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Hullabaloo


Sunday, January 13, 2013

 
"It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach."

by digby

Chris Hayes featured a very nice tribute to his friend Aaron Swartz this morning in his "you should know" segment:


Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy
I think this is particularly important for major TV analysts to remark upon:
You should also know that at the time of his death Aaron was being prosecuted by the federal government and threatened with up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines for the crime of — and I’m not exaggerating here — downloading too many free articles from the online database of scholarly work JSTOR. Aaron had allegedly used a simple computer script to use MIT’s network to massively download academic articles from the database that he himself had legitimate access to, almost 5 million in all, with the intent, prosecutors alleged, of making them freely available. You should know that despite JSTOR declining to press charges or pursue prosecution, federal prosecutors dropped a staggering 13 count felony indictment on Aaron for his alleged actions. In a statement about his death Aaron’s family and partner wrote:
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death.”
You should know his death is a good reason to revisit the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the law under which he was prosecuted, since it is far too broad, and to take a hard look at Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, whose office prosecuted Aaron with such recklessly disproportionate vigor, and who is reportedly considering a run for governor.

That's just for starters. There is a huge discussion to be had about the government's almost mystical paranoia about its secrets being exposed in this brave new world of the internet and its willingness to use the full force of its power to prosecute citizens on trumped up charges to serve as "examples" for others. This is supposed to be a democratic, free society.  The behavior exhibited toward Swartz is more akin to something we might have seen in the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War.  There's is also a badly needed discussion about the government's willingness to intercede heavily on behalf of business interests while simultaneously allowing business to go unpunished for their crimes. That's always been true to some extent but we've reached a point at which they aren't even hiding it.

It doesn't make this loss any easier to take, but it does focus the mind once again on just how vulnerable we all are to these powerful forces --- and it makes me appreciate the courage of people like Aaron Swartz who are willing to take them on. His death doesn't make that any less awe inspiring.

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