He's obsessing over this supposed 6-month offer. Sounds exactly like what I'd expect the husband of a prosecutor to sound like.
Does he have any idea what even 6 months in jail would have been like for a 20-something? How would he feel about spending 6 months in jail for, say, that March Madness office pool he might have joined (illegal gambling!) or that time he recorded and re-played an NFL game to his buddies (violation of the disclaimer at the start of the game!). Etc.
Never mind the fact that it was a plea bargain, which means he would have had to plead guilty to a crime he didn't believe he committed. What a bastardized thought process: "Just admit that you were wrong, we were right, and sit in jail for 6 months! How could anyone refuse that? What an unreasonable person."
There might be some stipulations for overzealous prosecution, (malicious prosecution?) or something like that.
Justice is not perfect. There are countless people in jail in error (through no malfeasance). People identify the wrong person, someone was somewhere at the wrong time and circumstance is too strong, etc., etc. It can aim for perfection, but it's hardly that. Of course that does not preclude the aggrieved from being angry and disillusioned. Life is full of these weird uncertainties.
It's not as though the girlfriends or boyfriends of people who become distraught and commit suicide because of a breakup would be charged with manslaughter. I've never heard of that being a successful case.
> It's not about what you can prove, but what you can extort using trumped up charges to force a plea.
Yes, you elucidated my point quite well.
It doesn't matter whether or not manslaughter applies: She would have to either defend herself (let's freeze her assets, cuz they're ill-gotten gains, so to pay the victims! (which is what she has done)) or take the plea.
A felony conviction is not necessarily such a big deal and in some cases is even a "good" thing to advance your career if you plan on staying on the "security field". I made a post in this same thread referring to this, but in short: A lot of convicted computer criminals have made very successful careers in the technology/security business out of having been convicted of computer crimes. You might even argue that their success is owed to the controversy, social support, and PR created because of their convictions.
It's civil disobedience. Accepting six months as a prisoner of conscience would have done about as much good for what Swartz believed in than whatever else he was hoping to accomplish. It would have been a sacrifice, but not one worse than death.
Pleading guilty doesn't signify anything other than admitting that you are guilty of breaking the law. It doesn't signify that you agree that the law itself is just. Thoreau said, "Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison."
I don't. In fact, the fact that Swartz committed suicide indicates either that the deal on the table wasn't just a six month deal, or that Swartz was, psychologically, in an extraordinarily bad place. It's hard to fathom the idea someone would commit suicide over federal charges when they had the option of taking six months at Club Fed.
Maybe it's a side effect of plea bargaining. Prosecutors have to push for the highest sentence imaginable to get a strong negotiating position. This is a bigger problem than Carmen Ortiz.
Incidentally, this also affects the idea that they should have gone easy on Swartz because of his history of depression and suicidal ideation, because then that becomes a tool for negotiating leverage as well.
But when the root cause is the systemic effect of plea bargaining on the justice system as a whole, it becomes difficult to find good solutions, and obvious that whatever the solution is, it will be very hard to implement. But our outrage compels us to demand something to be done right now, so let's just designate a scapegoat.
I don't think anyone in the know would think less of him for it. I'm sure things were rough for Robert T. Morris when he received his conviction--though he didn't serve time and it's not clear whether his conviction was a felony--but he seemed to recover a decent career from it.
Lawyers are very expensive, especially good ones. The man might have had a couple million in the bank, tops. Considering the 2 years since indictment and the trial hadn't even started yet, that's a lot of legal time on the books.
But he is making a valid point. After all Swartz was smart enough to see what he was doing and hardly took any precautions to hide his identity on the laptop placed at MIT Campus. So obviously he didn't expect a life in prison, but in case he did expect no consequences, I would call him naive. Anyway, probably it makes sense to wait for this MIT analysis and other analysis of the case to decide whether the prosecutor did act irresponsibly...
I'm sorry, but if you are arguing that Aaron Swartz did absolutely not break any current laws (whether you agree with them or not), then you are delusional, I urge you to read Orin Kerr's analysis of the situation, and refute anything he has stated, in a logical coherent manner, with solid evidence.
I'm sorry but I'm sure this man, his wife, or any of the prosecution team did not expect Aaron to commit suicide or was their intention. I'm sure they are just as upset as everyone else.
Try and put your emotions aside, and let your logic take control again.
> I'm sorry but I'm sure this man, his wife, or any of the prosecution team did not expect...
> I'm sure they are just as upset as everyone else.
What makes you sure about those things? Do you have private information that the rest of us don't have? Based on the information in the press it sounds like the prosecution just didn't care, or worse it sounds like this is the way they act as a matter of policy.
Basically we operate in a society (thankfully in my opinion), where actually the onus is on the accuser to prove the accusations, with evidence, beyond reasonable doubt.
The above humans outlined unless have some emotional deficiencies, I believe are like the rest of us, and it's safe to assume when anyone kills themselves it's a sad situation, and can empathise with said person.
So in fact I turn your statement back on to you, please provide solid evidence that would make me to believe they WOULD NOT be upset at the situation.
Considering Heymann has a history of badly under-estimating the suicide risk of young hackers he prosecutes, I'd say he either has "emotional deficiencies", or he's just incompetent. Replying to a suicide risk with "well then we'll lock him up, he'll be safe there" is callous in the extreme.
In both cases, this reflects badly on him and his boss, wouldn't you say?
Apparently you don't know the meaning of the word "sure" which you used plenty. I didn't accuse you of anything so I don't have to prove anything. You told us you were sure of some things and I asked you what made you to be sure. I was genuinely interested in the information you might have. It seems there was none and you just use words liberally, without regard for their meaning. In fact, I am sure of it. See what I did there?
It read to me as if you were accusing the prosecutors of not having any empathy to Aaron in this case. I believe the default human reaction is to feel said emotion, and such I think it's reasonable to assume they did feel empathy unless we have evidence that directly contradicts that. Sorry for any confusion.
How about you give up on your mind reading powers for a while? I'm sure you can read the psychology of Ortiz and every other prosecutor, and determine that their opinions of Aaron Swartz are exactly like normal people.
I'd rather believe that they saw him like a target to be scalped, bullied into submission by plea bargain. I don't know why, maybe because US prosecutors have a history of treating the accused like targets to be scalped, and bullied into submission by plea bargain?
Books have actually written on this subject, why don't you have a look? Here are some references:
No it isn't. The sworn duty of the prosecutor is not to get a conviction, it's to get the truth. Trying to force someone to confess to a crime they didn't commit by threatening to lock them away for most of their adult life, is only a very small step away from torturing someone or threatening them with execution to obtain a confession.
Nobody thinks he didn't commit the crimes he was charged with. He clearly accessed MIT's network without permission, and he clearly downloaded copyrighted documents with intent to distribute. The debate isn't about whether he did those things, it's about whether those actions should be crimes at all and even if they should be, whether the associated penalties were reasonable.
I think he committed no crime other than maybe trespassing.
* MIT network was open
* Everyone on this open network had access to the JSTOR articles
* No EULA or any other agreement or license was presented to the user that would define what constitutes abusing the above mentioned privileges
Nobody is discussing whether he did the things he did. What we are discussing is whether anyone in their right mind would consider this a crime.
Normally white collar non-violent criminals are placed in a slightly more "relaxed" environment. He is more likely to be sharing a cell with a embezzling accountant than Grand Wizard of the aryan nation.
Conrad Black managed 37 months whilst in his sixties.
Is illegally accessing MIT's network and downloading millions of copyrighted documents no worse than re-playing an NFL game to your buddies?
I think this is the heart of why people in the tech community can't make sense of what happened, and unfortunately probably why Swartz didn't realize what he was getting himself into.
I don't think it's just prosecutors or husbands of prosecutors who think illegally accessing the network of a key piece of the defense industrial complex (whatever else MIT might be, it is certainly that) is a bigger deal than putting together a March Madness pool.
Is accessing MIT's network and downloading millions of documents worse than illegally re-playing a copyrighted NFL game to your buddies?
No, people in the tech community can't make sense of what happened because they viscerally understand what he actually did, just like everybody understands how to record and replay TV. Aaron plugged into an ethernet port to get a faster connection, something people do every day. Aaron continued downloading files after he was told to stop. Should he have faced some penalty for continuing after being told to stop? Sure. Should it have been decades in prison for asserting his right to a jury trial? Of fucking course not.
You can't just throw away all context to make it seem like he did something everyone does every day. If I plug into the Ethernet network in my closet to get a faster connection, that's one thing. If I go into the network closet at Lockheed-Martin and do the same thing, it's a big fucking deal.
MIT is a key piece of the defense industrial complex. It might be a hotbed of internet intellectualism, but it's also at various points been one of the top non-profit defense contractors. I can guarantee you that when the police found someone was attached to the network switch, before they figured out the identity of the person, they ran through the scenarios of whether the downloading was a cover for accessing classified information, etc. They wouldn't be doing their jobs otherwise.
Once you've created that kind of suspicion in people, they're not as eager to give you the benefit of the doubt as people on Hacker News who see the story in full hindsight and with sympathy towards his motivations.
> If I go into the network closet at Lockheed-Martin and do the same thing, it's a big fucking deal.
Not if you're already using the network at Lockheed-Martin, and the "network closet" is the only quiet place that has an ethernet port and a chair because it doubles as sleeping quarters for the local homeless population. But presumably at Lockheed-Martin, they bother to maintain some physical campus security, including the locks on their doors, and don't have an environment primarily based on openness and exploration.
MIT is also a key piece of Cambridge, which is a key piece of Massachusetts, which is a key piece of the US, which is a key piece of the world. OMFG Aaron was hacking the planet!! And yeah I've no doubt the police thought that, partially because it's good investigation, but largely because they gain funding and importance by overblowing every possible threat. See also: small town cops getting helacopturs in case terrists try to blow up their water tower. But this is mostly irrelevant anyway, as it should have been sorted out by the legal system.
Now I know that over the past few days, you've been seeing a lot of tenuous reasoning based on blind emotional outrage. But buried in there, there's also been plenty of well reasoned analysis as to the actual causes of this outrage, that you have been ignoring (overly broad law which criminalizes every online activity, ridiculously harsh penalties for digital trespassing, denied right of due process due to immediate $1.5MM fine, denied right of jury trial under threat of multiplying his sentence by one and a half orders of magnitude).
If you honestly cannot understand that these things are major systematic problems facing all hackers, I question why you're even on HN. Wouldn't you be happier over at some lawyer forum where you can pretend that your system works, its errors are just "people doing their jobs", hacking (the breaking of abstractions) is a mortal crime against the state , etc ? I know that the world hackers have built currently looks an awful lot like your comfortable feudalism, but please just take our 'gifts' of phpbb and facebook and resume leaving us alone so that we may progress our world in peace.
I'm sorry, I didn't get the memo that hanging out on HN requires you to buy into the whole information anarchy movement.
It's incredibly frustrating to see people like you claim to speak for techies everywhere. I learned to program in C++ when I was 12 and have stared at more hex dumps than I care to remember. But guess what, I also believe in a world with fences and boundaries and rules. I think it's reckless to mess with the network of a $10 billion institution that does almost a billion dollars of defense contracts each year, just as it's reckless to jump the fence at a nuclear power plant. People get sensitive around sensitive things and I think they are right to do so.
I guarantee you I'm not the only one that feels this way, even within the techie community, so please don't act like you speak for me.
I'm trying to counter this notion that MIT is a place where information runs free and people are encouraged to explore to their heart's content. The fact that MIT is a billion-dollar defense contractor means that its culture of freedom and openness necessarily exists within well-defined boundaries. Judging from its reaction, MIT clearly felt that those boundaries had been crossed.
From the perspective of a prosecutor, what do you do in that situation? Can you not see how the nature of MIT as a major defense contractor would color an outsider's view of the situation? Do you honestly think the prosecutor would have acted similarly if Swartz had plugged into the network of a sports bar?
I shouldn't have to point this out, but again, I'm not saying that 50+ years or whatever would've been an appropriate punishment for what happened. I'm in fact quite sympathetic to the problem of overly aggressive laws re: network security. But I think it's willful blindness to paint this situation as someone doing something totally harmless and every day and being totally unable to comprehend why anyone would react differently.
It's odd that you're hilighting MIT's status as a defense contractor, when their primary role should be as a university. MIT is also able to draw remarkable talent in part because they have fostered a culture that challenges the concept of boundaries; if MIT now lacks the technical fortitude to deal with their network security in anything other than a litigious fashion, then they have fallen very far indeed from their reputation.
Further, if the cost of MIT's status as a defense contractor has indirectly been the death of one of the bright individuals in the very field that MIT holds the most prestige, then I think the cost is too great.
The U.S. is not a country that really believes in the idealistic rhetoric about academia that people sometimes indulge themselves in. Universities are, in the U.S. firmly entrenched in various massive complexes: defense, pharmaceuticals, agriculture. They are cogs in the engine of industry. Anyone who thinks these major research universities are anything other than the establishment are naively optimistic. Nobody gets a billion dollars of DOD money each year without being thoroughly part of the establishment.
Now, that does not mean that MIT does not or cannot foster a culture that encourages challenging boundaries. It just means that there are firmer boundaries further out from the playground in which the undergraduates play.
I think that explains MIT's reaction in this situation. Going into the closet to plug into the network came too close to breaching that hard outer boundary for the University's taste.
And to circle back to my other point: MIT's status as massive defense contractor colors how other people perceive what happens there. When the prosecutors in the DOJ think of MIT, they don't think of a place where students are encouraged to "challenge boundaries." They think of it as a place that does critical research often on very sensitive subjects--a vital part of the national infrastructure. Please tell me you understand why someone would be more sensitive to a network intrusion at MIT while operating under the latter premise than under the former.
I have no idea how you think you can get away with describing what "the U.S." believes as though it supports your point. Your entire argument here seems to depend on this absurdly shallow fiction of universities as being nothing more than aspects of corporate and military development. I already disputed this, and you doubled down on it without saying anything new.
What you're saying about MIT's network policies doesn't even help your point, it helps mine, unless you actually believe that e.g. running BitTorrent on MIT's network should justify really stiff penalties just because of some DoD involvement in other parts of MIT's network.
By the way, one of our clients has been on-and-off-again funded by the DoD, and we are directly responsible for their network, and we were audited by representatives of the army not too long ago. So, I do have some notion of the expectations for network security in such an environment, and I can tell you that everyone that matters there -- including the Army -- would think I was insane if I suggested that the unauthorized use of the network there to download paywall'd scientific journals should be a felony offense, or one that should result in any jail time at all.
Whether or not MIT's status as a defense contractor "colors" other people's decisions or not is irrelevant. What has been under discussion is whether or not those decisions were reasonable and proportionate to the crime committed, and you are doing absolutely nothing to argue that point.
Your profile claims that you are both a lawyer and an engineer, but bewilderingly, you don't seem to be accounting at all for what Swartz was actually doing. You seem to be making an argument that, because there were sensitive portions of MIT's network, even though it was established that Swartz was not accessing or attempting to access those portions, it's somehow justifiable to punish him as though he were. If that is your argument, I think you ought to reconsider that condescending tone on your last line.
If your point is that any unauthorized access, either of facilities or network closets, at MIT should be prosecuted more heavily merely because of MIT's DoD involvement, then let me again circle back to my point, which is that such policies are completely at odds with the ideals that made MIT an attractive talent pool for the DoD in the first place.
No, the difference is that you apparently believe that violating those fences, boundaries, or rules should cost one their life (for this is what a decade in prison is). You may be a techie, but if you think that digital misdemeanors are worthy of such stiff penalties, I guarantee that you are not a hacker.
I never said I believed what Swartz did merited decades in prison. I personally think it merited a misdemeanor conviction and a suspended sentence, and I think it's a problem that the law doesn't create clear distinctions between "felony network intrusion" and "misdemeanor network intrusion." That's my personal politics.
However, it's one thing to think this intrusion is a "digital misdemeanor" and another thing to act like you can't fathom why anyone would see it otherwise. You have your perspective, but the police and the prosecutor and evidently at least some people at MIT: 1) had no idea who Swartz was or what his agenda was; 2) didn't share his politics; 3) weren't familiar with the "hacker culture"; and 4) were rattled by the target being an institution like MIT. You seem to completely ignore that aspects of Swartz's activities seem similar, to an outsider, to someone with much more nefarious intentions, and you seem completely unwilling to explore how outsiders to the situation might have, in good faith, a different perception of it than yourself.
Also, I presume the "hacker" in Hacker News is used in the same sense as in Paul Graham's essays--hacking on code. I fail to see what that has to do with one's politics re: information security.
Hacking, in general, is breaking abstractions and assumptions that most people take for granted. PG uses it in terms of startup methodology. Coders use it in terms of chopping through existing software. Crackers use it in terms of computer security models. Aaron did it in terms of "Intellectual Property", proclaiming that PACER and copyright-expired articles are really public domain.
I actually do fully understand why what happened to Aaron did, on both fundamental and systemic levels. All hacking unnerves the people who were unquestioningly taking those abstractions for granted. It shakes their faith in their own reasoning process, making them wonder what else they could possibly be missing. The hacker appears to have special powers, and sets off a deep-rooted fear of the unknown.
Which is why we presently have life changing criminal sentences for any kind of computer hacking. The kind of people that desire to punish others for pointing out their non-clothedness inherently don't understand the varying ways their abstractions can be broken. So we get a vague open-ended law applicable to basically every situation (legitimate or not), but it's only enforced when someone who feels they've been wronged manages to get the ear of someone powerful.
But all of this certainly does not imply that this state of affairs is morally right. And it certainly doesn't help to repeat the nonsense scare tactics and justifications of the machinery that punished him as if they're fact, because the whole goddamn point is that these completely open-ended laws are not true laws at all, but avenues for exercising arbitrary punishment justified by appeals to not-illegal but bad-feeling "context". No doubt had this prosecutor's son done the exact same thing, the "context" would be different and they'd have ended up with a continuance or probation in the worst case.
Your personal politics seem reasonable. However, I think you're underestimating the amount of consideration the case has received here. Law enforcement, the prosecutor, and the individuals involved at MIT certainly should have learned about Swartz' character during the legal fight, and indeed they had the opportunity to do so if Swartz' attorneys are to be believed; sharing his politics is not necessary for a just outcome; they really ought to be familiar with the "hacker culture", given this occurred at MIT, an institution whose primary notable achievement is the celebration of hacker culture; and the target was not MIT, it was JSTOR. MIT was merely the vessel.
It's not that some people here are "unwilling to explore the situation in good faith", it's that we have done so, and still cannot justify the actions of the prosecution in a reasonable way.
> Law enforcement, the prosecutor, and the individuals involved at MIT certainly should have learned about Swartz' character during the legal fight, and indeed they had the opportunity to do so if Swartz' attorneys are to be believed
Sure, but first impressions can never be erased. Remember, at first the investigators had no idea who was accessing the network. They had to place a camera to find out. Moreover, as a general rule, prosecutors don't go to lengths to really explore the character of defendants, because people are punished or not for their actions, not their character.
> sharing his politics is not necessary for a just outcome
No, but it totally shapes your perception of justice. Entertain the notion of someone who believes that copyrighted articles are really property, and that network boundaries are like real life fences. To such a person, what Swartz did seems like hopping a fence at a public art gallery to steal the paintings. But, most people on HN seem to subscribe to the politics that say a network boundary is like a "keep off the grass" sign at a public park, and that research articles aren't anyone's property at all. They are outraged that anyone would get in serious trouble for merely trampling on the grass and taking the fallen leaves on the ground.
> given this occurred at MIT, an institution whose primary notable achievement is the celebration of hacker culture
I think very few people would consider MIT's primary notable achievement to be the celebration of hacker culture. That's not what ordinary people think about MIT. They think it's like the show Fringe. Even within technologically-minded people, I think celebration of MIT's hacker culture is limited mostly to the CS set. I went to nerd high school, and what we knew about MIT was robotics, aerospace, etc, not hackers.
> and the target was not MIT, it was JSTOR. MIT was merely the vessel.
If you're familiar with Swartz's agenda, you know that. If you're the prosecutor presented with evidence of someone video taped accessing a restricted closet at MIT, you don't know that.
> But, most people on HN seem to subscribe to the politics that say a network boundary is like a "keep off the grass" sign at a public park, and that research articles aren't anyone's property at all. They are outraged that anyone would get in serious trouble for merely trampling on the grass and taking the fallen leaves on the ground.
OK, now I think I understand you, and unfortunately that means we're at an impasse, because you've imagined that we're making the most ridiculous argument possible despite all of the ample and articulate statements to the contrary. There is simply no way to have a sensible conversation with you if you're going to ignore all discussion of concepts like "reasonable" and "proportional" and instead conjure up some absurd caricature of the people you're talking to.
> I went to nerd high school, and what we knew about MIT was robotics, aerospace, etc, not hackers.
That's what hackers are -- robotics and aerospace and technology and knowledge and other "really cool shit!" enthusiasts.
> If you're the prosecutor presented with evidence of someone video taped accessing a restricted closet at MIT, you don't know that.
I'm not sure what I can say about a prosecutor that litigates a case without bothering to investigate the facts of the case, without sounding like a complete jerk. I will say that although Ortiz and Heymann might be described in many unflattering ways, I doubt either one of them could be said to be that incompetent.
You mean copyrighted files produced with public funding which should have never been put in private lockers in first place? How's this not context?
And plugging a pc in an ethernet port doesn't seem to me to be a crime worth neither 6 months or 35 years. In fact, doesn't seem to be more than something worth a small fine, depending on circumstances.
Perhaps not an everyday thing, but far from being something programmers don't do often, i.e. automate something.
First, you are comparing IP with a service that has a totally different ongoing costs.
Second, I'd imagine you are already paying less for your ticket thanks to partial public funding. Some places have free transport altogether and more often than not it incentives tourism too!
Any work produced with public funding should be available free of charge, there's no way around it really.
Yes it has ongoing cost. No we shouldn't pay to access public research. Not JSTOR, not anyone. Have you checked how much for say a research paper from just 10 years ago ? how's 30 dollars for you ? So you are suggesting it would be even more expensive if it wasn't for partial public funding ?
Then perhaps they are doing a shit job and don't belong, don't deserve to make any money or to function.
Mega upload did a better job hosting data that they are doing. Ditto for wikipedia. For categorizing it there's the community which should be more than enough given that it's the same with or without JSTOR.
Yeah with some peer review and either ad supported, state supported or community supported. Simple fee is too much for something I already paid for. I think paying 5 cents for the bandwidth is perhaps all it could and should ever cost.
> they ran through the scenarios of whether the downloading was a cover for accessing classified information, etc.
Classified information? Do you know anyone that can get physical access to a computer network with classified information on it? If it is easy to get access to it, it better only have access to sensitive but unclassified data (SBU).