The tragic death of Aaron Swartz continues to make waves on the soft, sandy beaches of the InterWebs.
Swartz was only 26 when he committed suicide a couple of weeks ago when an impending legal case apparently became too hard to bear — a near-empty case until federal prosecutor Carmen Ortiz decided to use Swartz to send “a message.”
The message was all-too political: “He was being made into a highly visible lesson,” says Harvey Silverglate, a Cambridge, Mass., attorney who first met Swartz in 2001 and spoke with him after his arrest. “He was enhancing the careers of a group of career prosecutors and a very ambitious — politically-ambitious — U.S. attorney who loves to have her name in lights.”
(Illustration found here).
Yesterday, from CNET:
State prosecutors who investigated the late Aaron Swartz had planned to let him off with a stern warning, but federal prosecutor Carmen Ortiz took over and chose to make an example of the Internet activist, according to a report in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.
Middlesex County’s district attorney had planned no jail time, “with Swartz duly admonished and then returned to civil society to continue his pioneering electronic work in a less legally questionable manner,” the report (alternate link) said.
“Tragedy intervened when Ortiz’s office took over the case to send ‘a message.'”
The report is likely to fuel an online campaign against Ortiz, who has been criticized for threatening the 26-year-old with decades in prison for allegedly downloading a large quantity of academic papers.
An online petition asking President Obama to remove from office Ortiz — a politically ambitious prosecutor who was talked about as Massachusetts’ next governor as recently as last month.
Ortiz, 57, also came under fire this week for her attempt to seize a family-owned motel in Tewksbury, Mass., for allegedly facilitating drug crimes, despite ample evidence that the owners worked closely with local police.
In a stinging rebuke, U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith Dein tossed out the case yesterday, siding with the motel owners — represented by the public-interest law firm Institute for Justice — and noting (PDF) that prosecutors had alleged a mere “15 specific drug-related incidents” over a 14-year period during which “the Motel Caswell rented out approximately 196,000 rooms.”
“I don’t think she should have the power she has to pull this stuff on people,” Russ Caswell, owner of the Motel Caswell, told the Boston Herald last night.
One reason prosecutors file forfeiture cases is that proceeds from the sale of seized property can be used to fund the budgets of law enforcement agencies.
(Other nearby businesses that also experienced infrequent drug-related activity were not, however, targeted by Ortiz.)
And so this morning — via Slate:
Hackers claiming to be part of the hacktivist group Anonymous took over the website of the U.S. Sentencing Commission early Saturday morning and threatened to release sensitive information about the Department of Justice to avenge the death of Aaron Swartz, the Internet activist who committed suicide on Jan. 11.
The hackers took over the website for the agency responsible for setting sentencing guidelines with a message and a video demanding a reform of the U.S. justice system, reports CNN.
They said they have infiltrated several government computer systems and threatened to make secret information public but don’t ever reveal what that information might be.
From a statement from Anonymous that with Swartz ‘…a line was crossed.’
However, in order for there to be a peaceful resolution to this crisis, certain things need to happen.
There must be reform of outdated and poorly-envisioned legislation, written to be so broadly applied as to make a felony crime out of violation of terms of service, creating in effect vast swathes of crimes, and allowing for selective punishment.
There must be reform of mandatory minimum sentencing.
There must be a return to proportionality of punishment with respect to actual harm caused, and consideration of motive and mens rea.
The inalienable right to a presumption of innocence and the recourse to trial and possibility of exoneration must be returned to its sacred status, and not gambled away by pre-trial bargaining in the face of overwhelming sentences, unaffordable justice and disfavourable odds.
Laws must be upheld unselectively, and not used as a weapon of government to make examples of those it deems threatening to its power.
For good reason the statue of lady justice is blindfolded.
No more should her innocence be besmirked, her scales tipped, nor her swordhand guided.
Furthermore there must be a solemn commitment to freedom of the internet, this last great common space of humanity, and to the common ownership of information to further the common good.
Not this time. This time there will be change, or there will be chaos…
Go to it, boys.
Sandy Hook Elementary ended 2012 with tragedy, Swartz started 2013 off the same way.