A young man named Aaron Swartz recently committed suicide, leaving behind a devastated community of family and friends. My heart bleeds for his parents, it really does. The reason he committed suicide was partially because of his long-term struggle with depression and also because a bully had made his life seem intolerable by threatening him with more than 30+ years in prison to punish him for the fact he had downloaded some files from JSTOR (an academic article site Swartz and most academics believe should be free to the public since public funds paid for the research in the articles) even though JSTOR did not press charges. In fact, JSTOR put up 4.5 million files for free recently. Any decision to prosecute Swartz for this non-crime was blatant grandstanding and prosecutorial over-reach by an ambitious would-be politician comparable to threatening someone with life in prison over a parking ticket just to make a “name” for yourself as “tough on parking crime”. The bully responsible for Swartz’s misery was a US prosecutor named Carmen Ortiz. She is a complete asshat.
I hope she is real proud of herself.
Lawrence Lessig, who is the “Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School, and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University”, wrote on his blog that the biggest crime that had been committed was:
“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 … 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.”
Alex Stamos, who is the CTO of Artemis Internet, was going to testify on behalf of Aaron Swartz at his upcoming trial and now that confidentiality is moot Stamos has been able to write a blog post about the case and why it was ludicrous to pretend Swartz had committed a “crime”:
“Aaron Swartz was not the super hacker breathlessly described in the Government’s indictment and forensic reports, and his actions did not pose a real danger to JSTOR, MIT or the public. He was an intelligent young man who found a loophole that would allow him to download a lot of documents quickly. This loophole was created intentionally by MIT and JSTOR, and was codified contractually in the piles of paperwork turned over during discovery. If I had taken the stand as planned and had been asked by the prosecutor whether Aaron’s actions were “wrong”, I would probably have replied that what Aaron did would better be described as “inconsiderate”. In the same way it is inconsiderate to write a check at the supermarket while a dozen people queue up behind you or to check out every book at the library needed for a History 101 paper. It is inconsiderate to download lots of files on shared wifi or to spider Wikipedia too quickly, but none of these actions should lead to a young person being hounded for years and haunted by the possibility of a 35 year sentence.”
Meanwhile, the banking giant HBSC was recently found guilty of abetting “money laundering by drug cartels, terrorists and tax cheats, when acting as a financier to clients routing funds from places including Mexico, Iran and Syria” got a stiff fine but no one was threatened with any jail time. Yep. You can help actual TERRORISTS and get away with it if you have enough cash, but God help you if you download some academic files!
WTF happened to “justice for all”???
Goodbye and rest in peace, Aaron Swartz. You will be missed and mourned by many.