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MIT Warned of a JSTOR Death Sentence Due To Swartz 390

theodp writes "The NY Times takes a look at how MIT ensnared Aaron Swartz, but doesn't shed much light on how the incident became a Federal case with Secret Service involvement. Still, the article is interesting with its report that 'E-mails among M.I.T. officials that Tuesday in January 2011 highlight the pressures university officials felt' from JSTOR, which is generally viewed as a good guy in the incident. From the story: 'Ann J. Wolpert, the director of libraries, wrote to Ellen Finnie Duranceau, the official who was receiving JSTOR's complaints: "Has there ever been a situation similar to this when we brought in campus police? The magnitude, systematic and careful nature of the abuses could be construed as approaching criminal action. Certainly, that's how JSTOR views it."' Less than a week later, a Google search reveals, Duranceau notified the MIT community that immediate changes to JSTOR access had to be made lest the University be subjected to a JSTOR 'death sentence.' 'Because JSTOR has recently reported excessive, systematic downloading of articles at MIT,' the post warned, 'we need to add a new layer of access control. This is the only way to prevent recurrence of the abuse and therefore the only way to ensure ongoing access to this valuable resource for the MIT Community.' The post concludes, 'The incidents that prompted this change involved the use of a robot, which is prohibited by JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use. ...Continued access to JSTOR and other resources is dependent on the MIT Community complying with these policies.' Hope you enjoyed that freewheeling culture while it lasted, kids — now Everything is a Crime."
theodp continues " MIT's Wolpert, who was recently named to an advisory board for JSTOR parent Ithaka, also chairs the Management Board of the MIT Press, where her reports from 2008-2010 included JSTOR Managing Director Laura Brown and MIT's Hal Abelson, adding another twist to Abelson's analysis of MIT's involvement in the Swartz tragedy."
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MIT Warned of a JSTOR Death Sentence Due To Swartz

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  • Three Felonies a Day (Score:5, Informative)

    by CuteSteveJobs ( 1343851 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @06:49AM (#42655295)
    > The decision whether to charge a defendant, and with what -- is almost entirely discretionary. ... > Hope you enjoyed that freewheeling culture while it lasted, kids — now Everything is a Crime."

    Once to be charged with a crime there needed to be a criminal intent. No longer. There are so many ridiculous laws on the books now that you can't be a citizen without breaking some laws, and zealous prosecutors can pluck those laws out of obscurity to target anyone the don't like, or even just choose some unlucky sap they pick on to boost their career.

    There's a good book by ex-FBI cop & criminal lawyer Dale Carson who explains these people have run out of big time criminals to prosecute, and so now the justify their existence by filling jails with poor saps who meet this criteria, or they would be laying off cops, judges and prisoners for lack of business: []

    Here's a real life case where US officials made life hell for a California marine biologist for no other reason than they have big swinging dicks and they could: []

    This has been going on for a long time. Aaron is the first person to draw it to the wider public attention: "Legions of government lawyers inundate targets with discovery demands, producing financial burdens that compel the innocent to surrender in order to survive. Silverglate, a civil liberties lawyer in Boston, chillingly demonstrates how the mad proliferation of federal criminal laws — which often are too vague to give fair notice of what behavior is proscribed or prescribed — means that "our normal daily activities expose us to potential prosecution at the whim of a government official." Such laws, which enable government zealots to accuse almost anyone of committing three felonies in a day, do not just enable government misconduct, they incite prosecutors to intimidate decent people who never had culpable intentions. And to inflict punishments without crimes. The more Americans learn about their government's abuse of criminal law for capricious bullying, the more likely they are to recoil in a libertarian direction and put Leviathan on a short leash."
  • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @06:59AM (#42655327)

    Sorry, I remembered wrong, it wasn't 50 years, just 35 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, restitution, forfeiture and a fine of up to $1 million. []

    Do you feel better now? Is 35 years in prison plus a $1 million fine the correct punishment for using a script to download documents?

  • by stenvar ( 2789879 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @07:50AM (#42655533)

    Even in your adversarial system, there is neither a reason nor an expectation that the prosecutor should initially be making what were basically frivolous claims that go beyond all sane reason.

    The reason the prosecutor can make those charges is because that's the law. I agree that the law is too strict, but you can't blame the prosecutor for that.

    Furthermore, the prosecutor can't just go out and charge whoever he likes, he needs to convince a grand jury that the charges are reasonable. That means a majority of about 20 regular people have to agree that the person should get charged.

    Sure enough a prosecutor will initially often enough be asking for more than is strictly warranted, but 35 years for using a script to download some files that were intentionally freely accessible within the uni network?

    (1) Swartz was not a student at the university; he broke in and physically hacked into their network.

    (2) The files were not "freely accessible"; they were available only under license, and Swartz repeatedly circumvented attempts to kick him off the network. Also, it was likely Swartz's intent to redistribute them.

    (3) 35 years is the theoretical maximum when you total up all the charges with maximum penalties. He would likely have faced a few years in prison if found guilty of all charges, about the same as in many European countries.

  • by SplatMan_DK ( 1035528 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @08:12AM (#42655631) Homepage Journal

    Who or what the fuck is a JSTOR? Would it kill the summary writer to explain the acronym?

    Most people know what it is, because of the Swartz-case. So you missed it - fine - but rambling about it on a geek-site like /. is hardly the way to go.

    Have you tried Googling it? []

    have you tried looking it up on Wikipedia? []

    Have you tried simply visiting their homepage - perhaps even their "about" page? []

    Was that so hard? Really?

    Seriously ... as a reader and poster here ... you have failed! :-)

    - Jesper

  • by supercrisp ( 936036 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @08:27AM (#42655683)
    You don't get it because you're completely wrong. JSTOR is a subscription service paid for by higher ed institutions for registered students. It's not paid for for the general public. Not saying that's right or wrong, just that your description of it as "public repository" couldn't be farther from the truth.
  • by Zontar The Mindless ( 9002 ) <plasticfish DOT info AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @08:30AM (#42655703) Homepage

    The only ambiguity there is 'warned', and whether it's an active or passive verb doesn't significantly alter the sense.

    Maybe your parser needs upgrading. Mine handled this just fine.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @08:46AM (#42655799)
    Mod parent useful. Stephen Heymann sounds like a nutbag and that all he gives a shit about is prosecuting people. Worry about finding a name for the crime later.

    > During another investigation in the 1990s, Heymann wanted Harvard to place a electronic banner on its intranet telling users they were being monitored, as Network World reported. He said would allow the feds to monitor the network without getting a court order. Harvard disagreed, saying it respected the privacy of its users. According to his Harvard biography, Heymann is responsible for supervising approximately 80 criminal prosecutors and reviewing the majority of approximately 400 indictments returned and informations filed annually.

    Anyone trust this nutbag with your liberties? He has done it before too: Aaron Swartz prosecutor 'drove another hacker to suicide in 2008 after he named him in a cyber crime case. []

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @09:37AM (#42656057)

    Furthermore, the prosecutor can't just go out and charge whoever he likes, he needs to convince a grand jury that the charges are reasonable. That means a majority of about 20 regular people have to agree that the person should get charged.

    This used to be a major safeguard, but has been ineffective for some decades now. A prosecutor can get an indictment from a grand jury, if he wants one, in just about any case: of the circa 20,000 cases brought to a grand jury per year, fewer than 100 will result in a "no bill" (refusal to indict), for an indictment rate of around 99.5%.

  • by stenvar ( 2789879 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @10:24AM (#42656377)

    No, sorry, there was no hacking. He plugged in a CAT5 cable because it was faster and the WiFi connection would reset periodically. Done. That's not hacking.

    The WiFi connection wouldn't "reset periodically". MIT administrators were banning his MAC address, and he kept changing it. Then he physically trespassed on MIT property, went into a wiring closet, and plugged into the MIT network. That is hacking.

  • by Creepy ( 93888 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @11:02AM (#42656753) Journal

    The thing is, they don't even need SOPA - as it is now, you could read the same 1980s CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) section that was being used to prosecute Swartz even more liberally and make the internet itself illegal because it essentially requires a user to get permission to visit any site (for Swartz they interpreted this section of the law as a violation of Terms of Service).

    For that matter, this post is a felony in the United States; under the CFAA, I am technically committing wire fraud by using an alias to (falsely) represent myself. Yep, the CFAA wording is that broad - if we had internet in the 1970s/80s (a failed precursor existed in 1979), we'd have killed it with a massive protest.

  • by HeckRuler ( 1369601 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @11:58AM (#42657563)
    Power. The federal court has power of us. Peers over the internet do not. "Cyber bullying" is amongst equals while the power imbalance between an ethical and upstanding digital rights activist and federal prosecutors is laughable. To curtail cyber bullying we would need to impose draconian rules enforced over the Internet, while to curtail federal bullying we simply need to slap a political official on the wrist. And we can do that second one, in theory, because we live in a democracy. But to get the right people to start slapping, even halfheartedly, the masses have to get in a huff and thrash a little.

    Also, did you think that Slashdot is one homogenous group? We're not even a loose coalition. We're individuals that occasionally function as a hive-mind.
  • by SilverJets ( 131916 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @11:59AM (#42657573) Homepage

    Usage of robots was/is prohibited by JSTOR.

    Then its up to JSTOR to detect and block bots.

    Putting a web server on the internet means that people will connect to it with various types of software. You don't get to determine what that software is -- a TOS that says "no IE" is meaningless, and so it one that says "no bots"; and using IE or bots to access that site, in and of itself, is not a wrong.

    When you are selling access to your servers to academic institutions you most certainly do get to determine how those users then connect to you, how much they can download, etc. If the academic institution doesn't like those terms they can go elsewhere for the content.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22, 2013 @12:29PM (#42657847)

    There's been exactly one prosecuted case of this logic that I am aware of: US V. Lori Drew. The judge threw it out, because such logic would allow services, through their terms of service, to arbitrarily invent new criminal laws by proxy - a privilege that is constitutionally reserved to congress.

    Sign up for Facebook with an alias? Felony. Cheat in an online game? Felony.

    TOS violations are a civil matter. Regardless of what you think of Swartz, nobody should be comfortable with the idea of allowing websites to arbitrarily define criminal behavior.

Kill Ugly Processor Architectures - Karl Lehenbauer