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Michael Lear: Part Seventeen: Aaron Swartz, Chapter Two

By Michael Moriarty
web posted November 3, 2014

Why am I still titling these editorials Michael Lear? An old man's point of view!

I think it is both part foolishness and part wisdom that I so identify with both King Lear and Aaron Swartz.

Both Aaron and Lear had placed their faith in villains.

I used to be a Liberal. So was Aaron.

Finally,  Aaron ended up taking the Obama Administration's indifference to him seriously.

Lear was lead to his death by the daughters who wanted him destroyed.

Aaron was, by comparison, a child himself.

With the President of the United States and his Attorney General, plus Boston's Attorney General's office, in fact the entire American criminal justice system against him?!

"The biggest mistake would be to not listen to this kid!"

That's one of many, not always so complimentary, comments on Aaron Swartz.

"I hate it," he once wrote, "when you don't take me seriously… I want to make the world a better place."

When he helped create Reddit?!

Thousands showed up to "share".

The corporate magazine giant Condé Nast wants to buy Reddit!

When Aaron and his friends sold their creation, they threw a party and then headed for California the next day.

He considered his ability to "program" a computer a magical talent.

One acquaintance, Brewster Kahle, founder and digital librarian of the internet archive, described the key ingredients of what turned out to be a disastrous path were the issues of public domain and public access.

"One of the things that Aaron was particularly interested in," said Kahle,  "was bringing public access to the public domain! It's one of the things that got him into so much trouble."

One of the enemies of such a dream was "Pacer".

Stephen Shultze, former fellow, Berkman Center for Internet In Society at Harvard, had been trying to gain access to federal court records of the United States.

He found a problem: Pacer.

It stands for Public Access to Court Electronic Records.

Carl Malamud states unequivocally that "Access to legal materials in the United States is a 10 billion dollar per year business. P.A.C.E.R. is just this incredible abomination of government service. It's 10 cents a page. Brain-dead code… and these are public records… It's where  a lot of our seminal litigation starts… Journalists, students and citizens and lawyers… It's a poll tax on access to justice!"

Must one pay to have access to democracy?!

One estimates that the government makes about 120 million dollars a year on this system.

Some say profit to that extent is illegal. The E-Government Act of 2002 states that the courts may charge only to the extent necessary in order to reimburse the costs of running P.A.C.E.R..

The PACER people were getting a lot of flack from Congress and others about public access.

 As an effort at improvement they made "free access" still very limited.

Protest ideas and projects began, largely inspired by Carl Malamud. Ideas such as the Thumb Drive Corps.

Of course, Aaron Swartz wanted to join it.

They began to create "an intervention on the PACER problem."

Aaron's improvements on the data collecting code were so successful that soon he possessed 760 gigabytes of PACER documents.

2.7 million federal court documents!

20 million pages of text.

The FBI began a surveillance program on Thumb Drive, staking out Swartz's parents house in Illinois. Swartz was terrified.

Then even more terrified when the FBI called him on the phone and tried to, as was said, "succor him in" to coming down for an "interview".

Luckily PACER itself was breaking numerous "Privacy codes". Violations that could get PACER in trouble.

The FBI "closed" its investigation.

Then comes Aaron's ultimate nemesis: JSTOR and MIT.

The Time Magazine article, entitled "Aaron Swartz's Suicide Prompts MIT Soul-Searching", is most interesting, appearing, as it did, only one day after Aaron's obituary in Time Magazine.

From Time we read, "The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has launched an internal investigation into the school's involvement in the suicide of 26-year-old computer programmer and Internet activist Aaron Swartz, MIT's president L. Rafael Reif said on Sunday. Swartz was accused of breaking into MIT's computer system in order to access academic articles and make them available for free on the Internet."

Within theobituary of Aaron Swartz, Time writes, "In a statement, Swartz's family criticized the way the federal government has handled the JSTOR case. ‘Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy,' his family wrote. ‘It is the product of a criminal-justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's office and at MIT contributed to his death.'"

In the article revealing MIT's role in Aaron's suicide, Lawrence Lessig, who runs Harvard's Edward J. Safra's Center for Ethics, comments, "Early on, and to its great credit, JSTOR figured ‘appropriate' out. They declined to pursue their own action against Aaron, and they asked the government to drop its."

"MIT, however, to its great shame, was not as clear, and so the prosecutor had the excuse he needed to continue his war against the ‘criminal' who we who loved him knew as Aaron."

Prior to his death, Swartz faced up to 35 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million for the alleged JSTOR downloads.

Hmmm... at Aaron's young age, 26, the Earth, in such a circumstance, appears to be the wrong planet for Aaron to have been born on.

The government's demands in a plea bargain were so severe that Aaron and his lawyer had decided to have the case tried.

The case against Aaron with tapes from a surveillance camera deliberately placed to gain indisputable evidence on Aaron Swartz, these recordings that MIT had collected, however, made a conviction of Aaron Swartz appear to be a certain thing.

Aaron Swartz
Perhaps I am not one of you!

Justifiable paranoia.

On top of all this, the Secret Service became involved who then turned the case over to the Boston Attorney's office.

The prosecution was then driven by a particularly aggressive ADA assigned to computer crimes, one, by now, infamous lawyer named Steve Heyman.

Prior to his unrelenting persecution of Aaron Swartz, Heyman had successfully prosecuted another computer hacking crime, one in which a teenage hacker, Jonathan James, felt that he might also be implicated, this young man was, like Aaron Swarz, driven to suicide by the threats from Heyman's office.

Mr. Heyman's boss, U.S. Attorney for the district of Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz, had this to say about the case against Swartz, "Stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data, or dollars."

Swartz's altruism, his belief, that information belongs to the entire American population, free of charge?!

Greed was not a part of Aaron Swartz's nature. Despite his early success in the computer world and the handsome sale of his computer creations, he lived a rigorously humble personal life.

Though the prosecutor, Steve Heyman, was not a part of President Obama's and Eric Holder's Federal Justice Department, Heyman's obvious careerism made him a savagely ironic tool. It leaves Heyman a Boston enabler of Obama's and Holder's possibly anti-Semitic indifference towards a young and idealistic Jewish intellectual.

Why Jewish Democrats admire the self-loathing, anti-Semitic but Jewish Karl Marx?!?!?! Then

Then came the beginning of the Heyman blackmail efforts against Aaron's girlfriend, Quinn Norton, in their attempt to collect evidence against Aaron.

Quinn Norton
Aaron Swartz' Beleaguered Girlfriend

My third and final article on the Aaron Swartz suicide and the government's indisputable role in Aaron's suicide will most certainly investigate to what extent the Obama White House played a coldly uncompassionate part. I feel the Obama Administration should have suggested, quite strongly, that the Heyman office reduce their charges against Aaron Swartz to a misdemeanor.

A felony conviction and jail time creates a criminal where there was nothing but a naive idealist.

Aaron obviously didn't want to live the rest of his life as a criminal, and it was Government's tyrannical egotism that tried to say he would.

In the end, Aaron comes out the hero and, again, as so often occurs with the Obama Nation, the Government comes out the villain. ESR

Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at rainbowfamily2008@yahoo.com. He can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/@MGMoriarty.






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