullying - to try to distort the situation. Prosecuting someone for committing a crime is of course not bullying.

                        •  Distortion? (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          Bob Love


                          In that world, the question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a “felon.” For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept, and so that was the reason he was facing a million dollar trial in April — his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge. And so as wrong and misguided and fucking sad as this is, I get how the prospect of this fight, defenseless, made it make sense to this brilliant but troubled boy to end it.
                          To say that the DOJ's treatment of Swartz was excessive and vindictive is an extreme understatement. When I wrote about Swartz's plight last August, I wrote that he was "being prosecuted by the DOJ with obscene over-zealousness". Timothy Lee wrote the definitive article in 2011 explaining why, even if all the allegations in the indictment are true, the only real crime committed by Swartz was basic trespassing, for which people are punished, at most, with 30 days in jail and a $100 fine, about which Lee wrote: "That seems about right: if he's going to serve prison time, it should be measured in days rather than years."

                          Nobody knows for sure why federal prosecutors decided to pursue Swartz so vindictively, as though he had committed some sort of major crime that deserved many years in prison and financial ruin. Some theorized that the DOJ hated him for his serial activism and civil disobedience. Others speculated that, as Doctorow put it, "the feds were chasing down all the Cambridge hackers who had any connection to Bradley Manning in the hopes of turning one of them."

                        •  Bullying vs. prosecution (0+ / 0-)

                          And if the crime that Mr. Swartz did warranted a 35 year sentence, then I would say that it was just.  However, 35 years for what he did is using the law as a tool of intimidation, not as a tool for justice.  Using something for intimidation is not prosecuting a crime, it is acting like a bully.

                          However, the problem here is not just prosecutor overreach.  The problem is also that the laws that cover cybercrime are less like the sword and more like a blunt instrument because lawmakers do not always understand how computers and the people who use them work.

                          Did the AUSA conduct themselves like a bully?  Looks that way, but their job is not to interpret the law, their job is to prosecute.  So if it's not the lawyer but the law, then the law needs to be clarified.

                          "Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible." -- Frank Zappa

                          by SaintDharma32 on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 03:53:13 PM PST

                          [ Parent ]

                  •  Don't omit the fact that, ... (0+ / 0-)

                    had a jury agreed with this assessment, it would have delivered a "not guilty" verdict.  

                    "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

                    by Neuroptimalian on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 06:20:42 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

            •  It's not empathy that's the issue with you (0+ / 0-)

              Your issue is a conflict between fellating authority and realizing that that same authority created the circumstances that would cause a man suffering from depression to decide it's easier to check out than fight the man.

              It saddens me every day that I'm reminded that the left no longer is the voice of the common man speaking up against the powers-that-be. Because it sure isn't going to be the morons on the right that take up that task.

        •  Of course he had issues. He was a fucking genius. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          You don't treat genius of his caliber like some kid being grilled in a cop show, using disproportionate threats to crush his spirit and get him to bow to authority.

          Even if you're not smart enough to be awed, you treat genius with respect.

          "I was a big supporter of waterboarding" - Dick Cheney 2/14/10

          by Bob Love on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 11:23:05 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Being a genius doesn't qualify one for a pass. (0+ / 0-)

            If I were to commit a crime and offer "but I'm a genius" as an affirmative defense, I'd expect to be, and would be, laughed out of court.

            And no, most geniuses don't have "issues".  (sigh)

            "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

            by Neuroptimalian on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 06:25:03 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Try again. I called for respect, not a pass. (0+ / 0-)

              What I cited was "disproportionate threats" on the part of the state. I never proposed he get a pass, just a proportionate penalty - something less than double his current lifespan. Please nod if you understand.

              And everyone has issues. Including those who think they don't, duh.

              "I was a big supporter of waterboarding" - Dick Cheney 2/14/10

              by Bob Love on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 07:55:42 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Swartz was offered a plea deal of six months ... (0+ / 0-)

                (or "slightly less") two days before his death.  To kill himself over the thought of serving only six months, given that he actually committed the crimes, wasn't rational.

                Nod if you understand.

                "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

                by Neuroptimalian on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 08:43:48 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Citation, please. nt (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  "I was a big supporter of waterboarding" - Dick Cheney 2/14/10

                  by Bob Love on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 08:50:09 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                •  His lawyer is unaware of such an offer. (0+ / 0-)

                  What is your source?

                  "I was a big supporter of waterboarding" - Dick Cheney 2/14/10

                  by Bob Love on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 10:08:56 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Since Swartz' own lawyer was the source, ... (0+ / 0-)

                    according to the AP, I find that VERY hard to believe.

                    "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

                    by Neuroptimalian on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 10:37:50 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Since the AP link has been pulled, ... (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Bob Love

                      perhaps because the lawyer threatened them in trying to protect any rights the family might have to sue and thus earn the lawyer a fee, let's go with this one:


                      HEADLINE:  MIT hacking case lawyer says Aaron Swartz was offered plea deal of six months behind bars

                      During plea talks held in the months before his death, federal prosecutors told Aaron Swartz and his attorney that the computer prodigy must spend six months behind bars and plead guilty to 13 federal crimes in order to resolve the criminal case short of a trial.

                      Swartz’s lead defense attorney, Elliot Peters, said today that both he and Swartz rejected the plea deal offered by the office of US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, and instead were pushing for a trial where federal prosecutors would have been forced to publicly justify their pursuit of Swartz.

                      Or how about the Boston Globe:
                      In the most recent plea negotiations, Swartz’s lawyer said Monday, the office of US Attorney Carmen Ortiz remained insistent on prison time of four to six months, far less than the 35 years and $1 million fine allowed under federal law but more than Swartz was willing to accept.
                      And from the Wall Street Journal:
                      The government indicated it might only seek seven years at trial, and was willing to bargain that down to six to eight months in exchange for a guilty plea, a person familiar with the matter said. But Mr. Swartz didn't want to do jail time.

                      "I think Aaron was frightened and bewildered that they'd taken this incredibly hard line against him," said Mr. Peters, his lawyer. "He didn't want to go to jail. He didn't want to be a felon."

                      Clearly Swartz' lawyer is lying if he is claiming ignorance about this plea offer.  

                      "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

                      by Neuroptimalian on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 11:04:45 AM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  I was relying on Lessig, who I now see (0+ / 0-)

                        was forced to step down as his lawyer some while ago.

                        But from your WSJ article: "Prosecutors disagreed and threatened to put him in prison for more than three decades.

                        Mr. Swartz's lawyer, Elliot Peters, first discussed a possible plea bargain with Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann last fall. In an interview Sunday, he said he was told at the time that Mr. Swartz would need to plead guilty to every count, and the government would insist on prison time.

                        Mr. Peters said he spoke to Mr. Heymann again last Wednesday in another attempt to find a compromise. The prosecutor, he said, didn't budge."

                        Demanding a guilty plea to every count is not, as you call it, "a plea offer", it's an ultimatum, one which the prosecution refused to budge on.

                        I do appreciate your coming up with a citation, though, and your decision to steer clear of the imaginary bullshit of your first few posts. There may be hope for you. Work on honesty.

                        "I was a big supporter of waterboarding" - Dick Cheney 2/14/10

                        by Bob Love on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 03:00:51 PM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  "There may be hope for [me]"? (0+ / 0-)

                          Lovely.  How generous of you.

                          Your high horse had a severely-broken leg, you just didn't know it ... and now refuse to acknowledge it.  So be it, the facts are there for all to see.

                          Swartz thought he was smart enough to get away with committing major crimes, crimes which carried the same sentence no matter who perpetrated them; he was wrong and could not deal with the consequences.   Had it been anyone else, he would have been called cowardly.

                          "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

                          by Neuroptimalian on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 03:26:18 PM PST

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  "Crimes which carried the same sentence (0+ / 0-)

                            no matter who perpetrated them"?

                            Anywhere between 4 months and 35 years for the same crime by the same person?  Do you ever reread your posts for sense?  Ever?

                            "I was a big supporter of waterboarding" - Dick Cheney 2/14/10

                            by Bob Love on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 03:32:22 PM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  I take it you don't know ... (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Lasgalen Lothir

                            what sentencing guidelines are, either.  Of course an arrestee faces the maximum; seldom do they receive it, it just depends upon the particulars of their crime.  Swartz, however, apparently thought he should suffer no consequences whatsoever.  So he sacrificed his life to avoid four-to-six months in jail?  That hardly seems like a sane, logical trade-off, but it was his assessment to make.

                            "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

                            by Neuroptimalian on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 05:35:04 PM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  So you answer is "no". (0+ / 0-)

                            I guess I need to point out, too, that there's a distinction between between a sentence and sentencing guidelines. This may simply be more sloppy writing, but your propensity for it leaves you time and again saying things you don't actually mean.

                            The conceptual deficit is far worse.. "Swartz, however, apparently thought ..."  Come on, you're not capable of imagining what he thought, let alone thinking it.

                            Your initial misrepresentations of my words are just the usual, expectable bilge one expects from self-styled experts with an axe to grind, but your attempt to delve into Swartz's mind, one well beyond you, would be laughable if the whole story, and your fumbling of it, wasn't so sad.

                            But my words are probably too clear for you to translate into your private neurogarble. Goodbye.

                            "I was a big supporter of waterboarding" - Dick Cheney 2/14/10

                            by Bob Love on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 06:29:27 PM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  Unless Swartz' confirmed IQ, ... (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            Lasgalen Lothir

                            one tested and retested by actual experts, not estimated by you or any silly Internet quizzes, exceeds 172, his mental ability is hardly "beyond" me.  Still, I will assume for the sake of argument that he had a high IQ.

                            That said, your continuing silly assumptions confirm your inability to grasp depth and complexity, however, so good-bye to you as well.

                            "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

                            by Neuroptimalian on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 08:31:17 PM PST

                            [ Parent ]

                          •  You (0+ / 0-)

                            put words in my mouth and thoughts in his head and you consider IQ to measure intelligence.  That makes you a dolt 3 times over.

                            "I was a big supporter of waterboarding" - Dick Cheney 2/14/10

                            by Bob Love on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 08:54:07 PM PST

                            [ Parent ]

    •  There is a thing called prosecutorial discretion. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lotlizard, Stwriley

      In general, we have this prosecutorial discretion so that our prosecutors may reach reasoned judgements about how to proceed given specific facts and circumstances.  And in fact, prosecutors use that discretion when determining whether to file charges, what charges to file, and what penalties to seek all the time.  

      No one is arguing that law enforcement authorities should have ignored the case.  The argument, rather, is that the charges and requested penalties were grossly disproportionate to the offenses -- so disproportionate as to raise material questions about whether there might have been some underlying political animus in play.  (After all, Aaron's work is one of the major reasons that SOPA/PIPA failed; there are interests out there that would have been very happy to see him made an example of.)  

      This kind of abuse of discretion is an extraordinarily dangerous thing to see, for everybody.  That's what people are responding to here: it's like Wen Ho Lee, only with even more tragic immediate consequences.

  •  Your links aren't working (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
  •  As a former MIT network admin... (28+ / 0-)

    I can say quite a few things here.

    1. The basement of building 16 is accessible to the public. It's just out of sight, but it is not under lock and key.

    2. The wireless network he used is accessible to the public. MIT's policy regarding the main network is not to have any firewalling. Users of the network are responsible for securing their own resources.

    3. The closet he snuck his laptop in turned out to be unlocked. And a homeless man was using it to stash his personal effects. That does not surprise me. (And it gives me a personal stake. Two buildings over is the building I worked in, which had its own spots where he might have stashed a laptop. So I know precisely what that would have caused).

    4. The load he imposed on the network is negligible. Not worth tracking.

    5. Now, here's what trouble he DID cause: by downloading all those articles, he caused JSTOR to tell MIT to stop the downloads. So MIT investigated the issue and caught him. That meant he took up the time of a few workers, and the time does not run cheap. If it had been my closet, I would have sued him and demanded he pay MIT my salary for the time I was working to catch him instead of serving my employers. While that is not a trivial issue, it is also not an issue worth 50 years in prison.

    6. And that is what leaves me the most upset. When I see an intruder on my network, I want the authorities to give the matter the gravity it deserves. If it's a Russian gang wanting to use my hosts to run credit card fraud and relay kiddie porn, I want to see it treated accordingly. If it's a kid or a kook posing a mild nuisance, I want to see enough muscle flexed to make him go away, and no more. If I can't trust the feds not to ruin a young man's life over a matter like this, I will bend over backwards to avoid calling them.

  •  I think you leaped to a legal conclusion, lone1c (8+ / 0-)

    Timothy Lee says (and Glenn Greenwald quotes approvingly) that the crime here seems to have been simple trespass (which ochswar's comments might even suggest could have been difficult to prove).

    Ochswar also adds context which puts the matter in context: the true damage was a minor monetary one. The prosecution was therefore not just inappropriate, it was punitive, an abuse of power.

    Reading Greenwald and Lessig, I am pretty sure that with proper defense, Swartz would have beaten the charges.

    Worst in all of this, the government apparently forced Swartz to suicide through financial means. They bled him and made it effectively impossible to raise a defense fund.

    When this happens, we have ceased to have law. Swartz was a pretty rich guy. But even he could be overcome by the financial burden placed on him by the legal system.  

    The essence of your argument is that what happened to Swartz was justified because of deterrence. It is a mistaken argument. The severity of punishment is not what constitutes deterrence. It is the certainty of it that creates deterrence.

    I do sympathize with content creators, and with systems administrators. However, the government is on the opposite side of the issue with regard to content creators. Scientists are not adequately compensated for their work, which is usually done at public expense. Many of them have reasons to want information to move freely (including especially MIT professors, many of whom have startup businesses that rely on accessing that information).  

    With regret, I cannot recommend your diary. You did not read around the web to seek other opinions, so it lacks nuance. You have one link, not enough for a diary. I urge reading Lessig, Lee, and Greenwald at a minimum.

  •  An extraordinary genius is dead. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotlizard, Stwriley

    The human race lost a mind it could have used. Authority never likes people smarter than itself.

    I understand everything you're saying, but frankly his depredations look incredibly petty next to enormity of what we lost.

    "I was a big supporter of waterboarding" - Dick Cheney 2/14/10

    by Bob Love on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 11:15:57 AM PST

    •  A genius' mind, and the fruits thereof, ... (0+ / 0-)

      don't belong to society.  If s/he wishes to share, fine; but there is no moral obligation to do so.

      "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

      by Neuroptimalian on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 06:31:44 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  curious (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I'm curious why he just didn't download the articles from Harvard. It would have served the same purposes of trying to make JSTOR articles accessible to the public without involving breaking into a computer network.

  •  so as an alumnus (0+ / 0-)

    (me too, '96)

    He accessed an unauthorized area of a campus
    you surely know that there's a proud tradition of doing just that.
  •  as someone who works in an academic library (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I would recommend reading this article by this piece by Maria Bustillos.  It has a good description about how some aspects of scholarly publishing work, including this bit:

    A lot of people seem to believe that it doesn't cost anything to make documents available online, but that is absolutely not so. Yes, you can digitize an academic journal and put it online, but if you mean to offer reliable, permanent availability, it costs a huge amount of money just to keep up with the entropy. Plus you have to index the material to make it searchable, not a small job. Everything has to be backed up. When a hard drive fries, when servers or database software become obsolete or break down, when new anti-virus software is required, all this stuff requires a stable and permanent infrastructure and that does not come cheap. Finally, the more traffic you have, the more it costs to maintain fast, uninterrupted server access; you can see this whenever some little blog is mentioned in a newspaper and its server crashes five seconds later. In the case of JSTOR you are looking at many millions of hits every month, and they can't afford any mistakes.

    So is JSTOR uniformly a good guy? Maybe not; it would certainly be nice if they would make their public-domain materials available to the general public. But if you are an academic librarian, JSTOR, a nonprofit, probably isn't making your blood boil the way for-profit publishers like NPG (Nature) and Reed Elsevier (The Lancet) do, the latter of which I have seen referred to online as "Lord Voldemort Elsevier" owing to the company's greed and general rapacity

    There are people with whom I generally agree on other matters that I'm not entirely in agreement with on the this matter, and I believe some of this is due to the fact that they don't fully understand how the world of scholarly publishing (as it currently exists) works.   This is not to say that the world of scholarly publishing isn't fucked up.  It is - Aaron was absolutely right about that, and he was right to want to change it for the better.  But are JSTOR some kind of heavies/bad guys?  Not really - the bad guys (as Bustillos suggests) are for profit academic publishers like Reed Elsevier.  It's not for nothing that companies like Reed Elsevier are universally hated by university libraries - such companies have a stranglehold over the world of scholarly publishing, and charge libraries exorbitant fees for their content.  JSTOR, on the other hand, are non-profit, and simply license the content from publishers to libraries.

    So when I see folks that I usually agree with lumping  JSTOR  in with US Attorney Carmen Ortiz (who along with Steve Heymann was guilty of incredible overreach and intimidation via a punishment wildly disproportionate to Aaron's crimes - 30 years???), I have to respectfully disagree.  JSTOR is not some evil monolithic corporation greedily hoarding scholarly content, and they are not in a major obstacle to the sharing of scholarly content.  Within the context of the admittedly fucked-up system of scholarly publishing that exists currently, they are comparatively speaking a benign force.  The true bad actors, and the biggest obstacles to a more open and freer sharing of ideas and scholarly content are in fact for profit publishers like Reed Elsevier.

    There's another old saying, Senator: don't piss down my back and tell me it's trickle down

    by mosec on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 08:02:20 PM PST

    •  JSTOR is a visible target, so I don't blame (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Swartz for using them.  Moreover, JSTOR showed admirable restraint and understanding of the case.  Yes, the for-profit content hoarders are a much bigger problem.  Either way, this has caused hyperinflation of the cost to read content produced often on the taxpayer dime.

      The entire system of gumming up the spread of knowledge - knowledge the creators are not compensated for largely - should be given some real visibility.

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