(MintPress) – The U.S. Department of Justice admitted for the first time this week that Aaron Swartz, an Internet hacker who committed suicide in January, was targeted because of his political views in open support of file sharing, a practice that violates copyright laws. The open admission could lend support to friends, family and thousands of […]
(MintPress) – The U.S. Department of Justice admitted for the first time this week that Aaron Swartz, an Internet hacker who committed suicide in January, was targeted because of his political views in open support of file sharing, a practice that violates copyright laws. The open admission could lend support to friends, family and thousands of Internet activists who contend that the systematic witch hunt against Swartz led to the decision to take his own life.
The announcement was revealed by a Justice Department representative speaking with congressional staffers during a recent briefing on the computer fraud prosecution, vindicating supporters who maintain that “prosecutorial overreach” would have unjustly lead to a decade or more in prison had Swartz been prosecuted. The Department of Justice contends that Swartz was singled out because of his alleged ties to Anonymous, a hacker group that has previously shut down the websites of financial institutions and foreign governments.
Crackdown on whistleblowers
Before his suicide in January 2013, Swartz published a “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto,” a lengthy document outlining his belief in information sharing. He called information sharing a “moral imperative” that the 26-year-old believed must be upheld as a constitutionally-protected form of free speech.
He went so far as to advocate for “civil disobedience” against copyright laws pushed by corporations “blinded by greed,” leading to the “privatization of knowledge.”
Swartz was arrested by a federal agent in January 2011 on state breaking-and-entering charges in connection to his downloading and sharing millions of academic journal articles from JSTOR. JSTOR is a database used by colleges and universities.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) pressed charges against Swartz for allegedly using the MIT computer network to carry out the action. The Internet activist maintained that he had legal access to the online articles.
“We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive,” Swartz wrote in his manifesto. “We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.”
Federal prosecutors eventually charged Swartz with two counts of wire fraud and 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. If convicted he would have faced more than 10 years in prison.
Swartz is one of many who the U.S. government has systematically attacked in cases involving free speech and Internet freedoms. Whistleblowers, especially those associated with the WikiLeaks project, have been subject to harsh scrutiny.
Jeremy Hammond, an Internet hacker and WikiLeaks contributor labelled by some as “the other Bradley Manning” was moved into solitary confinement last month. This is an unconstitutional attempt to silence the activist responsible for leaking 5 million emails that exposed widespread corruption within private corporations and foreign governments.
Hammond has been held without bail or trial for more than one year. He could face life in prison for releasing millions of emails from Stratfor, a security firm contracted by governments and private companies.
Monitoring the Internet
Like many free speech activists, Swartz stood in firm opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) H.R. 3261, a piece of legislation that would empower the federal government to increase Internet surveillance as a means to cut down on the proliferation of pirated materials online.
The public outcry led to a series of massive online protests January 2012. Wikipedia, Reddit, and an estimated 7,000 other smaller websites coordinated a service blackout, to raise awareness. More than 160 million people viewed Wikipedia’s online banner that was highly critical of the proposed legislation.
More recently, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a Senate resolution December 2012 in a 397-0 vote calling upon the U.S. government to oppose United Nations control of the Internet. The legislation was introduced by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
The vote sent a clear signal to countries meeting at a U.N. conference on telecommunications in Dubai.