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DoJ Admits Aaron Swartz's Prosecution Was Political 326

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-always-political dept.
An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from a blog post by Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, founder of corporate watchdog SumOfUs.org and partner of the late Aaron Swartz: "The DOJ has told Congressional investigators that Aaron's prosecution was motivated by his political views on copyright. I was going to start that last paragraph with 'In a stunning turn of events,' but I realized that would be inaccurate — because it's really not that surprising. Many people speculated throughout the whole ordeal that this was a political prosecution, motivated by anything/everything from Aaron's effective campaigning against SOPA to his run-ins with the FBI over the PACER database. But Aaron actually didn't believe it was — he thought it was overreach by some local prosecutors who didn't really understand the internet and just saw him as a high-profile scalp they could claim, facilitated by a criminal justice system and computer crime laws specifically designed to give prosecutors, however incompetent or malicious, all the wrong incentives and all the power they could ever want. But this HuffPo article, and what I’m hearing from sources on the Hill, suggest that that’s not true. That Ortiz and Heymann knew exactly what they were doing: Shutting up, and hopefully locking up, an extremely effective activist whose political views, including those on copyright, threatened the Powers That Be."
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DoJ Admits Aaron Swartz's Prosecution Was Political

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  • by apcullen (2504324) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:21AM (#43023381)
    It's not at all shocking that it was politically motivated. What's shocking is that they admitted it.
    • by oodaloop (1229816) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:41AM (#43023519)
      What would really be shocking is if anyone went to jail for this.
      • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:12AM (#43023819) Homepage Journal
        No, no. That's too shocking. That could never happen.
      • by fredrated (639554)

        My God, man, how could you even imagine that?

      • by alexo (9335)

        Is it time for mob justice yet?

    • by BigSlowTarget (325940) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:55AM (#43023667) Journal

      They didn't. They said an arguably political paper "played a role in the prosecution" . They don't consider the paper political or they don't consider it the whole motivation. It's a short paper, probably worth reading so you can make up your own mind how wrong they were.

      http://archive.org/stream/GuerillaOpenAccessManifesto/Goamjuly2008_djvu.txt

      • by bkaul01 (619795) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @12:01PM (#43024947)
        Exactly. In particular, what they said was that due to this manifesto of his, they believed that his intent was to make the documents he was downloading publicly available - that is, violate the copyright by redistributing them. In other words, he publicly said, "We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks," and was in the process of doing said downloading. They had reasonable cause to believe that his intention was to upload these papers to file sharing networks, in violation of the law, as stated in his manifesto. While his intention to break the law might have been "politically motivated," the prosecution was based on his stated intention to break additional laws, not on silencing his political beliefs.
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      you know what's worse than a conspiracy? a peon(prosecutor) who thinks there is a conspiracy and acting on as if there was one and as if he/she would be rewarded for being a dick in order to further that conspiracy.

      an actual conspiracy has planning and bullying schwartz didn't really help the powers that be at all.. yet the prosecution thought that for some fucked up reason they should do their thing. like a soldier committing mass murder of random people of some ethnic distinction because he thinks that's

    • by sycodon (149926)

      I didn't read anything suggesting that they admitted it.

      A HuffingtonPost (not exactly your objective source) article claimed that the DOJ "admitted it". This was picked up by the OP's cited source which then added its own spin:
      UPDATE #2: A DOJ official says (in the outlet “Broadcasting & Cable,” an odd choice if you ask me) that my characterization of the prosecution as “political” is inaccurate. No argument as to why or how, so color me unconvinced.

      So, biased source to biased so

    • by LateArthurDent (1403947) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @11:44AM (#43024747)

      It's not at all shocking that it was politically motivated. What's shocking is that they admitted it.

      They didn't. The blog post is a really biased interpretation of the article it is commenting upon.

      What was actually said is that the manifesto was taken into account because it was evidence of his intent to distribute the papers he downloaded. Now, I personally agree with Aaron's views, but if you consider the current copyright law just as it is, it's perfectly acceptable to use that manifesto as evidence that his motives was to commit widespread copyright violations. There's nothing political about it in the sense of "we need to shut this guy up." In the way the law is currently written, what he wanted to do is illegal. That's why Aaron himself called it civil disobedience in his manifesto.

      That said, the whole, "we can get you for a maximum sentence of 30 years, but we'll agree to a plea bargain of 3 months" is really bullshit, and I'd really like to see it go away. We all agree that 30 years for downloading and distributing some digital files is unacceptable, and the DoJ's excuse is, "well, we weren't really going to imprison him for that long. It was going to be 3 months, and his lawyer might even successfully argue for no jail time." That's not the point. The point is that the maximum sentence should be set to a reasonable value, so that it can't be used to blackmail someone into plea bargaining.

    • by lennier1 (264730)

      That level of honesty so soon usually means that someone was about to publish proof and they wanted to do damage control.

  • Naturally (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:21AM (#43023385)

    Of course they can admit it was political. There's no downside to this for them. They can't be successfully sued, and no one will ever be held personally responsible.

    "Yeah, we did it for political reasons. But, we didn't use a drone. It just turned out that our unreasonable tactics were extremely effective. And the taxpayers should be happy that they didn't get the bill for a large public trial."

  • by MRe_nl (306212) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:24AM (#43023407)

    "As the Americans learned so painfully in Earth's final century, free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. The once-chained people whose leaders at last lose their grip on information flow will soon burst with freedom and vitality, but the free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid slide into despotism. Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master".

            Commissioner Pravin Lal, "U.N. Declaration of Rights"

  • Sums it up ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:32AM (#43023477) Homepage

    But the terrifying fact I'm trying to highlight in this particular blog post is this: According to the DOJ's testimony, if you express political views that the government doesn't like, at any point in your life, that political speech act can and will be used to justify making "an example" out of you once the government thinks it can pin you with a crime.

    This is awful. The idea that copyright (and in fact ideas about copyright) should be enforced as vigorously as this is absurd.

    America has started doing show trials now of people who haven't committed crimes on the basis that their ideas are radical and dangerous?

    The copyright lobby has won, apparently. And doing anything contrary to their wishes will cause the government to go after you.

    Welcome to the oligarchy folks, it's all down from here. I'm not sure how free of a society you can be when commercial interests lead to something like this.

    • Re:Sums it up ... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:43AM (#43023533) Journal

      This is awful. The idea that copyright (and in fact ideas about copyright) should be enforced as vigorously as this is absurd.

      No, you're wrong. That's not what this is about.

      This is about a policy in which political propaganda is held above human life, liberty, rights, the law, everything. A policy by which goals are set and the rest is just a front. This is a government that lies to the people and that works against their interests, that fights against the will of change, that uses selective force of law and mock-law to suppress ideas and ideals.

      This is the same tyranny as gun control, global warming, and stem cell research: things we either can't know without major amounts of research or just can't know period, because the political views have covered up and even shaped the facts. Global warming is the biggest offender: we can cite stem cell research and see what was adult and embryonic, even though that's usually left out of casual activism (a lot of embryonic stem cell proponents point to "stem cell research" using adult stem cells); but with global warming, any research about the trends, the causes, and the impacts not following the political dogma is actively prevented as a first line of defense, and then picked apart and ridiculed by measures that would similarly debase current consensus. The same one-side slant is applied to everything, to varying degrees of effectiveness, regardless of whether the dogma is accurate with reality or completely fantastic.

      This is the same with copyright. The media and the government want to provide a slanted view of copyright, to ridicule and debase research contrary to their position, to hide all research that doesn't contradict but does show the other impacts (weak copyright DOES hurt business; but it also GREATLY improves the wealth of society by slipping works into the hands of consumers after a shorter time, and by reducing punishments to not be retaliatory and destructive but rather simply just). They have set out to destroy their opponents to cover the important facts that must be brought to the public mind.

      Hang them all.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by paiute (550198)
        Nice manifesto, but the truth is pretty simple. It's about the money. It's always about the money.
      • by stenvar (2789879)

        This is the same tyranny as gun control, global warming, and stem cell research: things we either can't know without major amounts of research or just can't know period, because the political views have covered up and even shaped the facts

        Welcome to the real world. However, the sky isn't falling. People still can buy guns, the US hasn't adopted stifling European-style global warming policies, and stem cell research is still legal. Fair use is still more liberal in the US than anywhere, and you're less likel

      • Re:Sums it up ... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by serviscope_minor (664417) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @11:37AM (#43024661) Journal

        This is the same tyranny as gun control, global warming, and stem cell research: things we either can't know without major amounts of research or just can't know period, because the political views have covered up and even shaped the facts.

        You're veering into lunacy with that one.

        Global warming is a fact (basically all respected scientists agree on this one). It is not a tyraanny, a political movement, conspiracy (either liberal or conservative) a policy or any other thing you may choose to accuse it of. It is a scientific fact. The global mean temperature is rising.

        Lots of people with an axe to grind like to pretend it's a political thing and that there is a political "dogma", but the science is pretty clear at this point.
        The fact is the fact. Politics surround it, but that does not change the nature of it.

    • by cpghost (719344)

      America has started doing show trials now of people who haven't committed crimes on the basis that their ideas are radical and dangerous?

      The concept isn't new. [youtube.com]

    • Welcome to the oligarchy folks, it's all down from here.

      In other breaking news, the Egyptian foreign minister just announced the completion of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:35AM (#43023489)

    Because so what if they admitted it? Is anyone going to be held responsible or punished for it? No. At most there might be a slap on the wrist (NOT for the prosecution, but for letting it get out of hand), then it will be business as usual.

    Remember, all the rules are there just for the plebs, not for the elites in the ruling class.

  • ironic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IT.luddite (1633703) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:35AM (#43023491)
    that the quote appearing at the bottom of the page is Mizner's:

    "If you steal from one author it's plagiarism; if you steal from many it's research."

    As someone mentioned, it's not shocking the prosecution was politically motivated but shocking that they admitted it. I'll add that it's also not shocking that they think they didn't do anything wrong!

    • by stenvar (2789879)

      Whether we tolerate computer fraud or not is a political choice. Whether we tolerate some kinds of copyright violations or not is a political choice. Whether we tolerate drug use or not is a political choice. Whether we tolerate illegal immigration or not is a political choice.

      The people elected a president and Congress that were clearly going to be tough on compute fraud and copyright violations, while they also elected a president that was going to be lenient on immigration. The DOJ translates those polit

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:44AM (#43023541)

    If you are innocent but a little dangerous the system overreacts and goes into bug squish mode. I didn't have the resources to defend myself without being driven to poverty, I am not too big or important to fail, the perfect target. My crime is being invited by a friends kid to give a first aid and rope safety class to some tree worshiping hippies after a fatality, that got me into the sights of a federal prosecutor as a enviro-terrorist. I found out thanks to a college friend in the prosecutors office. I am a natural born in the continental US citizen, fortunately with an inherited second passport, I had the resources to go expat rather than gamble what the feds would do with their new DHS/patriot act powers.
    Is my life good now, sure, but I still feel that I can not ever visit the US until there is massive change.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:49AM (#43023579)

    Remember when it came out, that the FBI actively worked with the banks, to forcibly (and illegally anyway) shut the movement down? They added agents provocateurs, false flag operations, and sowed the seed of conflict, to get them to fall apart.

    The *exact* same thing happened to Wikileaks.

    There's a highly active and highly powerful force in the USA, that shuts down everyone and everything that goes against he enforced groupthink or doesn't let them distract him.

    It's why there are no real other parties, why the media only focuses on two views that are virtually the same and are portrayed as the most extreme differences there could be, and it's especially the reason why there aren't constant riots and attempts to overthrow the dictatorial government, even though it's ripe since a looong time.

    The CIA, the FBI, Homeland Insecurity, the TSA, the NSA, and especially those most powerful government agencies no-one has ever heard of but which somehow are involved in everything. They're all part of it.

    And the people live in extreme schizophrenic denial, flee to the delusions of religion, the reality distortion of the "American dream", and the lies of the "free market".

  • by Theaetetus (590071) <theaetetus,slashdot&gmail,com> on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @09:50AM (#43023593) Homepage Journal
    DoJ Admits Aaron Swartz's prosecution was political! The DOJ has told Congressional investigators that Aaron's prosecution was motivated by his political views on copyright!

    ... but then you go to the article and see the quote and it's:

    A Justice Department representative told congressional staffers during a recent briefing on the computer fraud prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz that Swartz’s “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto” played a role in the prosecution, sources told The Huffington Post.

    Doesn't sound quite the same as "admitting it's political". In fact, let's see what the HuffPo said:

    The "Manifesto," Justice Department representatives told congressional staffers, demonstrated Swartz's malicious intent in downloading documents on a massive scale.

    ... yeah. Sorry, Submitter, but we mock that kind of Gotcha Journalism when Fox News or Breitbart twists someone's words to make a splashy headline, or when James O'Keefe does one of his out-of-context videos to smear Planned Parenthood.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Doesn't sound quite the same as "admitting it's political"

      Not until you get to the part about it being the only thing they had.

      How many files did he distribute? To whom?

  • by Yebyen (59663) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:00AM (#43023711) Homepage

    http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5284311 [ycombinator.com]

    The story was reported yesterday on Hacker News, and the headline on /. is just as sensational as it was in the other forum.

    There is no admission, and there is no source. The anonymous staffer who will not be named is some underling with no pull or sway, and nobody has resigned. He didn't even say what the headline claims he said.

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:14AM (#43023853) Journal

    "Politician admits obvious truth everyone knew already" ...really IS "news". /sigh /downfalloftherepublic

  • by tekrat (242117) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:41AM (#43024105) Homepage Journal

    And don't we have anti-bullying laws now?

    I mean seriously, these guys are getting away with what has now literally (and I'm using the term accurately) been defined as MURDER.

    Remember that case where another "private citizen" bullied some young girl over the internet, that young girl committed suicide, and then the bully was put on trial for her murder?

    So why is the prosecutor, who performed EXACTLY the same act, still walking free, and is probably still bullying others into killing themselves?

    Nice dual-justice system there, America.

  • Of course, the prosecution was motivated by his views on copyright, just like the prosecution of a pot grower is motivated by their views on growing pot. What people still don't seem to get is that the DOJ position represents the majority view of the elected representatives, both on copyright and on computer fraud.

  • by RichMan (8097) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @10:42AM (#43024115)

    I would not really call it a "political" detention, but rather a "coporate" detention. Views on copyright do not really reflect on political issues but rather on corporate profit issues.

    Sure copyrights and patent are part of the legal process of civil society decided by our politics. But in the end their purpose as defined in the laws that enact them is purely to drive a profit.

    Aaron Shwartz, death by corporate agenda.

  • After all, Hollywood spent a lot of money on Barack and they don't want to see their investment wasted.

  • It is surprising that they admit it after he killed himself. They could just have denied it. Nobody who cares would have been fooled but it was "plausibly" deniable.
  • ...so you deal with him as an idealogue. I happen to agree with Schwaz's ideology when it comes to open and free access to information, especially information that was accumulated via tax-funded research. My tax dollars are also funding those prosecutors, though -- I want to make sure that if they are going after an ideologue (even one that I happen to agree with) they aren't hampered in the process, because there are other ideologues out there that I would like to see swing if they (like Schwarz did) tri
  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@ya[ ].com ['hoo' in gap]> on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @12:09PM (#43025031) Homepage Journal

    But hey, lets just take an out of context quote written in one of the worse online 'papers'(Huffpoo) and simply believe it becasue it agrees with a unproven cognitive bias.
    It's a political view blog. Not journalism. Its' a non paid for blog.

    stupid stupid stupid.

    This shit pollutes the actual story.

  • Marty Weinberg, who took the case over from Good, said he nearly negotiated a plea bargain in which Swartz would not serve any time. “JSTOR signed off on it,” he said, “but MIT would not.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Swartz [wikipedia.org]

    http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/01/15/humanity-deficit/bj8oThPDwzgxBSHQt3tyKI/story.html?s_campaign=sm_tw [bostonglobe.com]

    • by LuYu (519260) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @02:36PM (#43026765) Homepage Journal

      An article I read said that MIT reacted to JSTOR complaints. It seems from what I have read that JSTOR wanted MIT to be the bad cop while they repeatedly made public statements about how they were willing to let him off. It appears that their PR people may have learned from the Adobe - Sklyarov [wikipedia.org] incident.

      In that case, Adobe initiated the case and actively pushed it until the public outcry hit. Then they quickly backed off and claimed they asked for his release. It is impossible to say what really goes on behind closed doors, but the fact that the DOJ refused to drop the case is telling. I have always believed that they backpedaled publicly but kept pushing for prosecution behind closed doors. That way, everything would be perfect: They would get to punish Sklyarov and also hoodwink the public into thinking they were good or at least not so bad.

      JSTOR was probably afraid of weathering the ire of the internet but still wanted him punished as an example. Pushing MIT to be the bad cop would accomplish this goal perfectly. MIT could take the heat, and JSTOR would get its crucifiction. Perfect.

  • by LuYu (519260) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @02:13PM (#43026571) Homepage Journal

    Why does the discussion always center around suicide and Aaron's courage or lack of it? It is now obvious that the Department of Injustice was actually out to get him. It is also now clear that they targeted him for his views and not his actions. Given these facts, how can we -- netizens, citizens of the USA, citizens of the world, humans... take your pick -- allow entities like JSTOR and PACER to continue to exist? And why are we not looking for the people who orchestrated this fiasco (as opposed to the lowly public servants who coldly executed their wishes in obvious contravention of their oaths of office and their duties to the Constitution and people of the US and the world)?

    Where are the executives of JSTOR who clandestinely pulled strings to bring on this relentless and unmerited legal assault? Why was the mysterious JSTOR "contact" who complained repeatedly to MIT officials and asked them to take action not identified? Directly or indirectly, JSTOR is responsible for this tragic death. When are they going to apologize or try to make things right? When is the information Aaron sought going to be available to us all? When are we going to ban JSTOR and PACER's theft from the public? When are JSTOR and PACER going to return their ill gotten gains to the people whose documents they stole?

    For those who will make the argument: Copying is not theft. Keeping people from accessing things they rightfully own or should have access to is. A car is stolen when the owner cannot use it anymore, not when the same model is produced again by the factory. The owners of these documents are all the members of the public. Denying access to anyone for any reason is theft.

  • by swb (14022) on Wednesday February 27, 2013 @05:21PM (#43028309)

    I think all prosecutions are political, in several dimensions.

    They're political because criminal law is political -- it is the outcome of a political process, legislative lawmaking.

    They're political because prosecutors are political; in many (most?) places in the US the county attorney is a directly elected position, and the person who wins that job has an inherently political mindset and at minimum a public constituency, and in practice, a much larger private constituency -- police, judges, politicians, etc. Even in situations where the position isn't directly elected, it's arguably more political because the positions are appointed by politicians and are often at an elevated political level (eg, assistant US attorney).

    And then there's the power political component -- prosecutorial power, is, like many forms a power more or less depending on how you exercise it. So there's an element of wanting to use prosecutorial power in a way that enhances it rather than detracts from it, and that generally means winning, so you pick easier targets.

  • I really wish somebody would just link to an original story. This may be Slashdot, where everyone is supposed to know about everything going on with copyright, but I can't be the only one who doesn't know off-hand what the story is with Aaron Swartz. I'm even at least 50% sure I am aware of this story, but the name alone doesn't bring the whole thing back. In the future, please, just a little reminder at least.

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.

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