Outpourings of grief and calls for change continue to flood the Internet after the suicide of Aaron Swartz, only 26 years old.
Aaron was one of [the EFF] community’s best and brightest, and he achieved great heights in his short life. He was a coder, a political activist, an entrepreneur, a contributor to major technological developments (like RSS), and an all-around Internet freedom rock star. As Wired noted, the world will miss out on decades of magnificent things Aaron would have accomplished had his time not been cut short.
Over the past two years, Aaron was forced to devote much of his energy and resources to fighting a relentless and unjust felony prosecution brought by Justice Department attorneys in Massachusetts. His alleged crimes stemmed from using MIT’s computer network to download millions of academic articles from the online archive JSTOR, allegedly without “authorization.” For that, he faced 13 felony counts of hacking and wire fraud (pdf), which carried the possibility of decades in prison and crippling fines. His case would have gone to trial in April.
The government should never have thrown the book at Aaron for accessing MIT’s network and downloading scholarly research. However, some extremely problematic elements of the law made it possible. We can trace some of those issues to the U.S. criminal justice system as an institution, and I suspect others will write about that in the coming days. But Aaron’s tragedy also shines a spotlight on a couple profound flaws of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in particular, and gives us an opportunity to think about how to address them. (read more at link source)
It’s not just the copyright regime that’s a total clusterfuck (though, granted, that is much more so than other areas of law), but there is a fundamental problem with the common law system and, more specifically, with the way the law is applied. I haven’t seen a study on how many people commit suicide while being in a trial (or as a result of ~) but I suspect the number is far greater than we imagine. Meanwhile, if you talk to law students or recent graduates, they’ll tell you that the system we have now is inferior or at best equal to what we had in medieval times (!!!).
Sadly, it’s only when a truly special individual falls through the cracks in this manner that anybody pays any attention to the massive hijack of lives and resources that “justice” has become.