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The Accidental Betrayal of Aaron Swartz 409

Posted by Soulskill
from the picking-sides-and-picking-battles dept.
theodp writes "The anarchist dictum when it comes to grand juries, explains Salon's Natasha Lennard, is a simple one: 'No one talks, everyone walks.' It's a lesson journalist Quinn Norton tragically learned only after federal prosecutors got her to inadvertently help incriminate Aaron Swartz, her dearest friend and then-lover. Convinced she knew nothing that could be used against Swartz, Norton at first cooperated with the prosecutors. But prosecutors are pro fishermen — they cast wide nets. And in a moment Norton describes as 'profoundly foolish,' she told the grand jury that Swartz had co-authored a blog post advocating for open data (the Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto), which prosecutors latched onto and spun into evidence that the technologist had 'malicious intent in downloading documents on a massive scale.' Norton sadly writes, 'It is important the people know that the prosecutors manipulated me and used my love against Aaron without me understanding what they were doing. This is their normal. They would do this to anyone. We should understand that any alleged crime can become life-ruining if it catches their eyes.' Consider yourself forewarned."
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The Accidental Betrayal of Aaron Swartz

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  • by gatkinso (15975) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:24PM (#43083959)

    Say absolutely nothing. Every single work spoken to them will come from your lawyers mouth.

  • by dyingtolive (1393037) <brad,arnett&notforhire,org> on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:28PM (#43083997)
    If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of dude's girlfriends, I will find something in them which will get him to hang himself.
  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:33PM (#43084081) Homepage

    Police: So, which way did the mugger run?
    You: ...
    Police: Hello? Can you talk?
    You: ...
    Police: Don't you want to get your wallet back?
    You: ...
    Police: Eh, fuck it. I'll be at the donut shop.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:34PM (#43084091) Journal

    I didn’t know anything the prosecution cared about, and I thought that maybe I could talk Steve [Heymann, the lead prosecutor] out of the prosecution, or at least into not being so harsh. This was so obviously a ridiculous application of justice, I thought. If I just had the chance to explain, maybe this would all go away. My lawyers told me this was possible. They nursed this idea. They told me Steve wanted to meet me, and they wanted me to meet him. They wanted to set up something called a proffer — a kind of chat with the prosecution.

    Perhaps you should have spoken with Aaron's lawyers?

    The anarchist dictum when it comes to grand juries, explains Salon's Natasha Lennard, is a simple one: 'No one talks, everyone walks.'

    Isn't this just called "The Prisoner's Dilemma [wikipedia.org]"? Or will I be downmodded for using the word "prisoner" -- too harsh for the Aaron Swartz case?

    In a moment Norton describes as “profoundly foolish” she told the grand jury that Swartz had co-authored a blog post advocating for open data. As we now know, his Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto was used by prosecutors as evidence that the technologist had “malicious intent in downloading documents on a massive scale.”

    So did he write it or not? I mean, he was twenty six years old and at some point you have to start being responsible for your actions. Norton is blaming herself for telling someone about something that Swartz wrote? I mean, at what point was he going to stand up and say proudly "This is my cause and I'm not afraid to stand up for it"? Yeah, if you write stuff that talks about breaking the law and then you are investigated for breaking such laws -- that of course is going to be used as motive!

    Political activism is apparently not for people who are clinically depressed. What is supposed to change here? Are prosecutors not supposed to seek a motive when they have a suspect? When someone we do want to go to jail like an embezzler writes an e-mail to his wife about his embezzlement, are prosecutors not supposed to turn the screws on her to get that information? I don't get it! What is Norton blaming herself for? Why write it if you don't believe it and why break the laws that you think are unjust if you're not prepared to challenge them in court?

    Did he write it? Was it pertinent to the case? Then what's the problem here? Who betrayed who? Would you rather have prosecutors with hands tied when they need to prove that someone planned to break a law by discovering what they were writing prior to their alleged crimes? Is that not his name at the bottom of the manifesto?

    I'm sorry he decided to take his own life and it sickens me that the Slashdot group think is that doing so was his only logical choice. But at some point you have to take the mittens off and stop beating up other people for Aaron Swartz's own words and actions. Political activism is not a place for fragile people who can't handle a book being thrown at them. We celebrate those who stood up to and challenged the governments and did so without resorting to taking their own lives or others'.

  • by wordsnyc (956034) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:38PM (#43084167) Homepage

    by every lawyer she encountered. Swartz's family pleaded with her not to talk to them. She was an arrogant fool.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:38PM (#43084175)

    You make the hugely false assumption that a cop would give a mother fuck about a mugger or a person's wallet. Seriously dude....

  • by fermion (181285) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:39PM (#43084185) Homepage Journal
    There is a good video about why you should never talk to the police. Look it up on youtube.

    Basically the police are, as the kids say, 'incentivized' to closed cases and get the collar. There is not enough incentive to insure the criminal is caught, especially for cases where the jury is not going to understand the case and convict on the basis that the police said the suspect did it.

    Police are much better at this than any civilian. There is a reason why we have a right to legal representation, and why we should always get it. There is a reason why on TV procedurals the cops are always trying to keep the lawyers away. Remember, anything you say can be used against you in a court of law.

    Just look at the so-called cannibal cop. No evidence that he it is anything other than fantasy, yet he is on trial for conspiracy. Or the kid who was conned into plotting to detonate a bomb by the FBI. He was an impressionable kid, with the same delusions of grandeur of any other kid. (And for those who say he was not a kid, then why can't an adult drink until 21?). He was manipulated by expert government personell into doing something illegal in the same way that many other kids are manipulated into doing illegal things by the religious fanatics. There was no cry for justice here, just some people trying to get a reputation for conviction.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:39PM (#43084189)

    Probably the best policy.
    Lest they find you guilty of something unrelated.

    The police are not your friend.

  • Re:Cops too. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:56PM (#43084397)

    MOD PARENT UP.
    Don't Talk To Cops is the most informative video to grace the pages of Youtube.

  • Re:Cops too. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:56PM (#43084401)

    It's supposed to be an adversarial system: The prosecution tries to prove guilt, the defense tries, if not to prove innocence, then at least to show that guilt cannot be proven. A neutral party then listens to the arguments from both sides and decides who has the stronger argument.

    The problem is that the prosecution has a very strong incentive to get a conviction, even if that means not playing fair: They have every reason to manipulate, intimidate, hide evidence, outright lie to the defendant, seize everything they possibly can on any grounds and seal bank accounts so the defendant cannot afford a competent defense, and in general do anything and everything they can in order to secure a conviction: Because their job is no longer to search for the truth: Their job is to get that conviction. Their careers depend upon it.

  • by DocSavage64109 (799754) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:58PM (#43084425)

    They might be temporary allies, but not friends.

    Understood.

    My dad used to be a public defender, and It's interesting to me how nearly every tv show demonizes public defenders, and gives halos to the police. Granted you can't really trust a lawyer any more than anyone else (including police), but we are all just people here.

  • by xappax (876447) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @06:00PM (#43084445)

    When you're called before a Grand Jury in the US, you don't have the right to remain silent. The prosecution can effectively force you to answer questions, and if you refuse, you can be jailed for years.

    It's still good advice to say absolutely nothing, but it's not as simple as most of you seem to believe. By saying nothing, you are condemning yourself to jail.

    This is why pretty much only anarchists refuse to cooperate with Grand Juries, because they have a fundamental ideological opposition to the legal system and will never cooperate with the prosecution, even when their right not to cooperate is suspended. It's one thing to legally exercise your rights, it's another to be willing to go to jail for them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @06:12PM (#43084613)

    I have two three letter phrases for you: "I don't know" "I don't remember" . Remember those, and you set the bar high even where they may not come after you in a worst case scenario because of the psychological aspect. However, this obviously doesn't work for is this color red or blue type questions. But on something like did you hear 1 gun shot or 2? Wtf are they gonna do, tell you you're wrong on what you thought you heard?

  • Re:Cops too. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @06:13PM (#43084629)

    Thank you, I came in here to post these videos.

    The only information to give to the police is your lawyer's name. Ideally, let your lawyer tell them that too.

  • by Marful (861873) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @06:14PM (#43084645)
    If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.

    ~Attributed to Cardinal Richelieu.

    When it comes to criminal investigations in America, there is nothing you can ever say that will help your case. The only thing you can do is make it worse. The best bit of advice is to shut the fuck up and lawyer up.
  • Naivete kills !! (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @06:21PM (#43084739) Journal

    Convinced she knew nothing that could be used against Swartz, Norton at first cooperated with the prosecutors.

    When I read the line above I already knew the story
     
    This "Quinn Norton" calls herself a "journalist", a person whose job supposedly provide her the insight that people can pick up clues from what you said, no matter how you say it, or how much you have disclosed, and also from what you didn't say
     
    Equipped with that knowledge, she was still convinced that she knew nothing that could be used against her lover, Mr. Swartz?
     
    Oh, c'mon, don't give us that !!!
     
    She has screwed up, she knew it. Now what "Quinn Norton" is trying desperately to do is to "clear her name", and she is trying to push all the blames on to the prosecutors.
     
    I am not saying that the prosecutors are not responsible for what happened to Mr. Swartz, they do. But Ms. Norton herself ought to be brave enough to admit that because of her own fucked up cocky attitude that led her to think that she could outsmart the prosecutors (and that she talked)
     
    Ms. Quinn Norton is a contributor, whether she likes it or not, to Mr. Swartz's ultimate tragic demise

  • Re:We Know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @06:35PM (#43084917)

    Or more accurately:
    1. Don't ever commit a crime serious enough to be worth the time it'd take the police to arrest and charge you.
    and
    2. Don't ever annoy any person who has enough money and/or influence to make the million and one minor crimes you can't help suddenly become worth the time.

    Swartz did both of these: He commited a crime, but the crime in itsself would likely have resulted in only a slap-on-the-wrist punishment, unless the offended party really pressed - the downloading was a civil matter, copyright infringement, and he did actually have authorised access. His 'hacking' was just finding a way to shift more data. But he'd also established himself as a troublemaker, an anti-government activist with a history of making trouble for the state, and so someone decided to throw the book at him.

    You can also look at, say, David Kernell - he who hacked Sarah Palin's email, revealing to the world a couple of minor scandals, though nothing huge. If he had hacked my email, or yours (Assuming you are, like me, a no-one) than asking the police to bother tracking him down would just get you laughed out of the station. But Palin was a person of influence, and even though the attacked account was personal and should have held nothing of any role in government whatsoever*, her role as a person of influence was enough to get the police to launch a full investigation, track him down, and sentence him to a year and a day in jail. The extra day, I gather, is something to do with a condition relating to rehabilitation that only applies to sentences of one year or less. But IANAL, so I'm not really sure how that bit works.

    *Using the account for government business would actually have been a criminal offense on Palin's part, Kernell hacked in to see if she was. Turned out he was half-right: She had indeed been using the account for official business, but only the most minor and inane of matters.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @06:36PM (#43084933)

    Because she admitted he wrote a blog post? She didn't do anything. The fact that they could use that against him is a fault of the judicial system.

  • Re:Cops too. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShakaUVM (157947) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @06:56PM (#43085201) Homepage Journal

    >>The problem is that the prosecution has a very strong incentive to get a conviction, even if that means not playing fair: They have every reason to manipulate, intimidate, hide evidence, outright lie to the defendant, seize everything they possibly can on any grounds and seal bank accounts so the defendant cannot afford a competent defense, and in general do anything and everything they can in order to secure a conviction: Because their job is no longer to search for the truth: Their job is to get that conviction. Their careers depend upon it.

    Right. And it's asymmetrical. If the defense offered some schlub in their corporation a million dollars to testify that they never saw any criminal wrongdoing inside of Enron, or whatever, this would be illegal.

    But when a US Attorney does bribery, it's called a "plea bargain". They can come into a corporation, threaten some random joe with life in prison unless they testify against their boss, and then surprise, surprise! All this damning evidence magically appears against the boss, much of which is probably made-up, but impossible to prove. "Oh, yes, Mr. Jones once told me he'd go to jail if this scheme was found out!"

    Unfortunately, there was a lawsuit on this very issue, and the justices ruled that this wasn't bribery, because if it was bribery, the legal system would fall apart.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @07:05PM (#43085325) Homepage

    Can't be said enough.

    The police are NOT our friends. They have their job. Their job descriptions make every one of us a suspect at every moment of every day. Our ridiculous legal system makes us guilty of something or anything at any given moment of every day. If you open your mouth at all, you have already said too much. This is not an exaggeration.

    If we want a system where the police are not our adversaries, we should create a means by which advancement is measured not by the number of tickets or criminals arrested, but by how few and by how much, in theory, crime has been reduced. One approach makes them seek out criminals often confusing innocents while the other approach makes them more careful before they even classify something as a crime at all!

  • by xevioso (598654) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @07:21PM (#43085527)

    The correct translation of the video is "Don't talk to cops when they suspect you of something."

    Somehow, in the warped world of many of the anti-cop posters here, this gets warped into "Don't talk to cops for any reason whatsoever."

    Q. "Hey dude, I'm Officer McIlroy...this guy just stole an old lady's handbag and knocked her to the ground. Quick, did you see which way she went?"
    A. "I want my lawyer."

    Q. "So you have come to report your car was stolen. Approximately what time did you notice it missing?"
    A. "I want my lawyer."

    Q. "You are calling to report your house was broken into and your computer was stolen?"
    A. "Yes, but I want my lawyer."

    Q. "Everyone remain calm...we need everyone to evacuate the building. There's a fire in the basement. Follow us, we will lead you to safety."
    A. "I want my lawyer."

    Q. "So your ex-boyfriend reached into your car window, grabbed your Bichon Frise and tossed it into oncoming traffic? That's horrible! Where does your ex-boyfriend live? We will go get him."
    A. "I want my lawyer."

    If you believe the "only correct answer" is "I want my lawyer" in the above scenarios, then you deserve whatever crimes befall you. Grow up.

  • by xevioso (598654) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @07:31PM (#43085659)

    This is just dumb. There are countless cops, all over the country, all over the world in fact, who will try to help you if you have been a victim of a crime. This stupid cynical response is the bane of our society at the moment. SOME cops are bad. And you shouldn't talk to one if they are suspicious of you.

    But if you think the average cop is going to be suspicious of a little old lady who reports that a mugger just knocked her over and took her handbag, you are a complete tool. Come back to REALITY.

  • Re:Cops too. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @07:49PM (#43085929)

    It's a stupid video. The gist of the video is "Don't talk to cops if they suspect you of something."

    If you have been assaulted, the cops will generally try to help you if they can. If your response when your car is stolen is to not talk to the cops to report your car stolen, then you are a complete fool.

    Oh, it's you. Yes, you.

    You're that guy who interprets things in the most retarded way possible. Then you call somebody else a fool because you think they will interpret it in the most retarded way possible like you did.

    Seems there's at least one of you in every conversation. Tell me, does this make your empty, meaningless life feel any better? When you posted that, did you feel just a fleeting split-second of self-worth, like maybe you were actually smarter or better than somebody else? You know that's why you are doing this, right?

    Because let me tell you, nobody else interpreted "don't talk to cops" as "don't talk to cops when you want their help". The context of "when they are trying to incriminate you" was obvious -- it was obvious because that's the only way the statement makes sense. But you're That Guy. That Guy never figures this out. No, instead, That Guy assumes "hey the statement only makes sense this one way -- I bet they're all so stupid that they interpreted it some other way!" Yes, if only we were all as smart as you.

    You are like a termite that eats away at the rafters of adult conversation everywhere.

  • by timholman (71886) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @08:48PM (#43086697)

    Convinced she knew nothing that could be used against Swartz, Norton at first cooperated with the prosecutors.

    When I read the line above I already knew the story

    After reading her story, all I can say is that she and Swartz made the same mistake: being stupid enough to believe that they were smart enough to outwit a determined adversary with almost unlimited resources.

    Prisons are full of people with that attitude. It doesn't matter if you're smarter than the guy across the table from you. You won't be smarter than a roomful of people just like him who are working together to take you down.

    I am not saying that the prosecutors are not responsible for what happened to Mr. Swartz, they do.

    Aaron Swartz is responsible for what happened to Aaron Swartz. Yes, the Feds played hard and dirty, but they didn't invent those tactics with Swartz. When you taunt a rattlesnake, you don't blame the rattlesnake for doing what a rattlesnake does when it bites you.

    Aaron Swartz deliberately set out to commit an act of civil disobedience without thinking through the consequences. According to Norton, Swartz desired a career in politics (another indication of his naivete; I could hardly think of anyone less suited for it), and was deathly afraid of what a felony conviction would do to his prospects. Yet instead of keeping his nose squeaky clean (particularly given his interactions with the Feds after the PACER incident), he pulled a stunt that put him squarely in their sights once again. Did he even think to talk to a lawyer before he started downloading the JSTOR database? Apparently not. His ego and his hubris were his downfall.

    But Ms. Norton herself ought to be brave enough to admit that because of her own fucked up cocky attitude that led her to think that she could outsmart the prosecutors (and that she talked)

    Unfortunately, Swartz pulled her into his mess the moment he called her up for bail money. The fact that he failed to even anticipate the possibility of arrest, and make provisions beforehand, shows just how dumb a smart person can be.

    I also had to laugh when I read Norton's account of how she "outwitted" and "infuriated" the prosecutors during her grand jury testimony. She should spend more time around lawyers, and watch how their courtroom "rage" gets turned on and off like a switch. They won the game just by making her life miserable, and making sure Swartz knew about it. Getting an indictment from the grand jury would have just been icing on the cake for them.

    But frankly I think she should stop kicking herself for telling the Feds about the manifesto. It was a public document, for God's sake. Swartz was a jerk for blaming her for talking about something he was supposedly proud to put his name to. Everyone is looking for someone to blame, but she did the best she thought she could with a situation she had no control over.

    This is a sad, sad case of two smart people who simply weren't nearly as smart as they thought they were. If nothing else, Swartz's death may at least cause some other starry-eyed idealist to think twice before he or she kicks the hornets' nest.

  • by king neckbeard (1801738) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @12:32AM (#43088893)
    There is sometimes a reasonable risk in reporting something, especially if you are someone the cop is going to suspect and you engage in behavior a cop doesn't find kosher, such as being out late. Little old ladies are not typically profiled, but if you are the type to be profiled, it's worth consideration, especially if it's a crime with no reasonable chance of being solved.
  • by mdielmann (514750) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @01:16AM (#43089195) Homepage Journal

    Aaron Swartz is responsible for what happened to Aaron Swartz. Yes, the Feds played hard and dirty, but they didn't invent those tactics with Swartz. When you taunt a rattlesnake, you don't blame the rattlesnake for doing what a rattlesnake does when it bites you.

    But I can blame people for behaving like rattlesnakes, and a government for supporting that behavior..

  • by pantaril (1624521) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @05:12AM (#43090313)

    Aaron Swartz is responsible for what happened to Aaron Swartz. Yes, the Feds played hard and dirty, but they didn't invent those tactics with Swartz. When you taunt a rattlesnake, you don't blame the rattlesnake for doing what a rattlesnake does when it bites you.

    You entire post sounds like what Aaron did (the JSTOR database publication, not the suicide) was wrong and no one should ever follow him. When we think some law is unjust, we should not challenge it, because the rattlesnake goverment could bite us, we should just stay quiet and swallow it up. Is it what you are trying to say?

    I cannot agree with this. People need to challenge things they don't agree with. The evil in this case is the prosecutor and the law which enabled him to buly and threat Aaron with charges of up to 30 years in prison for act with no or minimal damages. Let's not forget this.

  • by timholman (71886) on Wednesday March 06, 2013 @10:07AM (#43091951)

    You entire post sounds like what Aaron did (the JSTOR database publication, not the suicide) was wrong and no one should ever follow him. When we think some law is unjust, we should not challenge it, because the rattlesnake goverment could bite us, we should just stay quiet and swallow it up. Is it what you are trying to say?

    No, that is not what I'm trying to say, or what I said in my post.

    I strongly support efforts to roll back increasingly onerous changes in copyright law. (FYI, I want U.S. copyright to go back to the original 28 year limits, and I want to see software patents eliminated.) I can also admire people who commit acts of civil disobedience, even if I don't necessarily agree with their points of view.

    The problem is that what Swartz did was not an act of civil disobedience. It was a self-aggrandizing publicity stunt. The entire point of civil disobedience is to admit to what you did and be punished by the authorities in order to publicize what you believe is an unjust law. Had Swartz accepted that initial plea bargain for the single felony conviction, and then read his manifesto to the court during his sentencing, then people would have at least admired his courage and idealism, even if they didn't agree with what he advocated.

    Instead, Swartz blamed other people for the mess he got himself into, including his own girlfriend, whom he should have known better than to involve in the first place. The JSTOR publication was a poorly planned ego trip that blew up in Swartz's face, and that is what I disapprove of. It accomplished nothing except to ruin peoples' lives, particularly that of Aaron Swartz.

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