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Tag: Aaron Swartz

Punishment That Does Not Fit the Crime

 

Over Zealous Prosecution?

Over Zealous Prosecution?

Punishment That Does Not Fit the Crime

Matthew Keys and Anonymous: Has the DOJ learned from the Aaron Swartz case?

“It was part of the conspiracy to alter the online version of a news feature published on the web site of the Los Angeles Times,” the indictment alleges, and the “conspiracy” was successful, I guess: a single Los Angeles Times news story was altered to display humorously false content (“Pressure builds in House to elect CHIPPY 1337”) for like 30 minutes. That’s it. But judging by the indictment, the government probably has a case against Keys on this charge, however unfair it may seem.

Nonetheless, the charges under the CFAA seem outrageously severe. Keys is charged with transmitting and attempting to transmit malicious code, which in this case, as far as I can tell, just means that he shared his login and password with members of Anonymous. Each of these charges carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The trouble with our current computer laws is that they are so ridiculously vague that they can be used to justify garbage charges like these. When the CFAA was passed in 1984, most of the world wasn’t networked, and the law was meant to prosecute sophisticated, malicious hackers who targeted government computers or the financial system. Now the entire world is networked, but the CFAA still reads as if universities and the Department of Defense are the only institutions with Internet access. Why hasn’t the law been changed to sufficiently reflect the times? I suspect the CFAA has been left intentionally vague so that prosecutors can use it as a bludgeon—a catch-all statute that amps up prison time and frightens suspects into plea-bargaining.

Matthew Keys and Anonymous: Has the DOJ learned from the Aaron Swartz case?

The DOJ has apparently learned nothing. In this case the damage is so small, it would be hard to justify a misdemeanor much less felonies. Currently he faces twenty years and a half-million dollar fine.

He assisted a hacker group in changing one headline. Does the DOJ have no sense of proportion? Apparently no, and no sense of irony or insight either.

We have to change the law. The DOJ is out of control, and removing the law’s overbreath is the only way to cure the problem.

We make the penalties in the law proportionate to the harm done, something the prosecutors could have been considered bright enough to do on their own.

Until we change the law, they’re just going to keep on charging decades of jail time to force a guilty plea. Good tactics, but little relationship to justice.

James Pilant

From around the web –

From the web site, Caitlin Rondino:

Matthew Keys, social media editor at Reuters, has been formally accused for his involvement in the hacking of the L.A. Times website.  His indictment was announced this past Thursday and online activists are outraged declaring that the Dept. of Justice never learned its lesson after the Aaron Swartz case.  Swartz  committed suicide in January.  His family blames the justice system and the government’s ability to intimidate.

Keys provided log in passwords for the content management system to a member of the hacker group Anonymous.  In 2010 The hacker group changed a headline on the L.A. Times website referencing another hacking group.   He is being charged under the 1984 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.  Three charges have been made against him, estimating almost $250,000 and a minimum of five years in prison.

From around the web site, Ramy Abdeljabbar’s Palestine and World News:

Keys faces three counts in all — for a conspiracy to transmit information to damage a protected computer, for transmitting information to damage a protected computer and for attempted transmission of information to damage a protected computer.

“Each of the two substantive counts carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. The conspiracy count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000,” according to an updated version of the press release. The indictment also contains a notice of forfeiture provision for property traceable to the offense.

From the web site, Leak Source:

The deputy social media editor for Reuters has been indicted by the US Justice Department for allegedly conspiring with members of the hacktivist movement Anonymous.

According to a Justice Department statement released on Thursday, 26-year-old Matthew Keys of Secaucus, New Jersey was charged in the Eastern District of California with a number of counts involving his alleged cooperation with the international hacking group while employed as the web producer of Sacramento-based television station KTXL FOX 40.

Keys, confirms the DoJ, has been charged “with one count each of conspiracy to transmit information to damage a protected computer, transmitting information to damage a protected computer and attempted transmission of information to damage a protected computer.”

 

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Swartz Charged with Many Crimes to Force Guilty Plea

 

Swartz Charged with Many Crimes to Force Guilty Plea

Aaron Swartz: Eric Holder calls Aaron Swartz case “a good use of prosecutorial discretion.”

Earlier this morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled Attorney General Eric Holder on topics ranging from drones to marijuana policy. About an hour into the oversight hearing, Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, asked Holder about the DOJ’s prosecution of Aaron Swartz, the programmer and Internet activist who committed suicide in January. Among other things, Swartz had been charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for using MIT’s computer network to unauthorizedly download millions of academic journal articles from a subscription database called JSTOR. He was facing a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison.

The DOJ may have only intended for Swartz to go to jail for a couple months. It’s clear, though, they would’ve had no problem with sending him away for a few years, too. I think Sen. Cornyn put it nicely: “If you’re an individual American citizen, and you’re looking at criminal charges being brought by the United States government, with all of the vast resources available to the government, it strikes me as disproportionate, and one that is basically being used inappropriately, to try to bully someone into pleading guilty to something that strikes me as rather minor.”

Holder claimed that the Department of Justice had conducted “a good examination” of the Swartz prosecution, and came away from it satisfied that there had been no prosecutorial misconduct. And maybe there wasn’t, if you’re judging the prosecutors on whether they deviated from standard DOJ practice. But there is a flaw in the system if the DOJ’s best route to get the sentence it’s looking for is to threaten defendants with disproportionate prison terms. That might be an effective prosecutorial tactic, but that’s not justice.

Aaron Swartz: Eric Holder calls Aaron Swartz case “a good use of prosecutorial discretion.”

So, a federal prosecutor stacks charges on what should be a single offense in order to get someone to plead guilty. Is that justice? Does it bear any resemblance to justice?

Swartz had a strong defense but by the stacking the charges the feds had placed him in a situation where if he lost he could serve fifty years.

It sounds to me that if you wanted to, as a federal prosecutor, you could force people to settle even if they were innocent – just stack the charges so that the risk of losing will put in jail for decades then offer a few months. You generate another trophy for that wall and don’t actually have to go to court and take your case to a jury.

That’s not justice, it’s just a use of overwhelming government resources to force the win.

Tell me, if I put you in a situation like Swartz where you could serve up to fifty years in prison and they offer you three to six months, and you have done nothing, would you take the deal?

Are you willing to rely on your innocence in court, and risk fifty years? You have to think about it, don’t you?

Let’s make it a little tougher. You can’t afford your own attorney and the government is willing to spend several million dollars and thousands of hours investigating you. Every corner of your life will be turned upside down. You’ll go bankrupt from fees. You probably won’t be able to hold a job because of the regular court appearances and your reputation just went through the shredder.

Do you still want to plead innocent or will you take the three months just to make it stop?

James Pilant

From around the web:

From the web site, Another Anthro Blog:

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.

There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.

From the web site, Gateways: A Dramaturgical Blog:

Not only was Swartz a computer science genius, he was also heavily devoted to freedom of information—which is where he found himself getting into trouble. His friend, journalist and science fiction novelist Cory Doctorow, says he was a “full-time, uncompromising, reckless and delightful shit-disturber.” His first target was PACER.gov, a website that provides court documents to the public for a small fee (about 8 cents per page). In 2008, Swartz, funded by his own money, single-handedly moved the information on to a public website. He released over 18 million pages, an estimated total value of 1.5 million dollars. The FBI investigated the situation, but no charges were filed against him.

Shortly after, Swartz founded DemandProgress.org, a website devoted to internet activism. The website was integral in taking down the Stop Online Piracy and the Protect IP Acts of 2011, two bills which allowed the government more control over what could and could not be posted and shared on the internet (they deserve their own blog post—next week, perhaps).

And from the web site, Justrecently’s Weblog:

What got him into conflict with the judicial system, after some earlier and less significant jostles, was breaking into M.I.T. computer networks in 2010 and 2011, to access JSTOR and to download documents from there. It was apparently meant to be a demonstration, to underline his case that documents like JSTOR’s should be freely available. It had long been argued that such documents should be free because they are produced at public expense, writes the New York Times. The NYT has a detailed account of Swartz’ JSTOR activity. The indictment says that JSTOR’s servers were brought down by his action on several occasions, Wired wrote in September 2012.

It’s apparently a Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) which was applied by federal prosecutors. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in limiting reach of the CFAA, said that violations of employee contract agreements and websites’ terms of service – crucial in Swartz’ case, apparently, at least if up to the prosecutors – were better left to civil lawsuits, also according to Wired. But this ruling wasn’t binding for Massachusetts, and the prosecutors insisted that their charges against Swartz should go on. The maximum penalty – potentially – could have amounted to 35 years in prison, and a million USD penalty. The chief prosecutor in charge was Steve Heymann, who had previously brought hacker Albert Gonzales into jail with a 20-year term.

 

Carmen Ortiz Used Swartz Case to Advance Her Career?

Carmen Ortiz Used Swartz Case to Advance Her Career?

Swartz didn’t face prison until feds took over case, report says | Politics and Law – CNET News

State prosecutors who investigated the late Aaron Swartz had planned to let him off with a stern warning, but federal prosecutor Carmen Ortiz took over and chose to make an example of the Internet activist, according to a report in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

Middlesex County’s district attorney had planned no jail time, “with Swartz duly admonished and then returned to civil society to continue his pioneering electronic work in a less legally questionable manner,” the report (alternate link) said. “Tragedy intervened when Ortiz’s office took over the case to send ‘a message.'”

The report is likely to fuel an online campaign against Ortiz, who has been criticized for threatening the 26-year-old with decades in prison for allegedly downloading a large quantity of academic papers. An online petition asking President Obama to remove from office Ortiz — a politically ambitious prosecutor who was talked about as Massachusetts’ next governor as recently as last month.

Swartz didn’t face prison until feds took over case, report says | Politics and Law – CNET News

From further down in the article:

But the sweeping nature of federal computer crime laws allowed Ortiz and Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann, who wanted a high-profile computer crime conviction, to pursue felony charges. Heymann threatened the free-culture activist with over 30 years in prison as recently as the week before he killed himself. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat whose district includes the heart of Silicon Valley, has proposed rewriting those laws.

The Boston U.S. Attorney’s office was looking for “some juicy looking computer crime cases and Aaron’s case, sadly for Aaron, fit the bill,” Elliot Peters, Swartz’s attorney at the Keker & Van Nest law firm, told the Huffington Post. Heymann, Peters says, thought the Swartz case “was going to receive press and he was going to be a tough guy and read his name in the newspaper.”

Carmen Ortiz - Future Governor?

Carmen Ortiz – Future Governor?

Just three months ago, Ortiz’s office, as TechDirt reported, severely escalated the already-excessive four-felony-count indictment by adding nine new felony counts, each of which “carrie[d] the possibility of a fine and imprisonment of up to 10-20 years per felony”, meaning “the sentence could conceivably total 50+ years and [a] fine in the area of $4 million.” That meant, as Think Progress documented, that Swartz faced “a more severe prison term than killers, slave dealers and bank robbers”.

Swartz’s girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, told the WSJ that the case had drained all of his money and he could not afford to pay for a trial. At Swartz’s funeral in Chicago on Tuesday, his father flatly stated that his son “was killed by the government”.

Ortiz and Heymann continue to refuse to speak publicly about what they did in this case – at least officially. Yesterday, Ortiz’s husband, IBM Corp executive Thomas J. Dolan, took to Twitter and – without identifying himself as the US Attorney’s husband – defended the prosecutors’ actions in response to prominent critics, and even harshly criticized the Swartz family for assigning blame to prosecutors: “Truly incredible in their own son’s obit they blame others for his death”, Ortiz’s husband wrote. Once Dolan’s identity was discovered, he received assertive criticism and then sheepishly deleted his Twitter account.

Carmen Ortiz – Governor?

From the Boston Globe:

The US attorney’s office’s strong focus on the probation controversy adds a particular sensitivity to the speculation that Ortiz, a 1978 George Washington Law School graduate, is considering becoming a candidate.

It could open her to charges by her opponents and others that she has used the investigation into political leaders to ­advance her political ambitions. Ortiz, however, would be among a crowd of regional federal prosecutors who have used their office to create a high public profile that allows them to run for office.

For example, William F. Weld, who served as US attorney in Boston in the early and mid-1980s, relentlessly pursued former mayor Kevin H. White. No charges were ever brought against White, but the intense publicity gave Weld the ability to parlay that investigation and others into a successful campaign for governor in 1990.

Other US attorneys who went on to successful political careers included former mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, and former governor ­Janet Napolitano of Arizona, now US secretary of homeland security.

From around the web –

From the web site of Glenn Greenwald:

Just three months ago, Ortiz’s office, as TechDirt reported, severely escalated the already-excessive four-felony-count indictment by adding nine new felony counts, each of which “carrie[d] the possibility of a fine and imprisonment of up to 10-20 years per felony”, meaning “the sentence could conceivably total 50+ years and [a] fine in the area of $4 million.” That meant, as Think Progress documented, that Swartz faced “a more severe prison term than killers, slave dealers and bank robbers”.

Swartz’s girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, told the WSJ that the case had drained all of his money and he could not afford to pay for a trial. At Swartz’s funeral in Chicago on Tuesday, his father flatly stated that his son “was killed by the government”.

Ortiz and Heymann continue to refuse to speak publicly about what they did in this case – at least officially. Yesterday, Ortiz’s husband, IBM Corp executive Thomas J. Dolan, took to Twitter and – without identifying himself as the US Attorney’s husband – defended the prosecutors’ actions in response to prominent critics, and even harshly criticized the Swartz family for assigning blame to prosecutors: “Truly incredible in their own son’s obit they blame others for his death”, Ortiz’s husband wrote. Once Dolan’s identity was discovered, he received assertive criticism and then sheepishly deleted his Twitter account.

From the web site, Translation Exercises:

Conversely, Aaron Swartz was not Muslim, and thus his chances of being targeted as a potential terrorist were significantly decreased. However, his crime was taking concepts like public-access and creative commons too seriously–and thus thwarting the private property interests of info-hoarding profitable (though “officially” non-profit) companies like JSTOR–and officially for-profit companies like Elsevier. As with most policies under the Bush and Obama Administrations, what we have come to understand is that they will fiercely, staunchly, defend the interests of banks, mortgage companies, and their Wall Street friends–and be perfectly equanimous about trampling powerless individuals–especially if they are hotheaded, suggestible, or “excessively” idealistic about standards of fairness and justice.

It is not surprising that Eric Holder and Carmen Ortiz are consistent in their overzealous prosecutions against individuals who are engaged in political dissent: For Aaron Swartz, this dissent took the form of challenging the electronic paywalls that prevented public access to work done by scholars like myself, who will never see a penny from the tens of articles that I have published. Mehanna’s speech at sentencing is worth reading; he is clearly a politically aware young man. His dissent took the form of challenging and criticizing the US government’s imperial war—perhaps in extreme terms—but that is also part of the flexible boundaries of speech.

From the web site, Who What Why:

The suicide last Friday of information activist, computer hacker and technical wunderkind Aaron Swartz has focused attention on Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, whose overzealous prosecution may have led to his death. Swartz, co-founder of a website later acquired by Reddit as well as a prime developer of the online publishing infrastructure known as Rich Site Summary (RSS), was under federal indictment for logging into JSTOR—a database of scholarly articles accessible from universities across the country—and downloading its content with the intent to distribute the articles online free of charge.

Despite JSTOR’s subsequent securing of the “stolen” content and refusal to press charges, Swartz was arrested by the feds and charged originally with four felony counts under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. On those charges alone, Swartz was facing a possible 35-year sentence and over $1,000,000 in fines. Just three months ago, a “Superseding Indictment” filed in the case by the U.S. attorney’s office upped the felony count from four to 13. If convicted, Swartz was looking at possibly over 50 years in prison: a conceivable life sentence.

Ortiz, the politically ambitious U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, spearheaded the prosecution against Swartz. “Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar,” Ortiz proclaimed in a 2011 press release. Her point man in the case was Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann, a specialist in computer crime and son of Philip Heymann, the United States Deputy Attorney General during the Clinton administration. Stephen Heymann led the 2010 investigation into Albert Gonzalez, the TJX hacker, in the largest identity fraud case in history. Heymann’s office suspected that one of the unindicted co-conspirators named in that criminal complaint—“JJ”—was Jonathan James, a juvenile hacker who also killed himself two weeks after his house was raided.

 

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