Aaron Swartz in May 2012 evangelizing in Washington, DC at a conference about his anti-SOPA crusade. It involved an outright lie in claiming that there would be "Internet censorship" merely because the government legitimately prosecuted large-scale piracy sites for commercial gain. This was typical of the entire hysterical anti-SOPA campaign.
Oh. So now we're learning that there was never any "50 years" or "30 years" or anything remotely similar; there was an offer of six months.
And Aaron Swartz knew that before he killed himself; his family, lawyer, close friends and supporters all knew this. He just didn't want to do that time, and his doting and coddling family and lawyer felt he was emotionally too fragile to do that time and felt he should get an exemption as neurologically atypical.
Tragically, they were right, but he sentenced them all to something much worse: a lifetime of guilt and torment and grief.
So all this ridiculous posturing with the "50 years" that we got from the likes of Declan McCullough, the craven sell-out copyleftist scribe for CNET, was complete tripe. There were never any 50 years!
DEFENSE TURNS DOWN OFFER OF ONLY SIX MONTHS' PRISON
Here's what the Daily Call and Boston Globe reported:
Swartz’s lead defense attorney, Elliot Peters, said today that both he and Swartz rejected the plea deal offered by the office of US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, and instead were pushing for a trial where federal prosecutors would have been forced to publicly justify their pursuit of Swartz.
But at the same time, Peters said, he was worried about Swartz’s emotional vulnerability and planned to try and bypass trial prosecutors, Stephen Heymann and Scott Garland, and use a letter-writing campaign from local academics to convince Ortiz to change the proposals.
“As eager as I was to try to win it, I didn’t want to expose Aaron to the risk,” said Peters.
Imagine the sheer gall of this well-paid attorney accusing the prosecutors Ortiz and Heymann of "overreach" when his client was offered only six months for these serious crimes!
And now we have the additional Internet spectacle of Andrew Good, Swartz's former lawyer (we don't learn why he's "former") saying that his client was suicidal and therefore could not serve jail time (!). We're to hate "The Man" more because the prosecutors replied that he'd be safer in prison. Actually, if we had mental illness internment in this country in any kind of humane and sane fashion, Swartz could have been put in residential treatment if that was the issue -- and likely should have been if he were that depressed -- and he might be alive today as a result.
Swartz's family said in anguish that their son's death is "the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach." And I realize that they are grieving and sincere in their beliefs.
But I have to cry "nonsense" for everything that is sane and right and not about their own selfish interests and sectarian beliefs. Truly, instead, their son's death is the product of "professorial overreach" in trying to build by fiat and force an imaginary world where everything digital is collectivized and the coders come to power and do whatever they feel like. A world where we are forced to live with coder intimidation, and that if you refuse to go along with this totalitarian world, you will be hacked, your privacy will be exposed and you will be endlessly bullied and harassed -- see the online vigilantes demanding Carmen Ortiz' head merely because she did her job and prosecuted computer fraud and theft. My God, this is outrageous. It now has over 25,000 signatures which means we're likely to get some smarmy, self-serving sufficiently vague but dog-whistly response from the Obama Administraiton. Ugh.
Aaron Swartz committed a crime and admitted that he had committed these acts that were indeed rightfully deemed criminal. Evidently he and his defenders just thought he should get a doctor's excuse from the law.
GUERILLA MANIFESTO TO "LIBERATE" ALL DIGITAL CONTENT
His guerilla manifesto outlines the criminal intent to "liberate" all and also outlines his technocommunist beliefs -- corporations are greedy and evil (instead of legitimate entities in a free enterprise system that create value and provide jobs); everyone's property should be "liberated" because anarchists say so; politicans are merely "bought" and therefore we shouldn't have free speech, democracy, campaign contributions, elections, and instead have coders run things and "code as law". No thanks!
Indeed, he outlines his intent to steal and "liberate" -- the first sentence is not qualified by any notion of copyright and the subsequent reference is merely yet another item on the list:
We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that's out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.
COMPUTER FRAUD AND TAMPERING
Read the indictment and quit listening to the Anonymous gabbling on Twitter. The indictment establishes (and these acts are not denied by the defense or Swartz himself) that Swartz:
o broke into a closet to commit the hack
o diguised his identity
o used a false identity and also physically covered up his face from security camera view
o use circumvention software called "keepgrabbing" to grab millions of files rapidly in a way not intended for the system
o intended to distribute separately for free these files normally available only to universities at cost to the institution and for free for students
o disabled the MIT computer network for a time because of the enormity of the download
o caused damage to the computer system due to this hack and downloading that required the IT people to clean up and repair the hack
All this word salading about how he accessed "unrestricted files" is pure nonsense. If he needed to access what in fact were to him, as a Harvard student at the Ethics Center (!), unrestricted files, he didn't have to take a crowbar to the system, he could just log on and get the articles he needed for research.
BUT THAT WAS NOT HIS INTENT OR PURPOSE OR ACT. He accessed these unrestricted files in a way not intended by the managers of the system for the purpose of smashing the system. Duh!
This is just like Julian Assange's rational for WikiLeaks -- it's not really about whistleblowing and isn't whistleblowing and he himself explains this in his own writings and interviews; it is to smash the liberal state by making it clamp up and become unlike its open and democratic self, and therefore collapse. That this lovely notion isn't applied to the states that really need transparency and don't have it, like Russia, is only a function of the similarity of the anarchic hacker movement's goals and methods being similar to communist and post-communist authoritarian states -- they want to make sure that no one can use the Internet in any way except the way they, as hackers, decide -- or else.
This fast-talking tap-dancing that Anonymous does in lying about criminal acts like this is typical of everything they do. They wish to cover their criminality by trying to get the public to focus on some little piece of the event that might appear as "legitimate access". But they are lying about and obfuscating the purpose, which is to commit an anarchist act to smash the system.
Lessig, Doctorow, Barlow -- they're all for anarchy. They really want to smash this system. They work very hard at smashing it rhetorically and in various campaigns like "stop SOPA". They stop a little shy -- like Road Runner coming to a screeching halt right before the cliff -- of actually smashing. But they were happy to sic a young man like Swartz on the job or look the other way while he published his "guerilla manifesto" and swaggered around all the tech conferences bragging about how he would defeat the Man. As we know, Barlow dog-whistled to his followers in Anonymous and told them outright that they were the "foot soldiers in the war" and that they now knew what they had to do to defend WikiLeaks -- which they proceeded to do by hacking PayPal and Amazon. Barlow tried later to wriggle out of this and claim he meant they should just put up mirror sites and they "went too far" -- but his tap-dancing shuffle was not convincing.
Swartz did not access open files properly or legitimately -- he hacked into them by disguising his identity, making a fake account, and fraudulently downloading millions more files than were intended by the system, and through circumvention of the system.
YOU DON'T NEED A CROWBAR TO USE JSTOR
If you want to use JSTOR, it is open and free to use if you are a student of a university. Aaron Swartz was not merely needing to use JSTOR for research -- that was not his intent or his action.
JSTOR was in fact the wrong target if you were intending to go after "evil corporate greed" -- JSTOR is a nonprofit entity that gives away their content in large amounts for fees from universities that can afford it -- to cover their costs in digitalizing, maintaining, organizing, storing, providing, etc. the content. It's normal. The fees are not excessive. As this commenter closetothetruth Brian Bulkowski said under Lessig's post
I feel terribly bad for Aaron Swartz and his friends and family. As posted elsewhere here, I don't much agree with prosecutors throwing the books at him. But it is very hard for me to understand what principle or what freedom is represented by his actions, unless one believes that honest labor does not deserve honest pay. JSTOR made the materials it distributes (the digital copies of articles otherwise existing only in hard copy). It continues to add to the archive. It is a non-profit entity created by a consortium of universities and its purpose is to make materials available, and by any count those materials are much more available today than they were before JSTOR or would be without it.
It would be great if I could feel bad in the way that this Brian does -- then I'd fit in, then I'd be part of the commuuuunity. But I don't fit in and would never want to be any part of this immorality. I feel only a white-hot fury and intense revulsion at what I see Lessig, Doctorow, Barlow and all the others doing on two counts, as I wrote -- a) not having the courage of their convictions to really defend their cause (which I do not at all share) and defend this mascot for their cause who took it to their logical conclusion; b) having an immoral cause even in the first place that smashes civil society and human rights which I hold dear. It's wrong, wrong, wrong.
The "community" Aaron Swartz lived in and whom he was ostensibly "helping" had no need of this "liberation". Any one of them as a professor or student or member of a non-profit organization in many cases could access this material. The use case for "liberation" might be some one like me, not affiliated with any university, who still wants to study and learn. But I have no need of such "liberation" either -- I simply pay the fee. Or I go to a university library and explain my research and get help. What people often do is ask someone who is in a university to get them the PDF from JSTOR -- and JSTOR does not police this one-off sort of usage.
"THE PROPAGANDA OF THE DEED"
That's not what Aaron Swartz did. What he wanted to do was "make a point" and deliberately, defiantly downloaded *4 million* documents -- a huge trove, as he had criminally done with the PACER material and as Bradley Manning did with WikiLeaks. Like any anarchist or terrorist, he was out to make "the propaganda of the deed," that is, he wanted his deed not just for its own sake, but for the larger "message" it would send and viral resonance it would have.
It's exactly that sort of thing -- a deliberate and defiant and large-scale act of theft in criminal hacking -- that the authorities cannot play professor with and pretend we need linguistic lessons from Prof. Peter Ludlow. Because it's about upholding the rule of law, and as I keep pointing out, enabling all kinds of people to use the Internet freely, including by having walled gardens and pay walls if they desire to cover their costs and maintain their livelihoods!
Aaron Swartz only wanted to smash this capacity to privatize or commodify as "evil" -- as a technocommunist -- because he thought he was making "a better world". But it's not better when you don't have the freedom to have free enterprise, and you are coerced into collectivization by anarchists. That is totalitarianism, and that's what these people who support Swartz offer -- with themselves in charge.
A commenter in the New York Times named Michael Lissak summed up the problem as well -- that people who make moral crusades with stunts like this expect the prosecutor and judge to go along with their "civil disobedience" and concede that it was all just an interesting moral lesson:
I have just finished reading the entire court record (or at least the parts which are not under seal). It is clear that Aaron believed he had the right to do what he did and wanted the governments evidence that he did it struck from the record. It seems likely that his lawyers told him this approach was unlikely to succeed.
Aaron's mental health issues aside, there is a pattern of not being willing to take responsibility for one's own actions and then bearing the consequences. Like a professional athlete or a Hollywood star this young man seems to have been shielded from "reality: by well meaning friends who in sum were doing more harm than good.
Aaron's legal defense seems to be "but in my moral system this was a good thing." And it is exactly that defense strategy which demands a vigilant NO from the government. Having one's own moral code may play well to the Internet blog/twitter set, but if one is not prepared to accept responsibility for the consequences when that moral code conflicts with society's all that awaits is disaster.
The lesson from this is to stop coddling "genius, talent, or fame". These people are just that -- people -- and they too must learn to deal with the real world. Aaron Swartz should be a lesson to Lindsey Lohan and Charlie Sheen.
The government, MIT, and Carmen Ortiz have done NOTHING WRONG here. The tragedy is Aaron's. The loss is of Aaron. And the blame game needs to stop. Aaron did this to himself.
Yes, I agree Aaron has himself to blame, but he had clear-cut, established enablers -- Lessig, Doctorow, Barlow and others and the blame does have to be aportioned to them. The prosecutor is not to blame and must indeed act when there is a large-scale assault on the system like this. Not because there's some sort of corporate neoliberal blah-blah that "has' to be upheld -- that's how these posturing lefties paint it -- but because the rule of law has to serve the whole community and the Internet has to remain free for a variety of models of content to thrive on it. People need to get paid. It's okay to charge. Not everybody is a consultant to MIT on intellectual property (!) like Aaron Swartz's father, wealthy enough to send their wunderkind to Harvard.
"The Internet" set think that the system is corrupt and it's okay to smash it. I think they're corrupt because they smash, and the world they want to make with themselves in charge is a claustrophobic, unfree horror in any event.
As we saw, JSTOR eventually released 4 million documents. What ostensibly Aaron Swartz was fighting for (but wasn't really) might have been achieved non-coercively and non-violently without smashing systems -- with a letter campaign. Maybe just not as fast as the little tyrant wanted in his tantrum.
SUICIDE AS COERCION
I always view suicide as a tantrum, quite frankly -- or worse, a kind of coerciveness of everyone around -- not just friends and families and all those professors fretting and clucking who wouldn't go to the mat for him last year -- but all of society following this.
And all of Swartz's friends and family and supporters are playing along with this script now and trying to coerce us all into the mania. We're supposed to be guilt-tripped into accepting now that it's okay to hack computers and smash systems -- or else. We're supposed to be coerced into accepting the "liberation" of information online or else we are uncaring monsters. Sorry, not playing.
Suicides never impress me. I view them as cowards and manipulators; I view suicide as a sin, not victimhood. It's a deliberate act of torture of all those people who cared about you, sentencing them to a lifetime of torment and gnawing conscience and "what-ifs". How can you have any respect for anyone who does such a thing? I realize this runs contrary to all the modern psycho-babble; I don't care. An entire industry has sprung up of "helping profession" that want to "destigmatize" suicide and medicalize it and make it a disease as they do with so much else that represents a failure of will and morality in society, like drug addiction and alcoholism and pedophilia. I don't care how politically incorrect it is to point out that suicide is wrong; it hurts other people, and it is throwing an enormous tantrum to get your way. There is no humility in suicide; there is only self-aggrandizement.