Hacking Defendant's Suicide Spurs Debate Over Prosecutorial Overreach

, The National Law Journal


Aaron Swartz's suicide last Friday triggered criticism of prosecutors who charged the political activist in 2011 in Boston federal district court with the unauthorized use of a university's network to download millions of articles from the online archive JSTOR.

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What's being said

  • Transaction7

    I'm a retired lawyer whose office was repeatedly burglarized and privileged and confidential computer and paper files on clients, including the incestuously molested daughters, sisters, nieces, etc., of elected and high appointed officials, stolen, and my office destroyed by arson, and no law enforcement agency would take action even after the fire marshal showed and told us the obvious fact that this had included arson, but, for political reasons, refused to repeat this in his official report and only called it "suspicious" there. I'm also an expert on some other arcane things including suicidal depression and the efficacy, and limits, of therapy and antidepressant medication against that.

    American "intellectual property" law is a monument to our having the best White House, Congress, and legal system money can buy, and the outrageous influence of the entertainment industry etc. in that process.

    Let's say I'm rich and have created and locked away, or, alternatively, bought, a lot of research content. Let's say it includes a cure for childhood cancers, psychotic tendencies toward violence, or maybe just suicidal depression. It is theoretically available free but subject to limits imposed by the collector, not the creator.
    If MIT was not pressing this prosecution, and JSTOR says they were not and theoretically makes this material available for other researchers free, so their loss is ephemeral, why in the world did this case (a) reach this high level in comparison to others; (b) drag on for years after indictment without being resolved? A huge percentage of child sexual abuse prosecutions, including one near here against an elected sheriff in which the feds were involved, are resolved without jail time and without an admission of guilt on the record. Why didn't his friends, lawyers, etc. take precautions to head off his suicide given his known depression and this crisis? As federal plea offers go, this looks to me as a defense lawyer like one I might well have recommended taking and sought care and suicide precautions in a minimum security facility, then tried for commutation or pardon from the White House. I can't blame the prosecutors for the suicide though I presume defense counsel would have made them aware of this mental health condition and suicide risk. Unfortunately, too many real bad guys threaten suicide when faced with jail or prison time.

  • Evan Koblentz

    Note to readers: This story is also being discussed at the National Law Journal site. http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202584458450#Read_Comments

  • Roy1953

    What's the big deal here? One defendant, obviously troubled with deep seated emotional issues, is charged with stealing. (Admittedly, he is a 'big name' defendant, but he's still just a defendant.)

    He is charged with stealing valuable property. The prosecution charged in accordance with the law and offered a plea deal consistent with (if not better than) other thefts. "Accept the deal or we go for the max." (I saw that line on "The Closer." It fit there, and it fits here.) The defendant instead commits suicide.

    If the defendant had been Joe Schmoe, as opposed to (those who would call him) Robin Hood, (or because he was such a good looking guy and a very talented hacker who would have had a bright future had he not turned to crime), would there have been all this rigamarole?

    Are we supposed to turn our backs on IP theft, or treat is like it is . . . a theft.

    Maybe we are supposed to treat 'white collar' theft differently from 'blue collar' theft. (Haven't we already been there?)

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