Crowdsourced "Aaron's Law" Taking Shape to Restrain Overprosecution in Computer Cases

Another round of review on Reddit


Aaron Swartz

California Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) turned to Reddit for help in mid-January in crafting "Aaron's Law," federal legislation intended to change the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act so that simply violating a Web site or Internet service provider's "terms of service" is no longer automatically considered a crime.

The law is named after Aaron Swartz, the open access activist and programming genius who committed suicide in January at the age of 26. He was facing federal charges and possible prison time by the Department of Justice for using his computer skills to download tons of academic journals from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Department of Justice attempted to browbeat Swartz into a plea bargain that would put him in prison for only a couple of months. But they held over his head 13 different felonies and, according to his lawyer, threatened him with up to 8 years in prison if he were convicted.

Lofgren is trying to take away some of the prosecution's tools for abuse. After her first post on Reddit, Lofgren got feedback from the likes of Lawrence Lessig at Creative Commons and Marcia Hoffman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She now has a new draft of the bill up on Reddit and is seeking more feedback.

Read the bill here (pdf). A look at the changes indicates that her goal is to eliminate language that refers to users who "exceed authorized access" and require taking or altering information in violation of access rights in order to qualify as a federal crime.

Does Lofgren's law have any legs? We'll have to see. Several Democratic lawmakers (and one Republican in the form of Calif. Rep. Darrell Issa) attended a memorial for Swartz in Washington, D.C., Monday. Issa and Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden both spoke.

This isn't Lofgren's first effort to use Reddit to crowdsource legislation. Back in November, Reason Burton C. Gray Memorial Intern Rachel Moran took note of Lofgren turning to Reddit for suggestions on crafting legislation on dealing with domain name seizures.

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  1. California Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) turned to Reddit for help in mid-January in crafting “Aaron’s Law,”


    1. As a fellow “Aaron”, let me just say that I am generally opposed to creating laws in response to something tragic. However, if this is actually well thought out (read: the opposite of the Sandy Hook reaction), this may be a nice check/balance on prosecutors.

      1. I took a shit on Aaron once.

  2. How about we make an example out of Carmen Ortiz to every other swinging dick prosecutor who dreams of being governor someday? Ortiz spending a few months or years in a real pound you in the ass prison might give the rest of them a bit of pause.

  3. To reiterate, I don’t give two fucks from Thursday about this dead piece of shit. Reverend Martin Luther King went to prison for what he believed in. Reverend Martin Luther King was beaten bloody and blasted with fire-hoses for what he believed in. Reverend Martin Luther King was martyred for what he believed in.

    This little bitch had a sad and went out like the pussy he was.

    1. Who says you have to like Schwartz to hate Ortiz? I don’t care how weak he was. She was a nasty, craven bitch, who was perfectly willing to throw someone in prison who didn’t belong there to advance her career. This is not about Schwartz. This is about Ortiz and ending her public career.

      1. I am kind of 50/50 between John and EAP

        I don’t like self-promoting prosecutors making ‘examples’ out of bullshit infractions

        I also think the kid was a bit of a tool.

        And the name “Aaron’s Law” makes me barf. There’s a slight hint of ‘spoiled-brat hackers demanding that they be treated as the magical special wonderful individuals they are’, basically writing their own laws. They remind me of spoiled kids who are so unused to criticism that the second they receive the slightest rebuke, they burst into tears and act like they’ve just been subject to unholy, grevious injustices.

        I knew a lot of these kids growing up. Frankly I think a little jail time might have been good for Aaron.

        1. It also shifts the focus from the prosecutorial overreach to the poor little baby who couldn’t face up to the just punishment for his victimful crimes.

          So, we get a law that would keep the prosecutors from throwing the book at computer geeks (mostly white middle/upper class) while leaving them completely free to continue turning the screws on poor black guys for drug crimes.

          1. See Jared Polis’ legislation Mike Riggs posted earlier today.

        2. “And the name “Aaron’s Law” makes me barf.”


          You can take down Ortiz without immortalizing a useless cunt.

      2. How come the law is named after him and his mug is on every article on the subject?

        1. Ask Reason. I can tell you I don’t care about him. But I do hate Ortiz’ gut and am happy to see her career and political aspirations end.

    2. I don’t understand this attitude that those who break unjust laws (not saying that’s what Schwartz did) have an obligation to offer themselves up for punishment.

      MLK would have been completely justified in punching a cop who punched him first. Not smart, but justified.

      I also hope that you are one day the victim of an overzealous prosecution.

      1. “I also hope that you are one day the victim of an overzealous prosecution.”

        My, aren’t you the special little snowflake!

      2. Well, it depends on the degree of injustice in the law. J-STOR charging for digital journal access hardly rises to the level of the Jim Crow segregation laws. I was on a drug jury last year and, had it gone to trial, while I would have looked for any smidgen of a reason to doubt the prosecution’s case as an excuse to vote for acquittal, if the case was airtight I would have voted to convict. Because the drug laws aren’t unjust, just stupid. We’re not talking the fugitive slave law here.

        And you certainly can’t claim civil disobedience if you’re trying to get away with the lawbreaking. Civil disobedience pretty much requires getting caught. Either you shame the authorities into not arresting you, or you get arrested and argue against the law in your trial, or you accept the punishment and become a “martyr” (not necessarily a dead one) and hope for popular support for the injustice to melt away.

        1. Considering how much of the research being presented in those journals was funded with taxpayer dollars, it’s not clear to me that J-STOR has a legitimate right to prevent members of the general public from distributing them.

          (I kind of have a similar solution to the PBS/NPR problem. Pass a law stating that any programming produced with government funding must be placed in the public domain. Let’s see if CPB still wants public funding when it means they can’t making millions of dollars merchandising Sesame Street anymore)

          1. Yawn. Not everything produced with the help of the govt has to be given away for free. I don’t see GE giving away CFLs or GM giving away Volts.

            If J-STOR had to give access away for free, then there wouldn’t be a J-STOR. I know you’re not a libertarian, so it would be totally OK with you if we had socialized digital journal access, but the libertarians here should know better.

            1. So in Tulpa’s mind, libertarian == crony-capitalist

            2. Of course all of the stuff you mentioned shouldn’t be getting taxpayer subsidies to begin with.

          2. It isn’t clear? Well, let me clarify it for you.

            JSTOR took the time, and spent the money, to collect those research results into a database. The database is theirs, period, end of story.

            If you think you have a right to the information because the government paid for the research, feel free to personally contact the hundreds of thousands of researchers involved and individually arrange to receive a copy of their results. *That*, you have a right to do.

        2. I have a serious problem with your rationale about the drug case. You realize that by voting to send the offender to prison, you would be aggressing on his property rights? I would argue libertarians have an obligation to vote “not guilty” (nullify) in the case of victimless crimes. That’s a pretty cut and dry libertarian position.

          And how do you define “unjust”?

          1. You realize that by voting to send the offender to prison, you would be aggressing on his property rights?

            No, I don’t. Not sure where you’re getting the property rights angle from.

            As a LAOL, I value abiding by abidable laws (and trying to change the ones that are stupid) over being beholden to abstract ideology. Which is why I was able to truthfully swear to follow the judge’s instructions, and steal a spot on a drug jury away from a complete bootlicker of govt who would sleep through the trial and vote guilty regardless.

            1. I’m getting it from the non-aggression principle. As far as you knew, the “offender” had not aggressed on anyone’s person or property. Yet you were willing to use your power lock him in a cage, making you the aggressor.

            2. And that is LAOL is a contradictory label

            3. By “laws”, you mean codes, statutes, rules, regulations, and decrees of the jackass legislators. No one can pass a “Law”, Laws are discovered. Legal positivism is bullshit.

          2. And how do you define “unjust”?

            Well, that’s a hard question. But I would certainly say that a law that prohibited something necessary to life, bodily integrity, maintenance of one’s property, or basic freedom would be unjust. Nobody needs coke or pot to survive.

            1. That’s not the point. Not you, or anyone else (and especially not the government) should be able to tell me what I can or can’t do with my body. Abridging my freedom is a damn unjust law.

              1. This. Throwing someone in prison for putting something in their body is unjust

                1. I disagree. Stupid, but not unjust, so long as the thing in question is not necessary for them.

                  1. un?just
                    Not based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.
                    unfair – inequitable – wrongful – iniquitous – wrong

                    So, you’re saying it’s not immoral or unfair to tell me what I can or can’t put in my body?

      3. RyanXXX| 2.5.13 @ 4:57PM |#

        I also hope that you are one day the victim of an overzealous prosecution.

        I was on the TSA ‘terrorist watch list’ for a while (who hasn’t been?)

        frankly i thought it was funny

  4. How about we make terrorizing people into suicide a crime?

    1. How would anybody know when it happened?

    2. How about we just drone them? Its ethical, wise, and shit.

    3. I was unaware that prosecuting someone for breaking and entering and theft of service was terrorism.

      1. It ain’t terrorism but it’s fucking disgusting to over-zealously prosecute anyone just because you can and want to make an example out of them.

      2. It should be noted that Schwartz was using his legitimate login to access J-Stor, so it’s more like prosecuting someone for shovelling the buffet shrimp into their purse than burglarizing a house.

        1. After he broke into a network closet that didn’t belong to him.

          1. That’s a simple case of b&e, not theft.

            1. Theft of service. He was not permitted to access those connections.

          2. Does opening an unlocked door in a public building qualify as “breaking into”?

            1. Yes, stormy.

            2. As Dan said, yes. Unless there’s reason to beleive that you are invited/permitted to enter the space behind the door it’s illegal to open it, regardless of whether it’s locked.

              1. 1.) In a public facility, it’s only a crime if you enter where you’ve been told you aren’t allowed, not if you enter where you haven’t been told you are allowed. (If you’re out in public place, do you always ask the management permission to go through the door into the restroom? Or do you assume you’re allowed to go there because it’s unlocked and there’s no “employees only” sign?)

                2.) Even if there was a ‘authorized personell only’ sign on the wiring closet door, if the door wasn’t locked he’s only guilty of trespassing, not breaking and entering. The idea the federal government should be prosecuting trespassing cases is ridiculous.

      3. He didn’t break anything. No one complained of a physical trespass.

  5. Again with the punchable face!
    It’s almost like Reason wants us to hate him.

  6. The irony is that he still would have been convicted under the revised law.

  7. I can’t really say I feel bad for Aaron Schwartz. Pressure got hot, in real life and not his digital one, and he crumpled like a twig and punched out. Wimp. I bet the Ortiz-cunt-thing giggled when it heard the news.

    But this ‘Aaron’s Law’ horseshit is beyond the pale. It completely removes focus from the zealous hag, and instead puts this faux martyr-focus on the wimp. Beware any law named for someone.

    What Aaron Schwartz should’ve done is get his nerd-buddies to crack open the cunt’s digital world and go trolling. But little Aaron was stupid with people as he was smart with Java, so Ortiz gets away. Bitch.

    1. Spot on.

      Though there are some situations in which I wouldn’t judge someone too harshly for “punching out” as you say. Facing a couple of months in a min-security American prison isn’t one of those situations, though.

    2. I wish we named these laws after the bad guys. “Ortiz’s Law” would be a fitting reminder of what this c-word did.

  8. They persecuted him for being a dick. That’s what this all boils down to. The effective way to deal with someone who is being a dick like that is to thank them for demonstrating whatever issues said dick brought to bear, and commit to fixing them with said dick’s cooperation over some ridiculously long time horizon. You basically put him on notice and put a stop to the dickish activity.

    I’ve been deeply saddened by his suicide. I knew this kid online before he was a big deal. I feel that the crowd he fell in with seriously egged him on. They are just as culpable as any US Attorney. But I’ll tolerate people falling in with bad crowds a lot more than I will tolerate government bullying.

    Going the route Arron did was a lot more appealing than doing the work to be a real entrepreneur and building a full lifetime body of work that probably would have left an enormous legacy. He was definitely that smart.

  9. This kid’s situation is sad in the end although I don’t know enough about the case to have any feeling about him. But this case isn’t about him. It’s about the thousands of people who are bullied and over prosecuted in the name of copyright protection. The law has gone nuts over the past several years and the “pay or else” lawsuits are total bs. I don’t know if there have been any suicides over any of those but this incident should be a wakeup call to the people pursuing 12 year olds who downloaded the latest justin Beiber cd and threatening them with charges in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    If and when one of them checks out because they are freaked out that they’ve ruined their future and their family then there will be hell to pay.

  10. That dude jsut looks like he is way cool!

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