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Information means power...
Yeah, and let's keep that to ourselves (power and information), says World 1.0...
Yeah, and let's share ... says World 2.0...
Are leakers of information criminals?
Swartz, a MIT student and Internet (public-access) activist, thought information should be free...
Until she was accused of driving the 26-year-old cyber wunderkind and public-access activist Aaron Swartz to suicide, the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts was a liberal’s dream. You know what? This woman (U.S Attorney Carmen Ortiz ) is just too much. Bigoted. The Inquisition is not dead, it has morphed...
At other times, this young man would have been a hero, or a pirate (probably pretty much exactly amounts to the same thing) ... never would he have been forced to take... his own life... Aaron Swartz wanted to create some sort of Academic Wikipedia, enabling people to access the MIT academic database by just accessing the Internet... To cut it short, Swartz did what I would have done had I been gutsy and brainy... American legals have gone crazy over this "copyright" thing... Which role exactly did the MIT play in this sorry story? I'm eager to hear aerospace engineer Howard Wolowitz (graduated from MIT) discuss this, and so are... 12.83 million viewers...
I knew Swartz, although not well. And while he was special on account of his programming abilities, in another way he was not special at all: he was just another young man compelled to act rashly when he felt strongly, regardless of the rules. In another time, a man with Swartz’s dark drive would have headed to the frontier. Perhaps he would have ventured out into the wilderness, like T. E. Lawrence or John Muir, or to the top of something death-defying, like Reinhold Messner or Philippe Petit. Swartz possessed a self-destructive drive toward actions that felt right to him, but that were also defiant and, potentially, law-breaking. Like Henry David Thoreau, he chased his own dreams, and he was willing to disobey laws he considered unjust.
The act was harmless—not in the sense of hypothetical damages or the circular logic of deterrence theory (that’s lawyerly logic), but in John Stuart Mill’s sense, meaning that there was no actual physical harm, nor actual economic harm. The leak was found and plugged; JSTOR suffered no actual economic loss. It did not press charges. Like a pie in the face, Swartz’s act was annoying to its victim, but of no lasting consequence.
In this sense, Swartz must be compared to two other eccentric geniuses, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who, in the nineteen-seventies, committed crimes similar to, but more economically damaging than, Swartz’s. Those two men hacked A.T. & T.’s telephone system to make free long-distance calls, and actually sold the illegal devices (blue boxes) to make cash. Their mentor, John Draper, did go to jail for a few months (where he wrote one of the world’s first word processors), but Jobs and Wozniak were never prosecuted. Instead, they got bored of phreaking and built a computer. The great ones almost always operate at the edge.
That was then. In our age, armed with laws passed in the nineteen-eighties and meant for serious criminals, the federal prosecutor Carmen Ortiz approved a felony indictment that originally demanded up to thirty-five years in prison. Worse still, her legal authority to take down Swartz was shaky. Just last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a similar prosecution. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, a prominent conservative, refused to read the law in a way that would make a criminal of “everyone who uses a computer in violation of computer use restrictions—which may well include everyone who uses a computer.” Ortiz and her lawyers relied on that reading to target one of our best and brightest.
It’s one thing to stretch the law to stop a criminal syndicate or terrorist organization. It’s quite another when prosecuting a reckless young man. The prosecutors forgot that, as public officials, their job isn’t to try and win at all costs but to use the awesome power of criminal law to protect the public from actual harm. Ortiz has not commented on the case. But, had she been in charge when Jobs and Wozniak were breaking the laws, we might never have had Apple computers. It was at this moment that our legal system and our society utterly failed.
Defenders of the prosecution seem to think that anyone charged with a felony must somehow deserve punishment. That idea can only be sustained without actual exposure to the legal system. Yes, most of the time prosecutors do chase actual wrongdoers, but today our criminal laws are so expansive that most people of any vigor and spirit can be found to violate them in some way. Basically, under American law, anyone interesting is a felon. The prosecutors, not the law, decide who deserves punishment.
Today, prosecutors feel they have license to treat leakers of information like crime lords or terrorists. In an age when our frontiers are digital, the criminal system threatens something intangible but incredibly valuable. It threatens youthful vigor, difference in outlook, the freedom to break some rules and not be condemned or ruined for the rest of your life. Swartz was a passionate eccentric who could have been one of the great innovators and creators of our future. Now we will never know."
Tim Wu is a professor at Columbia Law School and the author of “The Master Switch.”
"On Friday, Internet pioneer and open information activist Aaron Swartz took his own life at the age of 26. At the time of his death, Swartz was under indictment for logging into JSTOR, a database of scholarly articles, and rapidly downloading those articles with the intent to make them public. If Swartz had lived to be convicted of the charges against him, he faced 50 years or more in a federal prison.
To put these charges in perspective, here are ten examples of federal crimes that carry lesser prison sentences than Swartz’ alleged crime of downloading academic articles in an effort to make knowledge widely available to the public:
- Manslaughter: Federal law provides that someone who kills another human being “[u]pon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion” faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if subject to federal jurisdiction. The lesser crime of involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of only six years.
- Bank Robbery: A person who “by force and violence, or by intimidation” robs a bank faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. If the criminal “assaults any person, or puts in jeopardy the life of any person by the use of a dangerous weapon or device,” this sentence is upped to a maximum of 25 years.
- Selling Child Pornography: The maximum prison sentence for a first-time offender who “knowingly sells or possesses with intent to sell” child pornography in interstate commerce is 20 years. Significantly, the only way to produce child porn is to sexually molest a child, which means that such a criminal is literally profiting off of child rape or sexual abuse.
- Knowingly Spreading AIDS: A person who “after testing positive for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and receiving actual notice of that fact, knowingly donates or sells, or knowingly attempts to donate or sell, blood, semen, tissues, organs, or other bodily fluids for use by another, except as determined necessary for medical research or testing” faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.
- Selling Slaves: Under federal law, a person who willfully sells another person “into any condition of involuntary servitude” faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, although the penalty can be much higher if the slaver’s actions involve kidnapping, sexual abuse or an attempt to kill.
- Genocidal Eugenics: A person who “imposes measures intended to prevent births” within a particular racial, ethnic or religious group or who “subjects the group to conditions of life that are intended to cause the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part” faces a maximum prison term of 20 years, provided their actions did not result in a death.
- Helping al-Qaeda Develop A Nuclear Weapon: A person who “willfully participates in or knowingly provides material support or resources . . . to a nuclear weapons program or other weapons of mass destruction program of a foreign terrorist power, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be imprisoned for not more than 20 years.”
- Violence At International Airports: Someone who uses a weapon to “perform an act of violence against a person at an airport serving international civil aviation that causes or is likely to cause serious bodily injury” faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years if their actions do not result in a death.
- Threatening The President: A person who threatens to kill the President, the President-elect, the Vice President or the Vice President-elect faces a maximum prison term of 5 years.
- Assaulting A Supreme Court Justice: Assaults against very senior government officials, including Members of Congress, cabinet secretaries or Supreme Court justices are punished by a maximum prison sentence of just one year. If the assault “involved the use of a dangerous weapon, or personal injury results,” the maximum prison term is 10 years.
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY
Indeed, if Swartz’s story reveals anything, it is the power of prosecutors to pressure defendants into plea bargains by stringing multiple criminal charges together and threatening outlandish prison sentences. Whatever one thinks of Swartz’s actions, which were likely illegal and probably should be illegal, it is difficult to justify treating him as if he were a more dangerous criminal than someone who flies into a rage and kills their own brother." (Source).