Aaron Swartz, prosecutorial abuse, and accountability

A very busy week and not much time to post. But I must share some bits from this excellent editorial by Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian on the Aaron Swartz suicide and prosecutorial overreach. Like Greenwald, I am deeply concerned over increasing federal prosecutorial abuse. A few additional and appalling examples, in my opinion, include the prosecutions of Democratic politician Cyril Wecht and Comedian Tommy Chong, both in my home town of Pittsburgh, and both by the same Bush-era, politically ambitious Mary Beth Buchanan. But unlike the tragedy of Aaron Swartz (prosecuted under the Obama administration), Mr. Wecht and Mr. Chong still breathe. (And in fact, they later did a fund-raiser together where they poked fun at Buchanan.)

That brings me to Swartz. I apologize for not having the time to give a deeper background on Swartz (a programming genius and Internet advocate), who was being prosecuted for downloading millions of academic articles  from a database. (Now we’re prosecuting people for downloading professor-written articles?) Based on what I’ve read so far, the prosecution is a disturbing overreaction to what even the Wall Street Journal noted that some termed as a “Robin Hood-like stunt” regarding academic articles in a database. Heck, I thought that law professors love increased download counts, right?

More fundamentally, one must wonder whether the prosecution reflects an intentional and disturbing expansion to the federal governmental’s use of its discretionary prosecution authority against those who would dare to challenge the status quo, and to brand hacktivists as criminals. If that is the case, then who’s next? Prosecuting somebody who uses a fake name on Facebook to create a gripe account? <SARCASM-ON>No, that could never happen.</SARCASM-OFF>.

Read below for a few of Greenwald’s thoughts, and go to the full article for more. It really is an excellent read.

For numerous reasons, it is imperative that there be serious investigations about what took place here and meaningful consequences for this prosecutorial abuse, at least including firing. It is equally crucial that there be reform of the criminal laws and practices that enable this to take place in so many other cases and contexts.

. . . .

The US has become a society in which political and financial elites systematically evade accountability for their bad acts, no matter how destructive. Those who torture, illegally eavesdrop, commit systemic financial fraud, even launder money for designated terrorists and drug dealers are all protected from criminal liability, while those who are powerless – or especially, as in Swartz’s case, those who challenge power – are mercilessly punished for trivial transgressions. . . .

This immunity for people with power needs to stop. The power of prosecutors is particularly potent, and abuse of that power is consequently devastating. Prosecutorial abuse is widespread in the US, and it’s vital that a strong message be sent that it is not acceptable. Swartz’s family strongly believes – with convincing rationale – that the abuse of this power by Ortiz and Heymann played a key role in the death of their 26-year-old son. It would be unconscionable to decide that this should be simply forgotten.

Cross-posted to Infoglut Tumblr.

1 comment on “Aaron Swartz, prosecutorial abuse, and accountability”

  1. Pingback: Prosecutorial overreach and the “sick culture” of the Department of Justice | The Digital Garbage Net

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