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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 @04:24PM (#43083959)

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

    • 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.
    • Cops too. (Score:5, Informative)

      by naroom (1560139) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:36PM (#43084131)

      The job of police and prosecutors is to establish guilt. They are not there to help you. They are there to harm you in any way they can. Do not talk to them at all if you can avoid it.

      Don't Talk To Cops [youtube.com] is a video detailing exactly how someone who is PURELY INNOCENT can have their words twisted to prove their "guilt". If you have not watched this, watch it. Make your kids watch it too.

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

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:56PM (#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 @04:56PM (#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.

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

          by ShakaUVM (157947) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:56PM (#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.

        • "It's supposed to be an adversarial system"

          No, it isn't. That's the case when two private parties litigate each other.

          "The prosecution tries to prove guilt, the defense tries, if not to prove innocence, then at least to show that guilt cannot be proven."

          No, that's not the way it's supposed to work. Defense tries within the legal boundaries to get the best possible outcome for their defendent no matter what.

          BUT (a very big and very important but), prosecution is not a kind of specular antagonist of the def

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

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

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

        by cffrost (885375) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @08:07PM (#43086915) Homepage

        Don't Talk To Cops [youtube.com] is a video detailing exactly how someone who is PURELY INNOCENT can have their words twisted to prove their "guilt". If you have not watched this, watch it. Make your kids watch it too.

        Another good video, produced by Flex Your Rights and ACLU, is entitled BUSTED: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters. [youtube.com] It discusses home visits, traffic stops, and Terry stops. [wikipedia.org]

        The Flex Your Rights YouTube channel [youtube.com] currently hosts 83 videos covering various situations, with recommendations for handling them.

    • by fermion (181285) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:39PM (#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 xevioso (598654) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @06:21PM (#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.

        • I get where you are coming from, but how do you know the cop doesn't think you did these things? Cops will also lie and say they are investigating someone else.

          What can happen is you end up with a basic societal break down. When cops are allowed to lie or distort to get evidence, you lose the ability to talk to them.

          To a large extent that has happened in some communities, these types of tactics destroy the police's relationship with the community. It is very serious and I would rather a few criminals esc

    • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:57PM (#43084405) Journal

      You can't actually do this. Grand juries can compel testimony. There are people in prison right now [wsws.org] for refusing to testify in front of grand juries. And because it's considered civil contempt, you get no trial, no appeal.

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

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        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?

    • by Looker_Device (2857489) * on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:07PM (#43084545)

      My father, who was the most straight-laced, church-going guy you would ever meet, once told me that if I ever got into trouble and got arrested that the one and *only* thing I was to say to police was "I won't speak to you without my lawyer present." It was pretty shocking to me that my Ned Flanders-esque dad would give me that kind of advice. But the older and more experienced I get, the more I realize that this is exactly the same advice I'm going to give to my son (after telling him to try to avoid getting into trouble to begin with, of course).

    • by erroneus (253617) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @06:05PM (#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!

  • This is surprising? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    What's that line that's been repeatedly drummed into our heads?

    "Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law"

    • by lucm (889690)

      I prefer: "loose lips shink ships" or "snitches get stitches"

    • "Anything you say can and will be used against you..."

      And, apparently, your friends and family as well.

  • Obligatory (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:30PM (#43084025)

    Don't Talk To Police [youtube.com]

  • if a cop or DA wants to talk to you about something you did or if you don't know why understand that you are not talking your way out of something, they are collecting evidence against you or someone else. Most of the time is not in your interests to talk to the cops or prosecutors.
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:34PM (#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 h4rr4r (612664)

      What you say might be used against you, but there is no need for your friends to make the DAs job any easier.

    • by jythie (914043)
      Yeah, but many activists (and those who support them) are really not prepared for how far interested parties are willing to go to teach them a lesson. Many do not find out unti too late how minor (or non) crime can be turned into life destroying elements if they say the wrong thing publicly... many just think '1st amendment' and assume that the people charged with enforcing the laws actually play by them.
    • by Hatta (162192)

      We celebrate those who stood up to and challenged the governments and did so without resorting to taking their own lives or others'.

      We also celebrate those who sacrificed their lives for their causes. Whether it's Aaron Swartz or Mohamed Bouazizi, these people deserve to be honored.

  • by scorp1us (235526) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:35PM (#43084107) Journal

    Don't talk to he police [youtube.com] I was shocked when I watched this.

    • Oh come on. Why discriminate based on someone's birthday?

      Sorry for getting worked up about this, but - I'm a Leo.

  • by wordsnyc (956034) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:38PM (#43084167) Homepage

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

    • Not your friend, your family, people you've known all your life. There will be no one you can trust because anyone can be pressured to turn against you with enough threats against them. To trust anyone would put them in greater risk of being pressured and being destroyed too.

  • by Niris (1443675) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:41PM (#43084211)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wXkI4t7nuc [youtube.com]

    Something I watched a couple years ago, and I think still holds true on the idea of never talking to the police.
    • by Niris (1443675)
      So... looks like I got beat to it. This is the same link as a couple above. Move along, move along.
      • Hey, man, nothing wrong with increasing awareness.

  • by lucm (889690)

    On tv they have those cops shows where they play good cop / bad cop or lie to the suspect in order to get information or a confession. As valued spectators we only get to see the times these methods are used to catch a pedophile or stop a nuclear bomb, but in real life this is how it's done all the time. One should keep this in mind when dealing with po-po.

  • by Comrade Ogilvy (1719488) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @04:47PM (#43084303)

    Aaron was furious. He told me not to meet Steve. But no one, including Aaron, would tell me why. No one would tell me even how to get out of it. And still I had an unshakable belief that if I could just somehow explain all this it would go away. I delayed once, too sick to go. My lawyers told me Steve was furious at my medical delay. I might be arrested. I told Aaron, and others, that I wanted to talk to Steve human to human.

    Never talking is not necessarily practical. But the problem is not recognizing that once something progresses to a certain point a "human to human" talk is never ever ever going to stop an investigation or prosecution. They were way past that point. That is where they get you: when you believe a human tale will persuade while they are looking for mis-steps that will hang you and all your friends.

    The prosecution only hesitates when sources of evidence completely dry up. Talking encourages the prosecution.

    These lawyers were giving ineffective counsel, even though they were probably thinking that they could get her immunity for her cooperation and testimony.

    • by elucido (870205)

      Aaron was furious. He told me not to meet Steve. But no one, including Aaron, would tell me why. No one would tell me even how to get out of it. And still I had an unshakable belief that if I could just somehow explain all this it would go away. I delayed once, too sick to go. My lawyers told me Steve was furious at my medical delay. I might be arrested. I told Aaron, and others, that I wanted to talk to Steve human to human.

      Never talking is not necessarily practical. But the problem is not recognizing that once something progresses to a certain point a "human to human" talk is never ever ever going to stop an investigation or prosecution. They were way past that point. That is where they get you: when you believe a human tale will persuade while they are looking for mis-steps that will hang you and all your friends.

      The prosecution only hesitates when sources of evidence completely dry up. Talking encourages the prosecution.

      These lawyers were giving ineffective counsel, even though they were probably thinking that they could get her immunity for her cooperation and testimony.

      Talking to them on their terms is stupid.

  • "anything you say CAN AND WILL be used against you (and others)"

    Obviously not.

  • they are looking for criminal behaviors, so they talk to people about it.

  • Lessons learned (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gnujoshua (540710) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:13PM (#43084635) Homepage
    I too was subpoenaed [archive.org] (note I redacted two names) for evidence and to testify before the grand jury that indicted Aaron. They were certainly fishing for a lot of information relating to Guerrilla Open Access. I'm not sure there was much that either Quinn or I could do to prevent the indictment. Although, I can say that on an emotional level rationalizing about the situation doesn't make it suck any less knowing that the evidence and testimony I provided was probably bastardized and used against him. Maybe I'll write up more about the whole thing some time.
  • by Marful (861873) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @05:14PM (#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.
  • by 0111 1110 (518466) on Tuesday March 05, 2013 @07:20PM (#43086339)

    Generally speaking a police officer is indistinguishable from a criminal gang member. If you are going to do something you would not do in the presence of a gang member you might want to think twice about it. Again, ask yourself the question,"Is this something I would do if I were being detained by a violent street gang member with a gun?"

    Any form of challenge, disagreement, lack of cooperation, hostility, anger, or anything that could be interpreted even as the most mild form of disrespect is highly dangerous. These are people who are often completely amoral sociopaths. They will not feel guilt or remorse about injuring or killing you or anyone else. They could frame you for even the most serious of crimes and not feel even a hint of guilt afterward. Whether a particular cop happens to interpret silence as disrespect depends on the individual in question. Some will and some won't. It's a roll of the dice. Same as with an armed street gang member.

    If the cop dealing with you looks mean or violent or angry you may have no choice but to answer if you want to avoid a long hospital stay or getting zipped up in a body bag or just old fashioned brain damage. Keep in mind that some cops simply will not take no for an answer. They may keep repeating the question until they get worked up enough to throw you down or start choking you or beating you or using their tazer on you until you comply. You have to know when to change tactics by dropping the assumption that they will obey the law. In this case trying to answer their questions without incriminating yourself is the key. Keep in mind that the cops can claim that you said a particular thing and a jury is more likely to believe him than you. They don't really need you to confess to a crime. They can do that for you and will not mind it. They are used to lying in court all the time and their police reports are often more fiction than fact. This is the unfortunate reality. Most people don't realize it until they or someone they know are thrown into the system themselves. Even then few people truly want to believe it.

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