Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Government Your Rights Online Politics

DoJ Admits Aaron Swartz's Prosecution Was Political 326

An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from a blog post by Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, founder of corporate watchdog and partner of the late Aaron Swartz: "The DOJ has told Congressional investigators that Aaron's prosecution was motivated by his political views on copyright. I was going to start that last paragraph with 'In a stunning turn of events,' but I realized that would be inaccurate — because it's really not that surprising. Many people speculated throughout the whole ordeal that this was a political prosecution, motivated by anything/everything from Aaron's effective campaigning against SOPA to his run-ins with the FBI over the PACER database. But Aaron actually didn't believe it was — he thought it was overreach by some local prosecutors who didn't really understand the internet and just saw him as a high-profile scalp they could claim, facilitated by a criminal justice system and computer crime laws specifically designed to give prosecutors, however incompetent or malicious, all the wrong incentives and all the power they could ever want. But this HuffPo article, and what I’m hearing from sources on the Hill, suggest that that’s not true. That Ortiz and Heymann knew exactly what they were doing: Shutting up, and hopefully locking up, an extremely effective activist whose political views, including those on copyright, threatened the Powers That Be."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

DoJ Admits Aaron Swartz's Prosecution Was Political

Comments Filter:
  • Re:I Don't Get It (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:18AM (#43023365)

    Rolled over at the first sign of adversity?

    Are you seriously?

    I don't think you have made yourself even remotely familiar with the case, whatsoever, by that statement alone.

  • Re:I Don't Get It (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:20AM (#43023375)

    The thought of years of federal "pound-me-in-the-ass" prison, combined with his recorded bouts of depression, were plenty to drive him over the edge.

  • by apcullen ( 2504324 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:21AM (#43023381)
    It's not at all shocking that it was politically motivated. What's shocking is that they admitted it.
  • Naturally (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:21AM (#43023385)

    Of course they can admit it was political. There's no downside to this for them. They can't be successfully sued, and no one will ever be held personally responsible.

    "Yeah, we did it for political reasons. But, we didn't use a drone. It just turned out that our unreasonable tactics were extremely effective. And the taxpayers should be happy that they didn't get the bill for a large public trial."

  • by MRe_nl ( 306212 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:24AM (#43023407)

    "As the Americans learned so painfully in Earth's final century, free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. The once-chained people whose leaders at last lose their grip on information flow will soon burst with freedom and vitality, but the free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid slide into despotism. Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master".

            Commissioner Pravin Lal, "U.N. Declaration of Rights"

  • Re:I Don't Get It (Score:5, Insightful)

    by niftydude ( 1745144 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:26AM (#43023423)

    Yet at the first sign of adversity he rolls over like a stuck pig.

    Suicidal depression is a serious mental disease. You can't just wish it away by smiling and singing a plucky song.

    People need to understand that mental diseases are actual diseases, and at least as difficult to cure as any physical disease out there.

    The idea that someone suffering severe depression can simply just "stand up for themselves" in adversity is incredibly insensitive.

  • Silver lining (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Sparticus789 ( 2625955 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:26AM (#43023425) Journal

    At least they just prosecuted him instead of launching a Hellfire missile at his house.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:29AM (#43023453)

    This would be like linking to an NRA member's blog about the gun control debate as if it were an accurate reporting on events.

  • Re:I Don't Get It (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:30AM (#43023457)

    We're all adults here.

    Evidently not. You are asserting that a young man's suicide was merely a political statement, and an ineffective one at that. Such a statement bears no relation to a modern understanding of depression and suicide.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:35AM (#43023489)

    Because so what if they admitted it? Is anyone going to be held responsible or punished for it? No. At most there might be a slap on the wrist (NOT for the prosecution, but for letting it get out of hand), then it will be business as usual.

    Remember, all the rules are there just for the plebs, not for the elites in the ruling class.

  • ironic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IT.luddite ( 1633703 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:35AM (#43023491)
    that the quote appearing at the bottom of the page is Mizner's:

    "If you steal from one author it's plagiarism; if you steal from many it's research."

    As someone mentioned, it's not shocking the prosecution was politically motivated but shocking that they admitted it. I'll add that it's also not shocking that they think they didn't do anything wrong!

  • by oodaloop ( 1229816 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:41AM (#43023519)
    What would really be shocking is if anyone went to jail for this.
  • Re:I Don't Get It (Score:5, Insightful)

    by crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:42AM (#43023525)

    Keep in mind that you're talking about a kid here, one who in the typical American fashion had been raised on idealism and "good government bullshit" (to quote Goodfellas). It's quite likely he had no idea going in just how hard the government can push back when citizens threaten corporate interests.

    It's real easy to envision yourself a hero when you embark on a fight against the man. But when confronted with the very harsh reality that you are engaging in the fight largely alone and against all odds, it can be overwhelming.

  • Re:Sums it up ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:43AM (#43023533) Homepage Journal

    This is awful. The idea that copyright (and in fact ideas about copyright) should be enforced as vigorously as this is absurd.

    No, you're wrong. That's not what this is about.

    This is about a policy in which political propaganda is held above human life, liberty, rights, the law, everything. A policy by which goals are set and the rest is just a front. This is a government that lies to the people and that works against their interests, that fights against the will of change, that uses selective force of law and mock-law to suppress ideas and ideals.

    This is the same tyranny as gun control, global warming, and stem cell research: things we either can't know without major amounts of research or just can't know period, because the political views have covered up and even shaped the facts. Global warming is the biggest offender: we can cite stem cell research and see what was adult and embryonic, even though that's usually left out of casual activism (a lot of embryonic stem cell proponents point to "stem cell research" using adult stem cells); but with global warming, any research about the trends, the causes, and the impacts not following the political dogma is actively prevented as a first line of defense, and then picked apart and ridiculed by measures that would similarly debase current consensus. The same one-side slant is applied to everything, to varying degrees of effectiveness, regardless of whether the dogma is accurate with reality or completely fantastic.

    This is the same with copyright. The media and the government want to provide a slanted view of copyright, to ridicule and debase research contrary to their position, to hide all research that doesn't contradict but does show the other impacts (weak copyright DOES hurt business; but it also GREATLY improves the wealth of society by slipping works into the hands of consumers after a shorter time, and by reducing punishments to not be retaliatory and destructive but rather simply just). They have set out to destroy their opponents to cover the important facts that must be brought to the public mind.

    Hang them all.

  • Yep (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chibi Merrow ( 226057 ) <> on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:47AM (#43023561) Homepage Journal

    Just like Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., etc., etc., etc. "deserved" prosecution.

    Did you ever stop to consider, even for a moment, that the reason Aaron Swartz was going to continue this pattern of behavior might just possibly be that he was right?

  • Re:I Don't Get It (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:49AM (#43023581)

    Civil disobedience of that calibre isn't punished with 30 years of gulag. Except maybe back when Stalin was still alive. It's punished with fines in civilized world, and maybe short term prison in 3rd world.

    After Stalin died, even in USSR they didn't push for those kinds of punishments for that calibre of "civil disobedience".

    Worth noting that current for profit prisons are arguably worse then gulags. On one hand, you have better conditions (i.e. no risk of freezing to death during winters), on the other hand many prisoners helped each other in gulags because they were all in it together.

  • by Theaetetus ( 590071 ) <> on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:50AM (#43023593) Homepage Journal
    DoJ Admits Aaron Swartz's prosecution was political! The DOJ has told Congressional investigators that Aaron's prosecution was motivated by his political views on copyright!

    ... but then you go to the article and see the quote and it's:

    A Justice Department representative told congressional staffers during a recent briefing on the computer fraud prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz that Swartz’s “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto” played a role in the prosecution, sources told The Huffington Post.

    Doesn't sound quite the same as "admitting it's political". In fact, let's see what the HuffPo said:

    The "Manifesto," Justice Department representatives told congressional staffers, demonstrated Swartz's malicious intent in downloading documents on a massive scale.

    ... yeah. Sorry, Submitter, but we mock that kind of Gotcha Journalism when Fox News or Breitbart twists someone's words to make a splashy headline, or when James O'Keefe does one of his out-of-context videos to smear Planned Parenthood.

  • Re:Silver lining (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:51AM (#43023611)

    It was far worse. Hellfires tend to be relatively quick and painless. They basically threatened him until fear and despair drove him to suicide.

    I'll take hellfire over that kind of torture any day.

  • Re:Silver lining (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cpghost ( 719344 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:53AM (#43023633) Homepage
    They may not have fired a Hellfile missile at his house, but the end result was just as lethal nonetheless.
  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:55AM (#43023661)

    More like you speed and get a ticket for felony reckless driving.

    The point isn't that he was prosecuted, it was that A) he was prosecuted beyond any reasonable interpretation of the wrongdoing B) the prosecutor drew up a huge list of charges to try and scare him into taking a plea C) the reasons for A and B, it has just been admitted by the DOJ, were political. That shouldn't happen in the US, it just shouldn't. There shouldn't even be the shadow of a possibility that it could possibly have happened.

  • by Yebyen ( 59663 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:00AM (#43023711) Homepage []

    The story was reported yesterday on Hacker News, and the headline on /. is just as sensational as it was in the other forum.

    There is no admission, and there is no source. The anonymous staffer who will not be named is some underling with no pull or sway, and nobody has resigned. He didn't even say what the headline claims he said.

  • Re:Yep (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tibit ( 1762298 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:11AM (#43023811)

    Comment of the day, right here!

  • by Samantha Wright ( 1324923 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:12AM (#43023819) Homepage Journal
    No, no. That's too shocking. That could never happen.
  • by tibit ( 1762298 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:13AM (#43023839)

    The anti-segregation activists were breaking the law too. The fact that there is a law doesn't necessarily make it good, you know? How else can one fight immoral laws?

  • by malkavian ( 9512 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:16AM (#43023863)

    In the name of "Law". Nobody (especially Lawyers) pretends it's a system of Justice.

  • Re:Sums it up ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by paiute ( 550198 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:22AM (#43023919)
    Nice manifesto, but the truth is pretty simple. It's about the money. It's always about the money.
  • Re:I Don't Get It (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:25AM (#43023941)

    No, the modern understanding is that even when you succeed at life you can still fall into a depression. And the modern understanding is also that depression is a disorder where the brain chemistry and functions change in a measurable way. If the technology existed to easily sample brain chemistry levels, that is how depression would be diagnosed. There are studies that have found that you can diagnose and differentiate different types of depressions with fMRI, which may be the way it is diagnosed in the future. So yeah, it is real and it is not self-caused (except in the sense that depression can be 'self-caused' by abuse, sexual assault, or genetics).

  • Re:Yep (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:40AM (#43024099)

    Having to pay for academic journals is not on and equivalent level with segregation.

    The problem ultimately with Aaron (and his faithful) is that they largely view the rules as not applying to them. That if you're clever and knowledgeable about computers, you get to make your own rules for appropriate/legal conduct when using them.

    He is of course wrong in this view, and the govt was going to remind him that yes, computer/copyright law still applies, even to geniuses and prodigies.

  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:41AM (#43024105) Homepage Journal

    And don't we have anti-bullying laws now?

    I mean seriously, these guys are getting away with what has now literally (and I'm using the term accurately) been defined as MURDER.

    Remember that case where another "private citizen" bullied some young girl over the internet, that young girl committed suicide, and then the bully was put on trial for her murder?

    So why is the prosecutor, who performed EXACTLY the same act, still walking free, and is probably still bullying others into killing themselves?

    Nice dual-justice system there, America.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:49AM (#43024177)

    I was prosecuted in the same vindictive, politically motivated
    way as Swartz was.

    I was sentenced and I went to prison and did my time and now I am free,
    or at least as free as you can be in the increasingly fascist United States.

    The process of plea bargaining ALWAYS involves the prosecution making
    threats which could result in an absurdly long amount of prison time. This is
    done in order to coerce the defendant into "copping a plea". Any decent defense
    attorney knows this, and for that matter anyone with a brain who hasn't even
    been to law school knows this too.

    Swartz was smart but obviously troubled. Just because you are in trouble doesn't mean
    you fucking give up and commit suicide. So a major part of the culpability for Swartz dying
    rests with Swartz himself. Of course the majority of the kind of gutless cunts who hang out
    on Slashdot lack the courage to admit this is true and so they want to blame it all on the government,
    which is certainly a force for evil but cannot be honestly said to be 100% responsible for the unfortunate
    outcome in this particular situation.

    This is probably the most truly insightful post on this page, but of course you Slashfags won't
    mod it up because you like to entertain persecution fantasies.


  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:52AM (#43024195) Homepage Journal

    Yeah, you know... Jesus carried his own cross to his crucifixion, so you can't blame his death entirely on the Romans. He was mostly to blame for his own death. If he had just shut up when he was told to, he could have lived a long and happy life.

  • Re:I Don't Get It (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:54AM (#43024225)

    You're a real idiot, you know that?

    You either have no ability to feel empathy for your fellow man, or you're just a bitter old bastard who's too stupid to understand that the racial slurs he's throwing at the brown people are insulting. Either way, you're an idiot.

    I grew up with depression, and I suffer with it every day of my life. It is a disease, its a mental issue. There were people like you once, who threw people like me into mental institutions because you couldn't understand. You didn't want to understand, to deal with it. It was easier to just say "you're weak!" and lock them up.

    People who find themsevles in these sort of situations are not fully responsible for their own actions. They view what they're doing as the right thing to do, no matter how wrong that actually is, because the pain they're feeling is distorting their world view. If someone held a red hot iron against your arm for a few hours, you'd suddenly find yourself wishing you were dead, you'd want the pain to stop, you'd be screaming for mercy. It's no different here, only the pain is not physical, and it takes way longer than a few hours to reach that point.

    Every waking moment spent dreading, being afrade, being a burden, knowing at you and you alone are at fault for all of it. You dont eat because you think you're fat and horrible. You eat too much because you use it as an escape from the pain you feel. You cant stand living anymore because everywhere you look you seem to make life worse, not just for you, but for those you love and care about. You rob someone because you lose the path needed, nobody gives you want you need and you dont know how to earn it yourself, you're desperate, and you need what they have, even if you dont.

    You dont have an empathy deficiency disorder, you're just a fucking jerk.

  • by alexo ( 9335 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @11:02AM (#43024309) Journal

    Justice is the judges job to ensure everything proceeds fairly. lawyers only care about winning their case.

    The judge's job is to ensure that the game is played by the rules. Whether the rules are "just" or not is completely irrelevant.

  • Re:Sums it up ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @11:37AM (#43024661) Journal

    This is the same tyranny as gun control, global warming, and stem cell research: things we either can't know without major amounts of research or just can't know period, because the political views have covered up and even shaped the facts.

    You're veering into lunacy with that one.

    Global warming is a fact (basically all respected scientists agree on this one). It is not a tyraanny, a political movement, conspiracy (either liberal or conservative) a policy or any other thing you may choose to accuse it of. It is a scientific fact. The global mean temperature is rising.

    Lots of people with an axe to grind like to pretend it's a political thing and that there is a political "dogma", but the science is pretty clear at this point.
    The fact is the fact. Politics surround it, but that does not change the nature of it.

  • by LateArthurDent ( 1403947 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @11:44AM (#43024747)

    It's not at all shocking that it was politically motivated. What's shocking is that they admitted it.

    They didn't. The blog post is a really biased interpretation of the article it is commenting upon.

    What was actually said is that the manifesto was taken into account because it was evidence of his intent to distribute the papers he downloaded. Now, I personally agree with Aaron's views, but if you consider the current copyright law just as it is, it's perfectly acceptable to use that manifesto as evidence that his motives was to commit widespread copyright violations. There's nothing political about it in the sense of "we need to shut this guy up." In the way the law is currently written, what he wanted to do is illegal. That's why Aaron himself called it civil disobedience in his manifesto.

    That said, the whole, "we can get you for a maximum sentence of 30 years, but we'll agree to a plea bargain of 3 months" is really bullshit, and I'd really like to see it go away. We all agree that 30 years for downloading and distributing some digital files is unacceptable, and the DoJ's excuse is, "well, we weren't really going to imprison him for that long. It was going to be 3 months, and his lawyer might even successfully argue for no jail time." That's not the point. The point is that the maximum sentence should be set to a reasonable value, so that it can't be used to blackmail someone into plea bargaining.

  • Re:Yep (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RazorSharp ( 1418697 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @12:04PM (#43024981)

    He is of course wrong in this view, and the govt was going to remind him that yes, computer/copyright law still applies, even to geniuses and prodigies.

    Yet he could have raped and murdered someone and would have faced a lesser penalty. Maybe he was willing to accept the consequences of his actions, assuming that they were constitutional under the eighth amendment, which guarantees that excessive penalties wouldn't be levied against him.

    Making examples of people isn't justice. Furthermore, Schwartz's actions are comparable to those who fought segregation because in both cases the crimes they committed weren't just ethical, they were actions taken because they felt ethically compelled to do so. You may say that segregation is an obvious evil whereas research paid for by government grants being kept private/patented/non-free is not, but during America's struggle with civil rights, there was nothing obvious about the evil of segregation. Just ask Barry Goldwater.

  • by SternisheFan ( 2529412 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @12:15PM (#43025099)
    Until this country creates and enforces better anti-bullying laws that do not exempt government officials, no one will be held accountable. It's very, very sad that this young man took his life away over this (Never ever give up! Ever!). No matter how you view this case, the bottom line is a human life is gone because of frickin' copy protection statutes!! Very sad, there needs to be change. Enough lives have been damaged already. $600,000 fines for trading a few songs on a file sharing site? A13 year old girl is fined thousands of dollars because she liked and wanted to dance to a song she liked and "illegally" downloaded?? A young man without proper coping skills facing 30+ years in jail because he thought charging 10 cents a page for documents paid for by tax dollars should be free??!!! While murdererers and rapists are given minimal sentences for their true crimes. On the face of it, it is all quite insane.
  • Re:I Don't Get It (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @12:29PM (#43025299) Homepage

    You have no control over the hand you are dealt.
    But you have complete control over how you play that hand.

    Spoken like someone who doesn't understand and hasn't even really thought about mental illness.

    Hint: The thing you think gives you "complete control" is the thing affected by the disease.

  • by LuYu ( 519260 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @02:13PM (#43026571) Homepage Journal

    Why does the discussion always center around suicide and Aaron's courage or lack of it? It is now obvious that the Department of Injustice was actually out to get him. It is also now clear that they targeted him for his views and not his actions. Given these facts, how can we -- netizens, citizens of the USA, citizens of the world, humans... take your pick -- allow entities like JSTOR and PACER to continue to exist? And why are we not looking for the people who orchestrated this fiasco (as opposed to the lowly public servants who coldly executed their wishes in obvious contravention of their oaths of office and their duties to the Constitution and people of the US and the world)?

    Where are the executives of JSTOR who clandestinely pulled strings to bring on this relentless and unmerited legal assault? Why was the mysterious JSTOR "contact" who complained repeatedly to MIT officials and asked them to take action not identified? Directly or indirectly, JSTOR is responsible for this tragic death. When are they going to apologize or try to make things right? When is the information Aaron sought going to be available to us all? When are we going to ban JSTOR and PACER's theft from the public? When are JSTOR and PACER going to return their ill gotten gains to the people whose documents they stole?

    For those who will make the argument: Copying is not theft. Keeping people from accessing things they rightfully own or should have access to is. A car is stolen when the owner cannot use it anymore, not when the same model is produced again by the factory. The owners of these documents are all the members of the public. Denying access to anyone for any reason is theft.

  • by girlinatrainingbra ( 2738457 ) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @02:37PM (#43026777)
    Intent to break the law is not breaking the law
    You {don't / can't / ought not} prosecute "intention to break additional laws". The only activities than ought to be prosecuted ought to be actual breaking of laws. Mens rea is just a part of it. Intention without action is not breaking the law.

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982