WBUR

Aaron Swartz’s Father On MIT's Handling Of Case: ‘Something I'll Never Recover From’

Aaron Swartz (Flickr/ragesoss)

Aaron Swartz (Flickr/ragesoss)

For the first time since the January suicide of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, his father is planning to visit the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for a memorial service next week.

Robert Swartz also happens to do consulting work for MIT, and was formerly a student at the school — which eventually became the center of the federal case against his son.

Aaron Swartz took his life before he was to stand trial on charges of using MIT’s computer network to steal millions of scholarly articles from a subscription-based website.

Aaron’s father says access to that site is allowed to anyone on the MIT network, so what his son did was legal. He blames federal prosecutors and MIT, and disputes the idea that longstanding depression was a factor in his son’s death.

Congress is now investigating and on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told a U.S. Senate committee that prosecutors offered Aaron Swartz a reasonable plea deal:

There was never an intention for him to go to jail for more than a three-, four-, five-month range. That was what the government said specifically to Mr. Swartz. Those offers were rejected.

In his first broadcast interview, WBUR’s Deborah Becker spoke with Robert Swartz and asked how he’s coping with his son’s suicide and all the public attention surrounding it.

Robert Swartz: It’s crushing. One is numb and crushed, and it never goes away.

Deborah Becker: Aaron has been described as many different things — as gifted and very sensitive, intensely private. Are those descriptions accurate?

In part. I mean, they’re certainly not inaccurate, but they certainly don’t reflect Aaron completely.

How do you describe him?

That’s a hard question. He was an extraordinarily sensitive, thoughtful and insightful person who really cared about trying to make the world a better place.

Some folks have said that Aaron suffered from depression. What do you know about Aaron’s state of mind after these charges came about?

One, Aaron was never diagnosed as being clinically depressed, never was on any medication. I think that what he went through would depress anybody and put them in a very unpleasant state of mind.

Aaron faced 13 felony counts and initially up to 35 years in prison for allegedly trying to steal millions of these articles from the site known as JSTOR. There was some negotiating that had gone on, and there had been a plea deal with prosecutors for a six-month prison sentence. And Aaron had turned that deal down shortly before he took his life. Did he feel that he had done something wrong and that the prosecutors were being overzealous? Or what did he think?

We were all just absolutely distraught and overwhelmed by what was going on, because it was so disproportionate for what the government was claiming had happened. Aaron settled with JSTOR, and JSTOR went to the prosecutor and the prosecutor’s boss and asked that they drop the case. And they refused. No one was harmed. The alleged victim said that they didn’t want the prosecution to continue. We couldn’t make any sense as to why the prosecutor was acting in this way.

What was Aaron exactly trying to do?

That is a question you’ll have to ask him, which of course we can’t.

Did he tell you that? Did he explain that at all — what he was trying to do with these articles? Was he really trying to disseminate information more freely on the Internet, or what was it exactly?

Again, I think that’s a question which I can’t answer.

Do you know if he knew that he was doing something that was against the law?

I don’t believe it was against the law. I can quote you from one of our motions to suppress, from Tim McGovern, MIT manager of network security and support, who says as follows about the MIT network: No authentication of visitors. Visitor network access is provided as an on-demand, self-service process for anyone who walks onto campus. So the government’s charges that his access to either JSTOR or MIT was unauthorized are just plain false.

The first question for MIT is, why did they bring in federal authorities? We, in innumerable ways, on a number of occasions, asked them to intervene on Aaron’s behalf. They were never willing to do that. So had they settled with Aaron in the same way that JSTOR had settled, I don’t believe we would be talking today.

Last fall, the head of information services and technology at MIT was quoted as saying MIT acted responsibly in this case because there were unique circumstances, and it had to act to protect its network and ensure the ability of members of the MIT community to access important scientific journals. Was that a defense that was expressed to you in your meetings with MIT?

No.

Do you think that there is any truth to the belief that this was almost an act of civil disobedience? And I know it’s hard to speculate on exactly what Aaron was doing. But did he think at all that if he was doing this to make a point, should he take the punishment to further accentuate that point?

Well, obviously he didn’t feel that it was appropriate to take the punishment for this. Otherwise he would have agreed to the kinds of things which the government asked. One of the things to point out is that it wasn’t only prison time, but it was also time in a halfway house, it was also home detention, it was also non-use of a computer for periods of time.

You’re working with a system that’s broken, a system in which something on the order of 97 percent of indictments end up in plea agreements because people don’t take things to trial because they can’t afford to, and the risks are too great. And so we were terrified. And he was terrified.

Did you have any idea that he would have taken it to this extreme?

On Friday night when we got the phone call from his partner Taren, I immediately understood that something was terribly wrong. And my first reaction was that Aaron had been hit by a car or had an accident. It did not enter my mind for a moment that he had committed suicide.

What do you think will be the main message from all of this? I know that Aaron’s primary goal, at least what I’ve read, was to improve access to information. And maybe that was what he was trying to do, maybe not. But could it also be that what he’s done here is really shown what you call a broken system?

I think, you know, Aaron was interested in a large number of things. Open access is one of them. The corruption in government is another. Look, Aaron is dead, and nothing will bring him back. But maybe in all the concern for his death, some good can come out of it.

Hopefully we can make some changes to the way that academic journals are made available, so that they’re made available for free. Hopefully we can shed some light on the criminal justice system. And hopefully we can see some real change at MIT, in the way that MIT has lost its way, gets back to what the university is about, which is improving the world and giving people space to think differently, rather than trying to destroy people who color outside the lines.

Is it hard for you to still work there?

It’s a complicated question. MIT is a wonderful place and a place that I love immensely. And what they’ve done to my son is something I’ll never recover from.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz released a statement after Swartz’s death saying her office handled the case appropriately. MIT’s president appointed a professor to review MIT’s role in the Swartz case. MIT leaders are not commenting on Robert Swartz’s claims, pending the outcome of their investigation.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/bkort Barry Kort

    Deborah, back in 2002, Aaron is reported to have said that when he died he wanted all the contents of his hard drives made publicly available.

    As we know, Aaron did not leave a suicide note. But he was alone in his Brooklyn apartment from the time Taren left in the morning until the time she returned in the evening.

    Has anyone combed through his personal computer in search of any notes or clues he may have left behind that would shed some light on the unanswered questions here?

    • PatGinSD

      Someone should be investigating if while Taren was away he was visited by some unsavory type of person.

    • http://www.facebook.com/bkort Barry Kort

      I learned today from Alec Resnick that Aaron had evidently used his computer the day he took his life. They are still in the process of breaking the encryption on Aaron’s computer so as to release the contents of his hard drives, per the terms of his Will. It’s likely there will be some clues to Aaron’s mindset, once that encryption is broken.

  • http://saultannenbaum.org/ Saul Tannenbaum

    The reported facts so far don’t reflect that MIT made a conscious decision the bring in Federal authorities. After MIT network admins found a laptop hidden in a network closet, hey called the MIT police because it’s not their job to confront someone who might return for it. The MIT police saw a crime scene and called the Cambridge Police for crime scene forensic support. That call was routed to a Cambridge detective who was a part of the New England Cyber Crime Task Force which is run by the Secret Service. Three members of Task Force showed up: The Cambridge detective, a Boston officer, and the head of the Task Force, a Secret Service agent. I walk through the available reporting and documents here: http://cctvcambridge.org/SwartzCambridgePolice

    • http://www.facebook.com/bkort Barry Kort

      Somewhere in all the reporting, there was a suggestion that, mixed in with the logs of Aaron’s access to JSTOR, there were some attempts to access JSTOR from IPs in China. If so, the MIT network authorities might have worried there was an international intellectual property spy in the game. That might account for MIT calling in the outside authorities. Perhaps Hal Abelson’s report will speak to this factor (if, indeed, it was a factor).

      • http://saultannenbaum.org/ Saul Tannenbaum

        Having been a part of incidents like this in my university career, you hope he responding staff will call the cops rather than try and play cowboy and confront someone returning for the equipment.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Mooney/1395503509 James Mooney

      Overzealous buttholes. Don’t piss off the government. You can rob billions and destroy the national economy like Goldman-Sachs and NEVER be prosecuted since G-S owns Washington. But God help a citizen who wants documents already paid for by his taxes.

      • Kathy

        Yeah, 4 million of them for bedside reading.

        • mahood

          Try “proof of concept” instead of just sneering at victims. Because there’s no doubt that whatever Mr. Swartz may have done wrong, a threat of 25 years in jail is a greater wrong.

          • Kathy

            Who are the victims? The copyright owners, who are not remunerated. Mr. Swartz was offered a 6 month plea deal. That’s pretty reasonable.

    • PatGinSD

      THERE’s your unsavory types- Secret Service

  • Kathy

    To access JSTOR, you have to authenticate yourself wih an MIT user account. What was Aaron using? The incredible number of rationalization for his illegal acts boggles my mind. Talk about enabling!

    • http://www.facebook.com/dennis.boylon Dennis Boylon

      What exactly do you think he did? Rape? Murder? LOL. He was copying research and data from JSTOR. Who decided they didn’t even care. Are you saying he illegally used MIT’s computers? What punishment does that deserve exactly? I must confess I don’t see the crime. I don’t see the injured party. At most some kind of slap on the wrist. The kid was absolutely brilliant. RSS, Reddit, creative commons, and only 26? What have you offered society by comparison? That the US wants to throw the Aaron Swartz’s of the country in prison is clear statement to me. We have tilted towards totalitarianism. We must jail and discourage our intellectuals from challenging the status quo.

      • Kathy

        What was he doing? “Liberating” copyrighted material under false pretenses. Not 3 or 4 articles. 4 million. And he did it multiple times. How about effecting changes to the laws before you decide to break them? Did he really assume he would not be prosecuted? Sounds like he had a very inflated sense of self-importance and did not think laws applied to him.

        • http://saultannenbaum.org/ Saul Tannenbaum

          According to the court documents, at the time he started downloading documents, being on the MIT network was sufficient authorization to access JSTOR. That’s now changed.

          What Swartz was doing was downloading documents. What he intended to do with them he never said, so it’s all speculation.

          JSTOR, which was the “victim” settled with Swartz when he returned the documents he downloaded and has said publicly as far as they were concerned, the matter was closed.

          • Kathy

            Thanks for that info, Saul.

          • mahood

            You wish the info Mr. Tannenbaum posted was accurate, but it’s not.

          • Kathy

            Please enlighten me.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Mooney/1395503509 James Mooney

            All I know is that secrecy kills. We had a budget-busting trillion dollar war in Iraq, with thousands of dead Americans, and it was based totally on LIES. Maybe we should have known the truth Then.

          • matt p.

            Saul, That’s not completely true. One My Swartz accessed a network with millions of documents he did not have authorization to access and post them for all to see. That’s illegal. The for all to see part… Swartz was also under investigation from the FBI because he did the same thing with US court documents from the PACER database. This is what he did, that’s fact. He could have gone to jail for 35 years for wire fraud but Ms. Ortiz said she thought Mr. Swartz did use it for personal use so suggested a 6 month sentence in a minimum security prison. And the judge could have also just given him probation when it got to sentencing. The FBI and US attorney only dismissed the case in respect after his suicide. Read the huffingpost article for a much better understanding of the information then what has been reported on npr.com.

          • http://saultannenbaum.org/ Saul Tannenbaum

            I’ve read the court documents as well as Swartz’s FBI file.

            The FBi investigation of Swartz was closed, they were not investigating him.

            Swartz was, by virtue of his Harvard affiliation where he was a Fellow in the Center for Ethics, was, in fact, authorized to access JSTOR documents.

            Swartz also, in fact, never posted a single JSTOR document.

            And, really, this isn’t about what he was alleged to have done. There’s little actual disagreement about the facts. What there is, however, is strong disagreement about how the law governing his actions should be interpreted. Personally, I don’t think what Swartz did was “right” but I also don’t think it was felony “wrong”.

          • mahood

            The Pacer downloads seem to have been legal, despite FBI overreach. And he didn’t post any JSTOR articles, AFAIK.

          • http://www.facebook.com/karenwmeyer Karen W. Meyer

            The law, applied to the nth degree, is not longer a protection, but an abuse. We are talking about papers, produced at tax payer expense, that are made available for a fee, on college universities, and subsequently made available for free. Journal articles…. information that stands to increase the general knowledge and create a more informed citizenry. I applaud Adam’s idealism and quest to not have knowledge become a commodity for resale only to those of means, particularly during a time when we have public libraries closing and restricted access to information. I abhor the system that took by all accounts a bright, enthusiastic, idealist young man, the kind we need more of, and sought to make an “example” of him.

          • matt p.

            I am not arguing if the papers are to be provided to everyone. What the law is now is they are not. They are the property of MIT to do with as they wish, they own them on their network. You speak of privilege, it is Mr. Swartz privilege at MIT that gave him the access. He should respect the rules and laws of MIT. He didn’t. If he had a problem with it he should have legally gone through proper channels to lobby to have them released, not taken them like a coward. Think of it this way, he stole something to give it to someone else. That’s what you call his idealism. Well lets do this. Make Mr. Swartz black and put him in a convenience store. That black person steals food to give it to his family. Does that make it right? Is Mr. Swartz any less wrong? Those who rob grocery stores go to jail for years, mainly black people because they do not always the means or make bad decisions. I certainly think you and Saul wouldn’t advocate from that person would you? Mr. Swartz probably goes to MIT for free (His dad works there). So now a privileged white guy commits a crime and he’s an idealist. He’s a coward for hiding behind a commuter. If he was an idealist he would opening advocate for the information to be accessed by everyone, not break the law.

          • http://saultannenbaum.org/ Saul Tannenbaum

            There are a number errors in your statement, Matt.

            1) The documents in question were never the property of MIT. They are copyrighted either by the journal in which they were published, or by the authors, depending upon the policy of the journal.

            2) Aaron Swartz was not affiliated with MIT. He did not go there “for free”. At the time of the incident, he was a fellow at Harvard University.

            3) Swartz’s father is a consultant to the Media Lab. Consultants don’t get benefits, including tuition benefits.

            4) Swartz’s defense contends that no MIT rules were broken.
            MIT’s network access is so open – anyone can get on the network at anytime and do pretty much anything – that they have a case.

            Your comparison to robbing a grocery store is instructive. If you steal a loaf of bread, you’re depriving the store owner of tangible property, that loaf of bread. In Swartz’s case, he didn’t deprive anybody of anything. He made a copy and left the original intact.

            What Swartz did is exploit some technical loopholes to achieve his ends.

            And, yes, if a black person shoplifted a loaf of bread from a convenience store and faced 13 felony counts for it, I’d sure as hell advocate for them.

          • Class No More

            Funny as you don’t advocate for the black people of Newtown Court?

        • http://www.facebook.com/dennis.boylon Dennis Boylon

          Again. I understood his motivation to be the release of publicly funded research. That could be accessed by anyone for a fee. He thought that was unfair. JSTOR (the supposed injured party here didn’t care). So who did he hurt? You are arguing the law but I have no respect for the law. The law has no moral basis in America anymore. The US has more people in prison than communist China and they have a billion people. We are totalitarian society with all our laws. I could spend the next 100 years trying to repeal bad laws and I’d be behind by the millions of new bad laws that are passed. He didn’t have an inflated sense of worth. He was a bright energetic man who truly was trying to do what he thought was right. You can argue if he was right or wrong but he didn’t do it for personal gain. He did what he thought was right. At 26 he accomplished more than most people do in a lifetime. Especially all the blood sucking lawyers and government employees who cling to their laws and their right to throw people in jail to inflate their own sense of self worth.

        • mahood

          Whom are you quoting?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Mooney/1395503509 James Mooney

      Both PACER and Jstor are largely paid for by tax money taken from our pockets. So why are they NOT available to the public?

    • mahood

      He was on the MIT network. That’s all you need to be to access JSTOR. MIT is the user.

      Talk about self-righteousness!

      And I seriously don’t think you should regard yourself as entitled to be on a first name basis with him.

      • Kathy

        Dear Mr. Or Ms. Mahood, sorry if I was being too familiar for you. Right now, you need certificates or an MIT login to access JSTOR. Why would Mr. Swartz hide his face as he plugs a netbook into an Ethernet connection in a network closet, repeatedly? Talk about self-righteousness!

    • Class No More

      you sound so authenticated

    • http://www.facebook.com/helen.edwards.56614 Helen Edwards

      Don’t let me catch you J walking. btw, do you get your morality from your own soul or a web sites terms and conditions? Illegal acts….oh the minutia.

      • tom

        Helen, I will be reporting you to the Ministry of Information for this violation.

        Regards,
        Winston

    • http://www.facebook.com/virgil.gr Virgil Griffith

      That’s mistaken. JSTOR only checks the IP address as originating from MIT.

  • gorilla monsoon

    I have said this before: Carmen Ortiz(prosecutor) was incredibly quick to make a judgement to put Aaron on trial. Personally, I would like to see her join Aaron Swartz, under the ground. Has she no shame? Or is it fame she wanted? I hold her responsible for this young man’s suicide. May she live with guilt to her dying day.

    • http://twitter.com/SilverScarCat Philip Weigel

      She’s a sociopath, you think she feels guilt about what she did?

      • gorilla monsoon

        If she doesn’t feel guilt, may she feel deep, sharp, nagging physical pain.

        Paula

        • PatGinSD

          I’m also in the market for voodoo dolls. Do they work?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Mooney/1395503509 James Mooney

    MIT has been corrupted by government money for a long time and will do what the government wants. And the goverment wanted revenge for Aron’s exposure of PACER, a system Designed to keep poorer Pro Se litigants out of the courts by charging hefty fees for documents already paid for by tox money.

    A case in point. They ridiculed their experimental verification of cold fusion Before the experiment, which was Very unscientific. Then they Suppressed evidence of anomalous heat generation, which was totally dishonest. The negative results from the “great” MIT caused others to pile on, destroy Flieishman and Pons, who may have had the wrong theory but who were honest observers. Now, even NASA says there is such a thing but rechristened it LENR (low energy nuclear reactions) to avoid the dung MIT heaped on it

    The reason for MITs skulduggery and dishonest? They get millions from the government for hot fusion (which has Never gone anywhere and never will) so they didn’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

    They’re corrupt through and through.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Mooney/1395503509 James Mooney

    The government is playing hardball. Ortiz and her henchman will never be fired for their wrongdoing. Obama has enabled the most secretive Administration of all – even more secretive and punishing of whistleblowers than Bush. And I’m a Democrat so that’s not a partisan shot.

    • gorilla monsoon

      James, your note about Ortiz and her henchmen made me sad. It says “hopeless” to me. Maybe President Obama should hear/read the story of Aaron Swartz’ pushed to death by Carmen Ortiz and her exuberant henchmen. A vacation in the nice warm sun of Guantanamo could be given to all involved and t hey could be charged with murder.

  • MathFaithWorks

    This further supports that no evidence of any actual plan to disseminate the files existed. The Manifesto appears to be the main basis and the Pacer action in the past.

    However, JSTOR is free at a university library. The main uses of JSTOR have free access, so there was never a market based demand for free file sharing of JSTOR. If it existed, people would have already set up peer to peer sharing of JSTOR, since anyone can get the articles for free from a university library and contribute some. This has never happened it appears, showing no one wants it.

    The FBI and DOJ don’t seem to have ever understood that Pacer charges per page, while JSTOR is free to anyone at a university library. Therefore there is no demand by JSTOR users to get around the pay wall like there is for Pacer. This is because the FBI and DOJ never use JSTOR, except for the Antitrust Division econ Ph.D.s and they were never consulted by the FBI or USAO Mass.

    Why would they ask the employees in the DOJ who actually use JSTOR, and who are Ph.D. economists in antitrust if anyone would want to peer to peer fileshare JSTOR articles? Why would that thought occur to US DOJ prosecutors to ask? Seriously.

    I hope Congress does.

    • http://saultannenbaum.org/ Saul Tannenbaum

      That JSTOR is available only at universities – as opposed to 99% of he world that isn’t a university – is precisely what would have motivated the release of the documents, f hat was the plan.

      • mahood

        Yeah, it’s available at most public libraries.

        • http://saultannenbaum.org/ Saul Tannenbaum

          Sorry, no. The JSTOR you can get at a public library is a very limited subset of the JSTOR you can get at a well funded University.

  • MathFaithWorks

    JSTOR is available at Boston Public Library

    http://ezproxy.bpl.org/login?url=http://www.jstor.org

    Not every journal may be included.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1050370078 Diana McLean

    I personally have done nothing wrong myself yet witnessed a horrific group of individuals in Massachusetts that will take the fact that you like your privacy and use it to hurt you. Completely unprovoked and without cause, they will bully and intimidate you doggedly in multiple,separate instances where they will take turns to tell you that you have no reason to live, that your family will be better off without you, and they will even have the gall to describe in exact detail methods end your life. If you go in public, they will bully you, intimidate you, harass you, and basically make your life a living hell, even though you have done nothing to deserve this. These abusive groups need to be stopped.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1050370078 Diana McLean

      They will fabricate anything to use to slander you so that you have no recourse.

    • Kathy

      Not sure what you are saying here.

      • tom

        Yes Kathy, what is she saying ? sounds like a good way to drown out the real problem here. Probably a troll posing as a sympathetic party, purposely sounding like a lunatic. I’ve spent 40 years here in Massachusetts and I have no idea what she is talking about. PEOPLE STAY ON TOPIC ! This kid downloaded some files PERIOD.

  • gorilla monsoon

    I can wish and hope that Carmen Ortiz and her henchmen suffer guilt and anxiety every second for the rest of their tawdry lives for whatever part or influence they had in the death of Aaron Swartz. Actually, they should all be fired, today.

    • PatGinSD

      Don’t count on any remorse from the current crop of “civil servants”. Our nation seems to have totally lost its moral compass.

      • gorilla monsoon

        I would love to see these low-life shmucks anguish  the rest of their lives to the bitter end.
        Paula

      • gorilla monsoon

        I am, maybe too set on revenge. Anyone connected to Aaron Swartz tragick ending deserves the worst mental, physical or other pain for the rest of their lives, and then some.

        Paula

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    i cant seem to find on the internets how he actually did it

  • Stephen Roop

    Several comments on Becker’s interview with Aaron Swartz’s father:

    “… Aaron suffered from depression.” There’s a nest of unexplored complications here. Swartz’s own attorney has made much of complaining to the responsible assistant USDA that Swartz was suicidal and the attorney’s coldly responding that Swartz could be locked up to protect him. Becker could very well have probed this. Was the whole thing just guerrilla theater? Was Swartz’s attorney lying? Did Swartz’s father really not know what was going on with his son? Did any ot Swartz’s other friends and supporters? Why didn’t Becker make more of the various blog entries others have marshaled to argue Swartz’s depression? There’s no argument that anyone going through what Swartz was going through might get depressed. But, well, duh…. Few who have gone through it, or gone through worse, have committed suicide. Why doesn’t Becker at least pursue this angle?

    “No one was harmed.” One of the informing patterns of commentary on this case has been this argument. But this makes the whole thing sound like a tort case between two parties. It wasn’t a tort case. Swartz was accused of committing several crimes, and whether JSTOR might not have wanted any prosecution to proceed is fundamentally irrelevant even if Swartz returned everything he downloaded. Just returning all the cash you stole from a bank doesn’t mean you haven’t committed a crime. Even some of Swatrz’s biggest supporters, like Lawrence Lessig and Tim Berners Lee, have admitted that Schwartz was playing with fire, though both sre surely arguing the prosecution was disproportionate. Nor are JSTOR’s motives here entirely clear: it may just not have wanted whatever adverse publicity may have arisen. Its only public statement on the matter says, “The case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge. At the same time, as one of the largest archives of scholarly literature in the world, we must be careful stewards of the information entrusted to us by the owners and creators of that content. To that end, Aaron returned the data he had in his possession and JSTOR settled any civil claims we might have had against him in June 2011.” In this statement, at least, JSTOR says nothing whatever about the criminal charges pending for Swartz. It just says any civil issues were setlled.

    “I don’t believe it was against the law.” If Swartz “settled” with JSTOR, that seems to acknowledge something was at least at issue which required the settlement. So Swartz’s father is being totally disingenuous here. Otherwise, wouldn’t Schwartz have just given JSTOR the bird? Which story is it? Again, Becker does not pursue this.

    “…[S]o disproportionate for what the government was claiming had happened.” From a very early point, Swartz knew he was not going to get 35 years or anything near that. So did anyone who knows anything about federal sentencing. Anyhow, first off, Swartz had lawyers–perhaps a succession of them, but all seemingly competent enough to tell him that there would always be a huge difference between theoretical maximuml years served and likely sentence. Second, very early on, Swartz turned down a plea bargain of only three months’ sentence. Anyhow, Becker shows no sign of having looked at, much less taken in, the very dispassionate analaysis of the charges and surrounding law of this case. (Asking his family, friends and supporters is hardly dispassionate.) Consider Orin Kerr, at Volokh Conspiracy, at http://www.volokh.com/2013/01/14/aaron-swartz-charges/ and at http://www.volokh.com/2013/01/16/the-criminal-charges-against-aaron-swartz-part-2-prosecutorial-discretion/. Even some of Swartz’s biggest supporters, like Lawrence Lessig and Tim Berners Lee, have admitted that Schwartz was playing with fire, though Lessig is surely arguing the prosecution was disproportionate and Lee opposed felony charges.

    “What was Aaron exactly trying to do?” Here again there is ample evidence to consider and Becker considers none of it. She just lets Swartz’s father stonewall her with “You’d have to ask Aaron” replies, even though, just previously, he was perfectly prepared to opine how Aaron felt . There’s the Guerrilla Open Access manifesto of 2008. Professor Lessig in a recent lecture manages to connect this manifesto to what happened later with JSTOR:

    “Two years later he attended a conference, this time in Budapest, where this issue came up again, and at that conference I am told he learned that JSTOR had been asked, “How much would it cost to make this available to the whole world. What would we have to pay you?” And the answer was 250 million dollars. 250 million dollars. And it’s immediately after that conference that it’s clear Aaron begins the actual work that brought him into the crosshairs of the government.”

    See http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/03/transcript-lawrence-lessig-on-aarons-laws-law-and-justice-in-a-digital-age-section-i.html. (The remainder of the lecture is at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/03/transcript-lawrence-lessig-on-aarons-laws-law-and-justice-in-a-digital-age-section-ii.html. These are transcripts, only recently known to me. Lessig gave the underlying lecture, however, on February 19, 2013 and it has been widely available since then on the Internet.)

    Professor Kerr notes the 2008 manifesto as well in the context of why and with what level of intensity the government was pursuing Swartz. But Becker seems to know nothing about this. Why?

    The MIT angle. It seems scurrilous to explore this right now. Swartz pere gets his soapbox for his claims but MIT is going through what all of us hope will be a searching inquiry into why MIT persisted here in the face of–whatever one thinks about what he did–the plain legal menace to Swartz. Anyhow, why would Becker think MIT, once it had well or badly chosen its path, had any obligation whatever to Swartz pere to offer defence for its actions. “See you in court” seems like a perfectly sensible position to take with a plainly interested party like Swartz pere.

    “… almost an act of civil disobedience.” Becker totally lets Swartz pere off the hook here, letting Swartz pere wrap himself up in the generalized deficiencies of the plea bargaining system without for a moment expressing skepticism whether Aaron Swartz was really quite the victim it was so appealing to make him out to be. You can be quite sure there are very few hackers like Swartz in the world of the 97% who do plea bargains and, as Swartz’s father puts it, “…don’t take things to trial because they can’t afford to, and the risks are too great.” Swartz was not some run-of-the-mill impecunious corner drug dealer with the book getting thrown at him on the basis of iniquitous drug laws. He was a sophisticated actor, a proud hacker. He had issued his 2008 manifesto. He had powerful friends to advise him. He had many platforms he could have chosen for action. He made a million dollars by the time he was 20. He had a legal defense fund being managed by Lawrence Lessig’s wife. And what were the risks? Swartz might well have gotten a longer sentence of he had not plea-bargained. And, of course, he might have been acquitted, or given a suspended sentence. Becker never zeroes in on what seems a very obvious possibility here: that Swartz’s lawyers had told him he was likely to be convicted at trial and would have to do time.

    It’s worth further pointing out that many people outside of elite universities can have access to JSTOR materials even if it is also true that these materials are not universally accessible. Even before its recent further expansions of access, one could go through many public libraries and use their JSTOR access for free. I’ve done it myself, many times, and I do not view it as a burdensome thing–indeed, it’s pretty convenient to be able to do it online, hundreds or even thousands of miles away from Boston Public Library, in the middle of the night even. If people want to go to public libraries and look up articles in dusty back volumes of periodicals, they are in no way prohibited from doing so. JSTOR is not a barrier to access to the underlying materials. JSTOR is a convenience. But what it does is not “free.” And, besides, JSTOR is a public charity, not a profit-making institution. What JSTOR exactly does is one of the deep confusions in this case. Becker does not push Swartz’s father on this point at all, or give any suggestion she even understands it.

  • gorilla monsoon

    I would be so happy to hear of something critical that could put that evil woman behind bars. Preferably fpr life. I do not care about what her party affiliation is. God Forbid if she is a Democrat. My heart will break. Doen’t she sound like a lowly Repub?

    • bobplugh

      I don’t know about you, but as a Republican, I am ALL FOR the release of documents like this that are PAID FOR BY THE TAXPAYERS in the first place!

      I am for FREEDOM OF INFORMATION!

  • bobplugh

    These Prosecutors SUCK. They THROW the book at kids, just so they plea out and they get a conviction for their record. That US Attorney OUGHT TO LOSE THEIR JOB – after the people who were supposedly wronged said, “NO, it’s ok”, the PROSECUTOR SHOULD HAVE LET GO. But this person smelled a carcass – someone to roast for THEIR OWN CAMPAIGN TO MAKE THEM LOOK GOOD – OHHHHH – LOOK AT HOW SMART I AM – I CAUGHT AN MIT GUY…

    That’s the kind of STUPID CRAP that goes through these prosecutor’s heads. I hope the prosecutor ends up in really dire straights some day and needs help… and doesn’t get it.

  • bobplugh

    One more thing – I was NOT an Aaron Swartz junkie – I didn’t know him. But he seemed to be a reasonably bright, intelligent young guy. When I went to MIT we used to do stuff that would probably get you tossed out now. Thankfully, back then, the MIT Campus Police had some good heads on their shoulders – I hope that’s still the case because it is CLEARLY not the case with the ADMINISTRATION!

  • bobplugh

    To Aaron Schwartz’s father I would only say this. I am sorry I didn’t get to meet your son – I am 100% certain we would have been fast friends and I’m sure he had many close friends. I hope you can take solace with the fact that he did indeed positively impact the world in some way.

  • sjw81

    no responsibilit at all for illegal activity? was 6 months really so hard to do? what help did he get from his parents on his depression, other than go ahead and break the law…

  • http://www.facebook.com/karenwmeyer Karen W. Meyer

    I wish with all my heart that the pain of this had never descended up Aaron, or his family. It just pains my heart to know that this bright,young, idealistic man, the kind we more of in the world, was subjected to such relentless prosecution, bullying actually. We need more Aaron’s, not less. And prosecutors? how many prosecutors do you know who, even in the face of irrefutable evidence,have the courage to stand up and say “I was wrong”. Their lives are not built on right or wrong, but on record of convictions.

    • http://www.facebook.com/bkort Barry Kort

      Moulton’s First Law of Bureaucracy: Once a bureaucracy makes a mistake, it can’t be fixed.

      Moulton’s Second Law of Bureaucracy: Once a corrupt bureaucracy makes a mistake, not only can it not be fixed, it can’t even be mentioned. Evar.

  • http://saultannenbaum.org/ Saul Tannenbaum
  • Class No More

    MIT has lost it’s sense of morality. The drug campus next door built by Novartis is the evidence, MIT calls it “Life Science’s” but it is big Pharma. It is surrounded by druggies, Forest City, City of Cambridge Manager and employee’s and the City Councillor’s I call it the largest US Cartel or Mob around – even the cops look the other way but they can sure lock up the kids smoking pot in the Common !

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