Feds Hounded 'Net Activist Aaron Swartz, Says EFF's Parker Higgins

"The idea that an agent of the federal government would be able to pick out a person and threaten to ruin their life is not the kind of thing that we hope for in a justice system," says Parker Higgins, an internet activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Higgins was a friend and associate of the late Aaron Swartz (1986-2013), the computer programmer, hacker, and activist who committed suicide last week. Swartz helped create the web syndication process RSS, was important in the founding of the popular social media site Reddit, and instrumental in organizing the successful campaign against the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA). He was facing up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines for downloading more than 4 million academic articles from the database JSTOR.

Reason TV's Zach Weissmueller sat down with Higgins to talk about Swartz's contributions to the internet, his fight against the federal government, and reforms that should be made to outdated computer-hacking laws.

About 8 minutes. 

Interview by Zach Weissmueller. Shot by Tracy Oppenheimer. Edited by Weissmueller.

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  • Carston||

    Anyone else think there could be a connection between him standing up against SOPA, and him getting these ridiculous charges dropped on him?

  • Paul.||

    Meh, a lot of people stood up against SOPA and walk free, among us, right now, in your town, in your neighborhood...

    *cue scary music*

    But seriously, I don't know how much noise Swartz made as an activist before this process started, but per everything that Reason wrote, it's pretty clear that he committed a crime. (yes, most everyone here agrees that the charges and potential sentence he was facing down was way, way over the top).

    What I don't have at my fingertips is the timeline of his actions, juxtaposed with any investigations or prosecutorial actions against him.

    Knowing a little something about this, if he was already under investigation (just a thought experiment here) and during that time some sort of writ, or order had come down on him, if he continued to commit the actions that he was doing-- downloading documents, hiding laptops in server rooms, etc-- he may have committed the dangerous and highly technical feat of "pissing off a prosecutor".

    Which then, yes, often gets you both barrels when you may have only deserved one.

    But I'm just speculating.

  • ||

    if he was already under investigation (just a thought experiment here) and during that time some sort of writ, or order had come down on him, if he continued to commit the actions that he was doing

    AFAIK, that wasn't the case: his PACER hack was investigated by the FBI, but no charges were filed.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    According to Higgins in the video, there were no charges because they couldn't find any to apply. The theory is that angered prosecutors who put time into a fruitless effort.

  • Dan Bongard||

    People really ought to read Orin Kerr's analysis of the charges. The reality is that Swartz was facing, at most, a couple of years in prison, and was offered a deal for six months. The "up 30+ years in prison" thing is just scary prosecutor talk. People do NOT receive consecutive sentences for a first offense of a single criminal act.

    Kerr points out that while several of the statutes are overbroad (as he himself has pointed out many times), Swartz was pretty obviously guilty even under a very narrow reading of them.
    He broke into a closet at MIT, connected a hidden laptop to their network, and faked MAC and IP information to get access to their system so he could steal the data. That is behavior that, I'm sorry, clearly ought to be a felony -- and, in a happy coincidence, is.

    What made him an attractive target is that he had repeatedly announced his intention to engage in these sorts of crimes. Thus there was every reason to believe that if they gave him a pass he'd just target a new victim. That's why they insisted on a felony conviction with prison time.

  • John A. Estrada||

    my neighbor's ex-wife makes $67 every hour on the internet. She has been fired for 5 months but last month her check was $16431 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more here... www.Snag4.com

  • Hyperion||

    Aren't the proglodytes going to generally ignore this and support the actions of the government here, like they do for everything else? Well, since the Messiah is in charge now. I mean, after all, everything that government does is to keep the children safe. They don't hate the children, do they?

  • tarran||

    When Obama chastises you with scorpions, why do you think he does it?

    a) Evil rethuglicans in Congress won't let him stop even though he really wants to.

    b) Bush did it too.

    c) Evil rethuglicans are lying, those aren't scorpions but merely venomous arachnids.

    d) The scientific consensus is that scorpion venom has well known healing properties that only a science denier would doubt.

    e) There is no chastisement going on, it's all made up fantasies from the fevered swamp of faux news.

    f) The evil rethuglicans screwed things up so badly that it will take years to change course.

    What did I miss?

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    g) Kim Kardashian just released a new line of eye shadow cosmetics.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Libertarians would chastise you with whips made of snakes instead!

  • Suellington||

    I was just listening to an incredulous host on NPR asking, "But why would the government come down so hard on someone for such a relatively minor offense."

    Umm, because they are the government and they can.

  • ||

    The idea that an agent of the federal government would be able to pick out a person and threaten to ruin their life is not the kind of thing that we hope for in a justice system

    Well, it's fucking exactly what you have. Maybe you should think about why that is.

  • Dan Bongard||

    Swartz failed to follow the first two rules on Chris Rock's list of rules for not getting your ass kicked by the police:

    1. Obey the law
    2. Use common sense

    Don't steal a bunch of stuff after announcing to the entire Internet your dedication to stealing peoples' stuff. If you do, you just might get your ass kicked by the police.

  • $park¥||

    Seriously though, how punchable is that face?

  • Hawk Spitui||

    Punchable enough to make him Reason's Mascot of the Week, which I suppose makes him something of a First Among Punchables.

    After everything is said and done, perhaps that's why he really committed suicide. You think it's easy to go through life with a face that attracts fists like a magnet attracts iron filings?

  • ||

    The Pathological Politics of Criminal Law discussed this and other effects.

  • jdholiday||

    He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

  • deified||

    Every school-child should know this quote. Oddly, this is not the part of the Declaration of Independence that is repeated ad infinitum in public schools.

    I wonder why that is.

  • jdholiday||

    I suppose it's because people might discover how many of the grievances could be lodged against those in DC today without changing a word...and then they might start thinking 'bout things.

  • Paul.||

    Ultimately? The difference between libertarians and the EFF types, is we didn't vote for Obama. Marinate on that.

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  • Bert Macklin||

    Thank you for getting some EFF action on reason. I love it. Reason and EFF are probably my two favorite organizations.

    EFF, regardless of the varying individual views of it's members, is unmatched it real world accomplishment for technological freedom.

  • Dan Bongard||

    I am very sorry to hear that criminals are unable to use fraudulent means to appropriate the property of others without getting hassled by The Man.

    All the angst about Swartz is reminding me of the Onion article "ACLU defends the right to burn down ACLU headquarters".

  • Suellington||

    You do realize that the crime for which he was facing a one million dollar fine and over thirty years in prison was violating a terms of service agreement with JSTOR?

    And neither JSTOR or MIT wanted him criminally prosecuted.

  • Dan Bongard||

    You should read Orin Kerr's analysis at the Volokh Conspiracy to learn what Swartz was actually charged with. Your description of the charges is awfully silly.

    As for whether JSTOR and MIT wanted him criminally prosecuted, who cares? They aren't the only ones he was stealing from, after all.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    It's a rotten justice system and anyone who sympathizes with it is human garbage.

  • ygsrf||

    2013 Happy New Year,NFL,NBA

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