Dec 10, 2013
Truthdigger of the Week: Aaron Swartz
Posted on Jan 13, 2013
According to Doctorow, Swartz’s flaw was his “recklessness.” For this, in the JSTOR case, Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, who is “notorious for her overzealous prosecutions,” according to Greenwald, brought the full force of the law against Swartz, even after JSTOR dropped all of its charges.
With equal force, Swartz’s supporters are focusing their rage on Ortiz and the Justice Department, for pursuing a punishment that is disproportionate to Swartz’s alleged offense. At least two online petitions have emerged. One asks President Obama to posthumously pardon Swartz. The other demands that Ortiz be fired.
Many are asking why prosecutors were so aggressive. Greenwald believes it was his vigorous dissent against “the most powerful state and corporate factions” in the world:
“Swartz’s activism … was waged as part of one of the most vigorously contested battles—namely, the war over how the internet is used and who controls the information that flows on it—and that was his real crime in the eyes of the U.S. government: challenging its authority and those of corporate factions to maintain a stranglehold on that information. In [an] above-referenced speech on SOPA, Swartz discussed the grave dangers to internet freedom and free expression and assembly posed by the government’s efforts to control the internet with expansive interpretations of copyright law and other weapons to limit access to information.”
In an official statement, Swartz’s family blamed the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and MIT for “contributing to his death.” The university had “refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles,” while the “criminal justice system” that pursued him was “rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.”
Some who were involved in Swartz’s case are trying to correct the record. Alex Stamos, a computer forensics investigator who was scheduled to serve as the defense’s expert witness, wrote in detail about bad information pertaining to the details of the JSTOR event that were being repeated throughout the blogosphere. Stamos also refuted the characterization of the crime and the severity of the punishment: “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.”
Copyright activist and academic Lawrence Lessig (who first met Swartz when he was a budding teenage developer) declined to defend his friend’s actions, but he forcefully denounced “what a decent society would only call bullying.”
“I get wrong,” Lessig wrote, “but I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.
“[R]emember, 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.’
“Aaron was always and only working for (at least his conception of) the public good,” Lessig continued. “He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gone today.”
For acts of heroism carried out during his life, which improved our world in broad, tangible and lasting ways, we honor Aaron Swartz as our Truthdigger of the Week.
Aaron Swartz, ‘How We Stopped SOPA’:
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