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.