The internet is in an uproar over the recent suicide of Aaron Swartz and the federal prosecution that helped push him to it. My thoughts:
- I first heard about the suicide on Reddit, on a Python community thread named something like “Author of web.py framework found dead”.
- There was nothing atypical about the way this prosecution was handled. It’s commonplace for prosecutors to intimidate through claims of outrageous punishments for those who won’t plead guilty. If you only get upset about this practice when it hits a sympathetic person like Aaron, then you’re part of the problem.
- The Aaron Swartz story now has the masses clamoring for scaling back the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which makes it a federal crime to “exceed authorized access” to a computer. Where were you guys a couple years ago when the same law was being used to throw the book at Lori Drew, the woman who made a fake MySpace profile to cyberbully her daughter’s classmate, and drove her to suicide? It’s a good thing that we can’t vote on court case verdicts the way we can on American Idol contestants.
- Orin Kerr’s legal analysis of the case is far more reasoned and well-informed than anything you’ll get through the mainstream media.
- It’s been a slow news week. Would we have been this upset about Aaron Swartz if his suicide had happened in late October (with the election approaching)?
- Zoe Lofgren (congresswoman for me and most of Silicon Valley) is proposing an amendment to CFAA and calling it “Aaron’s Law”. Orin Kerr points out that her amendment wouldn’t have actually done much for Aaron’s case, though we may get a better result if we wait for the Supreme Court to resolve the lower court split over how the CFAA should be interpreted. (Thank you Orin for linking me to Kozinski’s opinion in the Nosal case, which is excellent.)