There are two systems that Aaron Swartz famously liberated documents from. The first was PACER and the second was JSTOR.
But the kid grew up. He left Stanford, he joined the first YCombinator class, he did a startup that didn’t go far, but which eventually led him to joining the early Reddit team. Here and there, he kept popping up, always doing something interesting. The next time I came across him was in 2009, when the FBI investigated him for daring to download a ton of public domain court documents from PACER. While PACER tries to charge $0.10/page (at the time it was $0.08) the documents are still public domain. Many people find this annoying — and Aaron was a true crusader for the right to information. So when he found out that some libraries were experimenting with free PACER access as a trial, he went to one, set up a perl script and had it cycle through tons of documents, downloading them for him to collect. Eventually, the FBI realized it had no case: freely offered access to public domain material is legal to use.
PACER is an archive of US court decisions. These are public domain documents. However, PACER charges a fee for access to these documents. There was an experiment to offer PACER documents in libraries. Aaron Swartz wrote a script to download the documents. State thugs wanted to charge him with a crime, but they couldn’t, and he was not charged.
Later, Aaron Swartz did the same thing with JSTOR, an archive of academic papers. MIT gives all people on its network unlimited access to JSTOR. Aaron Swartz wrote a script that downloaded documents from JSTOR via MIT’s network. He was not an MIT student or employee. This time, he was charged with a crime. However, what should have been at most a minor trespassing charge turned into a huge indictment, as prosecutors decided to throw the book at him.
PACER and JSTOR are offensive. US court decisions are public domain decisions, but PACER charges for electronic access. Academic research is paid with taxpayer money, but JSTOR charges for access. JSTOR even charges for access to old public domain research, where the copyright has expired. These are examples of a State-granted monopoly, charging for access to information that should be free. Aaron Swartz was offended, and wanted to liberate the documents. With everyone having computers and the Internet, court documents and tax-funded research should be freely available to everyone.
The US Attorney was being unreasonable during plea bargain negotiations, insisting on a guilty plea on all counts and prison time. It was a politically-motivated prosecution, so the US Attorney had to make an example of Aaron Swartz. Aaron Swartz refused to settle, insisting he had done nothing wrong.
It is a farce that the US Attorney took a hard line prosecution with Aaron Swartz, but banksters who stole trillions of dollars were not prosecuted. Why prosecute insiders who will put up a fight, when you can go after someone defenseless?
As part of his “bail” arrangement, Aaron Swartz was not allowed to tell his side of the story on the Internet. He was not allowed to ask for donations to support his legal case. That’s an amusing legal trick. If you are charged with a politically-motivated prosecution, you are barred from publicly discussing your side of the case, while the US Attorney and State media issue press releases announcing your guilt.
MIT and JSTOR said “We don’t want this prosecution! We don’t want the negative publicity!” I’m sure plenty of people at MIT and JSTOR were eager to teach someone uppity a lesson. Because the State is prosecuting and not those institutions, they can publicly distance themselves while simultaneously lobbying for a hardline approach.
Here’s another important point, regarding frivolous criminal charges. There is no “speedy trial”. It was 2 years since the documents were downloaded, but the trial did not start yet. That extracts a psychological toll on the defendant, while legal bills rack up.
Also, the judge can stack the jury with fools and pro-State trolls, guaranteeing a conviction.
Was it a mistake for Aaron Swartz to hire a lawyer? If you’re ever the victim of a politically-motivated prosecution, you should seriously consider representing yourself. A lawyer has his hands tied, because he doesn’t want a contempt citation and to lose his law license. As a pro se defendant, the judge’s bias will be obvious if he censors you.
There’s another advantage of a pro se defense. You don’t drain all your finances on legal expenses.
Also, Aaron Swartz’ lawyer may have been giving him bad advice.
However, I’ve never been accused of a crime. If you do decide to go into risky political activism, you should be prepared for a pro se defense when the State decides to crack down on you.
One conspiracy theory is “Aaron Swartz was murdered.” There are some suspicious elements. Why didn’t Aaron Swartz leave a document detailing the abuses he received? However, it’s easier to silence someone with a frivolous prosecution and gag order, than by explicitly murdering them. Aaron Swartz didn’t seem important enough to murder.
This story was suspicious. Why was the Secret Service involved in Aaron Swartz’ prosecution?
Here’s a link with some details.
Swartz, who was considered one of the brightest young tech minds in tech activism, hanged himself Friday night in his Brooklyn apartment. He had been struggling with depression for many years. Swartz’s partner, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, was the first person to find him, according to the Wall Street Journal. There was no apparent suicide note, officials said.
Even if Aaron Swartz was not directly murdered, he was murdered by the stress of a frivolous criminal prosecution. It is a farce that Aaron Swartz was prosecuted, but not Jon Corzine or anyone at HSBC. There are two justice systems, one for insiders and one for everyone else.