I would guess most people really didnt know who Aaron Schwartz was prior to his suicide a few days ago. I admit I hadn’t been following this story until a number of articles were brought to my attention regarding why the government was going after him so strongly (up to 35 years in jail and a 1 million dollar fine).

Mr. Schwartz was charged with downloading public documents from MIT presumably with the purpose of uploading the documents to free file sharing sites. He was not hacking anything – the method he used to walk the site and request pages programmatically is very simple – any first year programmer could write the script an an hour or two. Mr. Schwartz’s charging papers provide great insight to what he likely did:

http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/threatlevel/2012/09/swartzsuperseding.pdf

In summary, 5 different times he fired off an automated script to download these documents to his laptop. This action was repeatedly caught by the MIT IT department, who tried to block each attempt. Interestingly, one of the charges is he prevented legitimate researchers from being unable to access the documents. In reading this, it appears to me the IT departments sloppy attempt to thwart him from downloading the documents by blocking large blocks of IP Addresses was the culprit – not necessarily Mr. Schwartz’s script. It is not clear if Mr. Schwartz violated any terms of use on the site.So I found it odd – perhaps scary when I ran across this article on the US Department of Justice site:
http://www.justice.gov/usao/ma/news/2011/July/SwartzAaronPR.html

This paragraph jumped out at me:

The New England Electronic Crimes Task Force has taken an aggressive stance in the investigation of computer intrusions and other cybercrimes,” said Steven D. Ricciardi, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service in New England. “Through this task force, the Secret Service and our partners on the Cambridge and MIT Police Departments demonstrate the importance of cooperation among law enforcement to focus resources and respond effectively to investigate and prevent this type of fraud.”

One more great post here explaining why what Mr. Schwartz did was not a crime:

http://unhandled.com/2013/01/12/the-truth-about-aaron-swartzs-crime/

The term fraud and cybercrime is not applicable in this case. These were public documents open to any MIT student. There was no national security risk here – how and why did the US Secret Service involved?  This makes no sense at face value.  Anything to do with Aaron Schwartz being a free internet activist and leader in the fight against SOPA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Swartz)?

While I do not necessarily condone Mr. Schwartz’s actions, this whole incident appears to me to be another tragic cost of the US Governments ‘War on Terror’, and how it is further eroding the rule of Law in the United States. I hope something good will come out of the tragic end to this story – but I am not optimistic.

Update:  I posted an update on explaining why the secret service is involved.

2 Comments on The Case Against Aaron Schwartz

  1. Thomas Wise says:

    This suicide deeply disturbs me too. Once again the power of government is corrupting the people who wield it. I wish massive negative karma on the assholes who filed the lawsuit.

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