Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Aaron Swartz Died Innocent — Here Is the Evidence (io9.com)
146 points by Libertatea on Jan 13, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments



In the US justice system, one is technically always innocent until judged guilty. He had only just begun the legal process. Sadly, the American system has evolved into an administrative model where confessing to something is mandatory to avoid a pernicious experience.

My sincere condolences to his friends and family.


Indeed. This leads to weird things like the R. Budd Dwyer incident. He was a Pennsylvania Treasurer who was accused of a crime. He called a press conference and shot himself on stage. Hence, he died without being sentenced (and before being fired), and thus his family got a full pension.

The band Filter's song "Hey Man, Nice Shot" is about the incident.


Wikipedia says Dwyer was convicted, but not sentenced, when he committed suicide. However, he was not yet removed from office, which is what allowed his family to receive the pension.


Yeah (I edited it based on wikipedia a while ago...).

I'd still say "accused", even though he was convicted, because subsequent evidence (and the fact that he shot himself in the head) largely points to him actually having been innocent.

The "criminal lawyer" Smith was to blame here.


well, that's one way to do it i suppose


Having good defense can also be very expensive in US, right?


I've read in a few places that his defense would cost around a million.

http://lessig.tumblr.com/post/40347463044/prosecutor-as-bull...


"...and so that was the reason he was facing a million dollar trial in April — his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge."

Does anyone know what laws prevented Aaron from fundraising for his own defense?


Maybe he is referring to something like an injunction or bail terms preventing him from using the internet or speaking out about the case?

Lessig's wife established free.aaronsw.com, so I don't think he is talking broadly about donations.


I have no first-hand knowledge of the case, nor am I a lawyer, but Aaron's notoriety and access to a number of gigantic online megaphones could have prompted the judge to issue a gag order "to avoid tainting the jury pool" or something like that.


I was wondering this too, and also exactly what conflict of interest forced Lessig to cease formal legal assistance.


It sounds like it wouldn't be illegal, but the judge would probably say, "You have $2 million in savings [probably more like: "Oh, you were a cofounder of this startup that was acquired by a multinational publishing conglomerate"] and you're asking normal people to donate to your defense?" and perform some kind of punitive measures (or at least have disfavor cast upon his side of the story for appearing unethical) for what appears to be a major misuse of clout (i.e., a wealthy man fleecing the much poorer masses for his own support).

IANAL


Even it cost him a million dollars to gain his freedom, wouldn't the fact he's free be more important than how much it would cost him?

Considering how intelligent he was and his earning potential (given his young age) as well as the community which obviously adored him - I find it hard to believe a million dollars would be a hardship for him.

I mean, if an internet cartoonist can raise over 100K in less than 24 hours, certainly someone of his stature could raise exponentially more?


> I mean, if an internet cartoonist can raise over 100K in less than 24 hours, certainly someone of his stature could raise exponentially more?

Quoting Larry Lessig at http://lessig.tumblr.com/post/40347463044/prosecutor-as-bull...

   For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept, and so that was the reason he was facing a million dollar trial in April — his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge


Technically this is correct. However, an attorney will be paid by the state to represent a defendant and the defendant will be billed for the services, even if s/he can not pay.


United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said, “Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars. It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away.”

Ortiz is an idiot. Unfortunately she is also a US Attorney.


    It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away.
I would like to ask Ms. Ortiz if AaronSw indeed did "give away" or "steal" from the victim (JSTOR in this case)? If not, can we ask her to stop riding the high horse?


He did not. He returned the data to JSTOR. Later JSTOR gave away much of the data themselves


am i the only one who thinks this is not at all like stealing... if some one stole your car you'll not have it any more... you will be devoid of it... not the same in this case


We need a public education campaign on the difference between copying and stealing. All the media lobbying has tainted the terms.


I think the matter of his guilt or innocence here isn't the matter: The system in which systemic overcharging is used to coerce a plea bargain out of everyone needs to be reformed. It FUNDAMENTALLY perverts our right to a trial.

The difference between 30 year sentence and 1-5 is HUGE and is exploitative to charge a person for 20 crimes to generate that perspective 30 year sentence just to get them to agree to 1-5. Especially with the high 90s conviction rate of federal prosecutors (which is in part generated by the plea bargaining system, in which witnesses had 5-10x sentences thrown at them if they do not testify). Additionally, we should reinstate a functional golden platter rule (right now expenses for illegal activity are non deductible, so people can't really pay taxes on illegal activity, paying taxes on the full sale price of say, Pot) and make many drug related criminals stop money laundering. This would garner more taxes, and take a LARGE burden off the courts and prisons.

Plea bargaining is illegal most places. We should very much tone down the overcharging (throwing the book at them, charging them for every violation, etc), especially at the federal level. Additionally, parole requires acceptance of guilt in most places, even if sent to prison via a coercive plea bargain. Maintaining one's innocence is a no go if you want out "on time".


"The system in which systemic overcharging is used to coerce a plea bargain out of everyone needs to be reformed"

That is much easier to type that the effect. Any ideas on moving forward? #OWS taught me social change takes a decade.

I am not trolling, I would like to see change. I hope you spread the word.


I honestly see the end of some prohibition fixing many of these issues, so I think supporting that will neuter some of the drug prosecutions.

As it becomes more "good" that prohibition ends, prosecutors who are still fighting for it to not will look worse then will become more easy to reform.

Also, the president can change policy on this pretty quickly. Overcharging isn't required by law, merely enforcing the law.


> In the spirit of the MIT ethos, the Institute runs this open, unmonitored and unrestricted network on purpose. Their head of network security admitted as much to us.

irrelevant. the computers aaron gained unlawful access to were JSTOR's, not MIT's

furthermore, dishonest. MIT tried banning his computer from the network multiple times

> Aaron did not "hack" the JSTOR website for all reasonable definitions of "hack". Aaron wrote a handful of basic python scripts that first discovered the URLs of journal articles and then used curl to request them

just because JSTOR's website sucks doesn't mean its okay to abuse it. JSTOR's terms of service limit the amount of downloads individuals can make. if you forget to lock your door, does it make it okay for someone to take things from your house?

> Aaron did nothing to cover his tracks or hide his activity

just not true. they put a security camera in the closet where his computer was. when he came in to grab his laptop, he used his bike helmet as a mask so he couldn't be identified.

also, they banned his computer multiple times from the network.


It's dishonest to apply the word 'unlawful' with the implication that statutory law (federal penal code) was violated. Service abuse is a civil matter, it doesn't concern the state.


This depends highly on where you live. In the U.S. service abuse that is judged as a denial-of-service attack is illegal under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in some situations (I'm not sure if Aaron was charged under those sections or not though).


except its not dishonest. one of the charges was wire fraud. from the article:

> Wire Fraud. The Wire Fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. 1343, prohibits a scheme to gain “property” by false pretenses. This strikes me as a pretty strong charge here. The false pretenses are provided by the false identification and spoofing of Swartz’ IP address and MAC address. Swartz was trying to trick JSTOR into giving him access to their database after they had specifically tried their best to ban him from doing so. And the “property” was the contents of the JSTOR database itself.

do people on HN even read the articles anymore?


Except that MIT runs an open network, so Swartz didn't have to "spoof" anything. Rotating your IP or MAC address on an open network is simply not a violation of the statutory penal system. MIT can sue him for damages and abuse at most, the state is a non-party to the matter.


The federal charges are with respect to unlawful access to JSTOR's computers, not MIT's computers. Furthermore, Aaron didn't have to "spoof" anything. JSTOR tried to ban him from their computers for activities against their terms of service. Orin Kerr's argument is that attempting to circumvent those bans to gain property is wire fraud, which there is a federal law against. So the actually the state is a party.


It seems the problem with interpreting wire fraud with his cited precedent comes down to an IP address versus an identity. The cited case contained two employees with specific usernames to denote their identities. When one uses the other's identity it's an impersonation -- or a false pretense. This case contains publicly available IP addresses and network-wide access and with that comes access to JSTOR. Rotating the IP to gain continued access might be immoral or tortious conduct at best, but as long as he didn't impersonate another user (possibly by spoofing an active IP address even) the court wouldn't be right in interpreting with the cited precedent.

If the court decided this way: Say my dhcp-obtained cable IP becomes banned from JSTOR, when it changes and I simply check if I can access JSTOR again, I'd be in violation. Furthermore, a reasonable person wouldn't know that an IP address could be an identity similar to a username and that changing it would be a crime.



Although I am deeply saddened by Aaron taking his life, I feel that part of the article is intellectually dishonest.

I.e., it recites synopses of the charges and then states that the charges are not true because:

- "MIT runs an open network" But this is irrelevant, if Aaron used my public Wifi it wouldn't be my job to police his actions even if I had the resources for that.

- "MIT could have locked the network down, but didn't." This is a poor excuse as well. "I could have locked my car doors, but I didn't, so I guess it's my fault." Or better yet, "I could have worn my hijab, but I didn't, so I suppose it's my fault I was punished in a Sharia court".

- "MIT doesn't specifically tell its users not to do dickwad things to its network." This is the same logic that gets those "stupid warning labels" put on everything!

- "JSTOR didn't have technical facilities in place to stop people like Aaron." But the only reason such technical facilities would be needed is if Aaron's behavior on the network were unacceptable in the first place.

- "Aaron did not 'hack' the JSTOR website for all reasonable definitions of 'hack'". But this is kind of a strawman, go back and read the article's own description of the charges if you don't believe me, they claim only generic things like "unauthorized access" or "deceptively appearing as if he were from MIT".

- "He didn't try to hide his behavior". Who CARES? If I steal something in broad daylight in the real world people would say I was an idiot, not that I was "innocent".

- "Other people use fake identities too". Which is the same argument every parent of a 5-year-old has heard and taken care of...

- "If JSTOR had properly responded to the DoS/unauthorized access it wouldn't have been such a big deal". See above about victim blaming.

- "But he wasn't trespassing!". And in the next sentence, "the Federal government isn't charging him with such". Uh, OK?

Now, did he deserve even the possibility of 35 years in prison? No. Is it right to prevent him (as Lessig claims) from forming a proper legal defense fund? Absolutely not.

In fact, that would be an area that needs to be properly "witch hunted" over because it's obvious from the outpouring of support now that Aaron's dead that he could have found help if he were able to ask... so why wasn't he able? What did the district court judge order that led Aaron to kill himself rather than risking the ire of a district judge?

I wonder also why Aaron was so worried about being termed a 'felon'. I've worked with a felon, it was a similarly stupid charge (let's just say he later married his "victim"), and absolutely no one cared. Roman Polanski is still making movies; Aaron would have been just fine. But that was his choice to make. :(

But I worry about articles like this that have popped up in the aftermath, especially when they are so full of inaccuracies as this.


>I wonder also why Aaron was so worried about being termed a 'felon'.

Convicted felons are stripped of a wide swath of legal rights; notably the right to vote. Additionally, unlike with felonies for crimes that violate state laws, there is no legal process for having those rights reinstated after the completion of your sentence for Federal convictions, i.e., you lose those rights for life.


I know this (I'm trained to provide voting assistance myself). But given the alternative....


For somebody as ambitious as Aaron, I could see how felon status would feel like a huge roadblock to the things he wanted to do.

Depression largely isn't rational.


> Depression largely isn't rational.

I think that sums it up, really. I'm just glad I made it through my teenage years without my then-depression taking my life.


Well, JSTOR settled with him, later released a lot of documents for free themselves, and have stated that as far as they were concerned the issue was closed.

Currently MIT is starting a self-investigation on how they could have done better, to prevent the crackdown that occurred.

So that's interesting enough. Neither party feels victimized, it seems.


Yeah, just because you come across an unlocked door doesn't mean you have the legal right to whatever is behind it.


> I.e., it recites synopses of the charges and then states that the charges are not true because:

It seems a little more nuanced than that. He's not denying the charges so much as he's arguing that they're over-zealous. In his conclusion, he says that what Aaron did was inconsiderate, rather than criminal; that was his intent in standing as a witness.


The way I read it overall was that "being inconsiderate" is the crime, with the laws that we have on the books now relating to computing and networking. It is true that he was being inconsiderate and not "hacking" as it's commonly termed, but I just don't see how that helps Aaron.

What they could/should be arguing instead is that the law is far too onerous in cases like this, but the issue with the law that we have now is that it's deliberately written to be this broad. It's either to allow the judgment of a jury and trained legal assistants to prevail in an area where legislators had no experience, or to put the screw on computer activists (or maybe even both), but it is very broad.


I really don't see how he was arguing that inconsideration is a criminal act...


Did we read the same article, mpyne? I'd say this is a textbook example of deceptive wall-of-text style concern trolling, and at the very least is not a very honest discussion of the topic or the article. You say, "But I worry about articles like this that have popped up in the aftermath, especially when they are so full of inaccuracies as this." Yet you introduce so many inaccuracies yourself.

Your response seems to misconstrue many things. Stamos specifically states he is correcting erroneous information being spread, but you try to disagree with these facts. You also suggest they are not relevant, even if they are in fact correcting a lot of bad information that is floating around.

You say it is irrelevant that "MIT runs an open network," but if exaggerated charges are being made, and he is being accused of maliciously hacking into this network, then it is relevant.

"MIT could have locked the network down, but didn't." you quote, though I couldn't find this quote, as a "poor excuse". Poor excuse to what? How can you even compare locking your car doors to a university library network in any way? This case seems rather far from grand theft auto, except maybe the similarly named game, because it's as equally over the top as the charges.

Then you "quote" another part: "MIT doesn't specifically tell its users not to do dickwad things to its network." I put quote in quotes because I failed to find the word dickwad. Did I miss this part? You take a lot of liberties rephrasing and restating what the author wrote. It seems almost certain we didn't read the same article, or you are concern trolling.

To suggest he's engaging in victim-blaming here is ridiculous. The "victims" didn't even pursue charges, even though the government made it easy for them to do so. It is challenging to even try to claim there are "victims" here at all.

Then you employ more false quotations: "But he wasn't trespassing!". And in the next sentence, "the Federal government isn't charging him with such". Uh, OK?

I also failed to find the quoted parts. But to point out that trespassing charges were dropped seems relevant when there are people out there claiming trespassing---correcting erroneous information. Your car door suggestion, or definitely other people talking about "walking through an unlocked door", suggest trespassing.

You go on to say: I wonder also why Aaron was so worried about being termed a 'felon'. Which seems to trivialize the situation, and suggests there are no consequences. Maybe you weren't aware that felons commonly have their voting rights denied? And that's just the start.

This is just outright stupid on your part. Are you even being serious?: Roman Polanski is still making movies; Aaron would have been just fine. But that was his choice to make. :( You do realize Roman Polanski fled the USA at the prospect of serving MORE jail time than originally agreed to, and has not returned, and charges have not been dropped, and more information is available on his Wikipedia page. The USA is still pursuing him even though he has settled with the victim.


> You say it is irrelevant that "MIT runs an open network," but if exaggerated charges are being made, and he is being accused of maliciously hacking into this network, then it is relevant.

actually it is irrelevant. the computers in question are JSTOR's, not MIT's.

read this: http://www.volokh.com/2013/01/14/aaron-swartz-charges/#comme...


Oh come on. He was an activist, he purposely broke outrageous laws to protest the laws themselves.

The fact there is only innocent or guilty in a court of law forces to defend actions as innocent where instead it should be the law itself on trial, not Aaron.

US law codes, public scientific journals, should openly available to all who are subject to them or could benefit from them. That's what he was protesting and the amazing thing about Aaron was instead of sitting on his couch like most of us do, he actually did something in protest and risked his personal freedom.

There is practically nothing we can do for Aaron now, perhaps instead we should focus our efforts on someone who might benefit from the outrage like Bradley Manning.


No need for an article : he died innocent since he wasn't proven (yet?) guilty.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: