He was caught doing 'A'. He had previously written a manifesto that describes it as a moral imperative to do 'A then B'. The prosecution believed that this established his intent to do 'B'.
This is not an unreasonable conclusion. You don't have to respect or agree with any part of the prosecution to understand this. You don't have to believe that it was his actual intent to understand that it's not out of line to draw that conclusion from those facts.
Please, if you care about this case, don't waste energy on linkbait and bent truth.
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intention_(criminal_law) (I link to this because some people seem to be unaware that intent has a legal meaning.)
The reason people care so much about this issue is that many of us feel it shows that the current method of applying the rule of law produces bad and immoral consequences. Yes, it is true that Mr. Swartz's previous writings may establish intent in a way that is relevant to criminal prosecution. It is also true - and I believe an ultimately more significant matter - that this case demonstrates that "writing about what you believe" may indeed place you in greater criminal jeopardy, and that consequence of the "rule of law" as it was enforced in this case may cause more harm to society than the "evils" the laws were intended to prevent.
In other words, the significance of this case is that it shows our current methods of applying the laws may have negative consequences. Saying "the prosecution was applying the law correctly" is not relevant to the question: does this case show that we should change the laws, and how they are applied?
Our legal system's standard is "beyond a reasonable doubt" not what a child would infer from the evidence. The fact that Aaron had not committed B despite having the time and ability to should have left the prosecutor with a reasonable doubt that such a violation was imminent.
The standard for bringing charges is not "beyond a reasonable doubt." That's the standard for conviction. It's up to the jury to decide whether such a violation was imminent or not.
In any case, that's not what I was getting at. I was talking about the validity of the reasoning method, not what it proves or does not prove in this specific case. If it is a crime to do A in furtherance of B, that is to say with intent to also do B, it is totally valid and common-sense to use someone's past writings as evidence of what their intent after doing A was.
There are layers here that you're collapsing together. You can believe that Swartz's writings were insufficient to show intent to distribute the copyright works while agreeing as a general principle that it is valid to use someone's writings to establish what someone's intent might have been.
The exact word being tossed around here isn't "established," but "proved." The claim is that a document Swartz didn't even write on his own "proved" his intentions in a questionably related situation years after he wrote it.
This is not an unreasonable conclusion.
Have you been on the internet long? Have you ever written anything on the internet that a stranger could misinterpret or that could similarly "prove" you had bad intentions in some unrelated situation years from now? No? Are you sure? How could you even know?
Since when are we prosecuting relatively minor civil offenses like copyright infringement based on intentions rather than actions anyway? Will we start prosecuting people who plan to jaywalk?
Bear in mind the prosecution's goal was apparently to put Swartz in prison, to label him a felon for life, for an act even the prosecutors admit that he hadn't actually yet committed, without a trail. And your "not unreasonable conclusion" is essentially their entire argument for justifying this.
If this is different from prosecuting a thought crime, I'd sure like to know how.
There are degrees of proof. The standard of proof required to press charges is lower than that to actually convict someone in a trial. This is high-school civics class material.
Have you ever written anything on the internet [...]
Conceivably, yes. I'm not in the habit of publishing manifestos, but as somebody that is routinely misinterpreted by people that don't share his views, the possibility has crossed my mind.
But there are reasonable and unreasonable conclusions that one could draw based on any pairing of a person's actions and their prior writings. I'm only saying that this one is not outlandish or evidence of unreasonable "targeting". They did not (for example) accuse him of intending to blow up an MIT building. That would be totally unreasonable in a way that this is not.
Since when are we prosecuting relatively minor civil offenses like copyright infringement based on intentions rather than actions anyway?
That's not what happened here. Swartz was not charged with copyright infringement. Look at the actual charges and the actual law they're based on. The actions he was observed doing are as much a part of the charge as the intent that was alleged.
And your "not unreasonable conclusion" is essentially their entire argument for justifying this.
I said the inference is reasonable, not the prosecution's zeal. That's why I say this particular part of the story is the wrong thing to be focusing on. (And yet, here we are.)
If this is different from prosecuting a thought crime, I'd sure like to know how.
If it were a thought crime, he would have been charged in 2008, when he had the thought 'We should all do A then B'. But he wasn't. He was charged when he was caught doing 'A' and somebody inferred that his intention was to do 'B' as well.
Fine. The prosecutor's stated intent was to avoid a trial and imprison Swartz using only this laughably low degree of proof. "Reasonable?" "Not targeted?"
Here's the thing: you're saying the prosecution's assumption would be reasonable in the context of pressing charges and going to trial. Maybe. But the prosecutor wasn't operating in that context. Shouldn't a higher standard of evidence be used before sending a person to prison? Of course, you've supplied the answer yourself, by pointing out that higher standards are expected at trials. But trials aren't the only way people end up in prison anymore.
Swartz was not charged with copyright infringement.
Yes, I know. I think it's clear that issues of copyright and control over the making of copies are really the motive behind the prosecutor's behavior, don't you? I mean, that's actually what the prosecutor's saying now, right? "Swartz had this manifesto against copyright, therefore we charged him with the far more serious crime of fraud. Perfectly reasonable. Totally not targeting anyone."
The actions he was observed doing are as much a part of the charge as the intent that was alleged.
I really don't see how. He was legally entitled to make the copies that he made; the alleged intent is the sole basis for even supposing any crime existed.
If it were a thought crime, he would have been charged in 2008...
The scenario you describe also strikes me as prosecution for a thought crime. I don't see how that imaginary scenario exempts this real one from being prosecution for a thought crime, though.
I'm not sure if I understand what you're getting at. Aaron didn't accept a plea deal, and he didn't have to if he didn't want to.
He was legally entitled to make the copies that he made; the alleged intent is the sole basis for even supposing any crime existed.
This is false. Look at the charge sheet and look at the law cited. Many people seem to have this misconception, but the law doesn't say "it's a crime to intend to do this", it says "it is a crime to do this thing with the intent to do this other thing". Both the things he did and the intent that was alleged are part of the accusation, and both would have have to been proven to the standards of "beyond a reasonable doubt" if it had gone to trial. If the prosecution could not meet that standard for his actions (i.e. if they could not show that he was not legally entitled to do the downloading the way he did), he would have been found not guilty as well.
The point being: the alleged intent is not the sole basis for the charge.
The same goes for the manifesto he wrote. It's not like "A" was "riding ponies", "A" in your text is using violence to force access to documents, because he believed them to be public domain, and then republishing them. As the prosecution claims, that document was not used to establish criminal intent, nor to prove that he committed a crime, but was merely used to establish motive. Needless to say, the criminal part came from the breaking and entering and hacking someone else's computer system.
MIT and JSTOR declined to press such charges.
The government's charges were fraud charges - more or less, they claimed that Swartz would later do something illegal with the data he had copied, and that warranted imprisonment now, before the fact.
"A" in your text is using violence to force access to documents, because he believed them to be public domain, and then republishing them.
That's not my text you're referring to.
No one has ever claimed there was any violence or force involved in any part of this.
No republishing actually occurred; the government is claiming that Swartz's prior writings prove that such republishing was his goal, and that he therefore belonged in federal prison - because of his intent to commit a civil offense.
The key distinction between the two is that what you're suggesting is that he was being charged for intent alone. In reality, the intent was relevant to establishing the degree of the crime. That's pretty much how all crimes work--you can't be punished for intent without taking any action, but once you take action your intent determines what the severity of the crime is.
If what Aaron did is legally get non-copyrighted material with the legal intent of distributing it, then there's no legal case to be made at all.
If what he did is illegal, or getting of copyrighted material, then it mismatches what the manifesto said, so is problematic at establishing intent.
Short answer: no, you're wrong about the "manifesto".
If we treat the law the way you treat it then we violate the rule of proportion again. How can you talk about "criminal intent" when we are talking about copyrights protection? It's extremely different to murder somebody, than to violate copyrights. The first is widely perceived as morally wrong among all nations. What about the second? How can you, therefore, talk about "criminal intent" in case of copyright protection? The intent here is quite obvious, the intent is to CHANGE THE LAW. This is "criminal intent" for you? If intent to change the law were "criminal intent", because it hurts some specific businesses, then the law would never change for the good of nations, instead it would change for the good of people with power. Or, it would change, but like it has happened historically, with a bloodshed. This is right for you?
Think about it, use your brain, please!
There are LEGAL ways to try and change a law. That isn't what happened. There was "criminal intent" whether or not you AGREE with the law or now.
RMS was careful the whole time to comply with the law as written since he understood that you can't force change to the legal code by simply imposing it on other people like some kind of 'benevolent dictator'.
His quest is not at all finished by I'd like to think we'll at least solve the issue of software patents in my lifetime thanks to his hard work and the work of hundreds of others (including like-minded legislators!).
Say what you want about aaronsw but the fact is that he jumped the shark when he broke into a computer network (repeatedly) in order to advance his aims, however benevolent they are.
Very sad, but not very suprising.
An agressive prosecution will naturally research what the target has done in the past as a way of establishing intent.
Not that I don't feel that the prosecution Aaron wasn't egregious.
Why didn't he take that?
Either he's a dangerous criminal who deserves 30 years in jail, or it's nothing, and the only reason they ask him to accept 3 months is because they would look foolish asking him to accept anything less than that (like say weeks or days).
If you shoplift from a store wearing a fake mustache, and saying your name is "Mickey Mouse", you aren't committing fraud, just shoplifting. If you download documents with an anonymous name ("Gary Host", not the name of a MIT student / staff member) and an anonymous MAC address (once again - not passing yourself off as anything other than a guest) you are guilty of copyright infringement, not wire fraud. Using a script to rapidly change your name / MAC address might be a different matter, as you are pretending to be a crowd of people (and it's hard to respond to). But there's nothing he did to circumvent the security that was intended to make a material misrepresentation, he simply did the equivalent of using his hotmail account to create a new account once his gmail was banned.
For things like fraud, there's no hard and fast laws. The courts use a thing called "common sense" (or precedent, which is using a previous judge's common sense). The bar for fraud is pretty high - he had to have misled the victim, and that misrepresentation must have made them behave differently (among other requirements). Had he used his own name, and used a new laptop instead of spoofing his MAC address, he would still have been able to download the documents.
But that's just my opinion, and IANAL.
Besides which, whether or not he violated the law is only partially relevant as the morality of the law is also at issue. How would you feel if your only option was to plead guilty to a law you felt was unjust?
But your statement reflects two facts: that he did end up committing suicide (not known a priori) and that he chose not to accept guilt when he didn't believe he was guilty (and I fully suspect you've never been in that type of situation at the severity of the Swartz case, so it's hard to definitively state that you would just take the jail time)
Besides all the restrictions, there's also the stigma attached to it.
Maybe he could find some people to help him out 5 years from now. Maybe even 10 or 20, but for how long would he be able to rely on that?
If you take the law and legal status seriously, you don't just accept being disenfranchised lying down.
nb. disenfranchised both literally and figuratively in this case.
The judge, however, is free to ignore that plea.
There is no guarantee whatsoever that a judge will follow the recommendation in the plea. He/She could still have thrown the book at Swartz.
Legally speaking maybe. In right life, fuck no.
And it's not just for the trial. What were the FBI files for Aaron like even before that?
But I digress.
The mode of operation here is less secret and more open, more akin to totalitarianism, with a Federal twist.
Why do they do this? Because after years of cheering on this manic-depressive guy, laughing at his antics and ignoring his crashes, his cohort hopefully feel shame at their part in egging him on to ultimately irresponsible acts.
Equalitarianism has over-taken liberalism. Democracy, as H.L. Mencken projected, has been leveraged to undermine the Republican government.
The noble lie of the nation state is fighting to preserve its perceived legitimacy. Regardless of the specifics, Swartz has gone down as a martyr in the court of public opinion and "the people" are becoming increasingly untrusting of their governors and government. Once trust is lost, it isn't easily restored.
The elephant of tyranny remains until generations to come forget again.