Report: DOJ ‘Elevated Its Charges’ Against Swartz Because Internet Community Rallied on His Behalf
Plus: Secret Service begins to release thousands of redacted pages kept on Reddit co-founder who committed suicide in face of DOJ prosecution.
August 12, 2013 - 3:26 pm
The report also suggests that the DOJ came down on Swartz harder because he went public with the case and his allies launched a petition drive on his behalf.
“The prosecutor said that the straw that broke the camel’s back was that when he indicted the case, and allowed Swartz to come to the courthouse as opposed to being arrested, Swartz used the time to post a ‘wild Internet campaign’ in an effort to drum up support. This was a ‘foolish’ move that moved the case ‘from a human one-on-one level to an institutional level.’ The lead prosecutor said that on the institutional level cases are harder to manage both internally and externally.”
The lengthy report also describes a meeting with Aaron’s father, Robert Swartz, in which he “accused MIT of violating wiretap laws and its internal policies in its collection of electronic communications of his son and providing them to the prosecution, and of violating his son’s privacy rights in doing so.”
In a letter to Holder on Wednesday, Issa noted that “despite the fact that the Justice Department was aware of the positions of the victims regarding Swartz’s prosecution, it proceeded to investigate and prosecute Swartz vigorously.”
The comparison to a rape trial noted in the MIT report “raises questions about the mindset of the prosecutors handling the case,” the chairman added.
“The report also indicates that the Department elevated its charges against Swartz in response to an Internet campaign conducted by Demand Progress in support of Swartz at the time of his arrest,” Issa continued. “…The suggestion that prosecutors did in fact seek to make an example out of Aaron Swartz because Demand Progress exercised its First Amendment rights in publicly supporting him raises new questions about the Department’s handling of the case.”
Issa asked Holder to arrange a meeting with committee staff on the Swartz case by Aug. 13. By the afternoon of Aug. 12, the DOJ had not reached out to arrange that briefing.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit pursued by Wired investigations editor Kevin Poulsen, the Secret Service today released 104 pages of heavily redacted documents kept on Swartz.
The documents confirmed that the government’s interest in Swartz was piqued after a 2008 manifesto he wrote describing his beliefs that open access is a human right.
There are still 14,500 more pages of government documents on Swartz to be released by court order; Poulsen said he’s been given a processing time estimate of six months before all are released.
In June, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced Aaron’s Law Act of 2013. It would reform the quarter-century-old Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) to establish that breaches of terms of service, employment agreements, or contracts are not automatic violations of the CFAA.
Lofgren’s office said “by establishing a clear line that is needed in the law, it distinguishes the difference between common online activities and harmful attacks.”
“Aaron worked closely with my office on a number of civil liberties issues,” Wyden said at a memorial for Swarz in February. “…Aaron was a hacker. He hacked to promote innovation through openness. Where Aaron saw injustice, he hacked for its remedy. Aaron Swartz hacked Washington. A poorly written law called him a criminal. Common sense and conscience knows better.”