A Justice Department representative told congressional staffers during a recent briefing on the computer fraud prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz that Swartz's "Guerilla Open Access Manifesto" played a role in the prosecution, sources told The Huffington Post.
Swartz's 2008 manifesto said sharing information was a "moral imperative" and advocated for "civil disobedience" against copyright laws pushed by corporations "blinded by greed" that led to the "privatization of knowledge."
"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 the 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."
The "Manifesto," Justice Department representatives told congressional staffers, demonstrated Swartz's malicious intent in downloading documents on a massive scale.
Swartz was 26 when he killed himself in January. He had been indicted by federal prosecutors in 2011 for downloading millions of academic journal articles from the nonprofit online database JSTOR using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer network. He faced a felony conviction and prison sentence for downloading the articles, though he maintained he had permission to access them.
The briefing for congressional staffers on the House Oversight Committee was led by Steven Reich, an associate deputy attorney general. Reich did not respond to a request for comment.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the leading Republican and Democrat on the committee, are jointly investigating prosecutors' handling of the Swartz case. Family, friends and supporters of Swartz have said they believe the aggressive prosecution played a role in his suicide. The U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz, has defended her staff members assigned to the case.
Reich told congressional staffers that the Justice Department believed federal prosecutors acted in a reasonable manner, according to the sources. He also made clear that prosecutors were in part influenced by wanting to deter others from committing similar offenses.
When considering punishment, courts are supposed to impose an “adequate deterrence to criminal conduct" under federal statute. Swartz's "Manifesto," prosecutors said they believed, made clear that he intended to share the academic articles widely.
Reich told congressional staffers that prosecutors offered Swartz a plea bargain early in the case that would have given him a three-month prison sentence in exchange for a guilty plea to a felony, according to three sources with knowledge of the briefing who would not agree to be quoted by name. Reich told the staffers that the plea deal would allow Swartz's lawyers to argue to a judge that Swartz didn't deserve a prison sentence.
Some congressional staffers left the briefing with the impression that prosecutors believed they needed to convict Swartz of a felony that would put him in jail for a short sentence in order to justify bringing the charges in the first place, according to two aides with knowledge of the briefing.Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Sir Tim Berners Lee, Founder Of The World Wide Web
He <a href="https://twitter.com/timberners_lee/status/290140454211698689">tweeted</a>: “Aaron dead. World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down. Parents all, we have lost a child. Let us weep.”
Quinn Norton, Freelance Journalist And Swartz's Close Friend
"We used to have a fight about how much the internet would grieve if he died. I was right, but the last word you get in as the still living is a hollow thing, trailing off, as it does, into oblivion." Read more <a href="http://www.quinnnorton.com/said/?p=644">here</a>.
Danah Boyd, Social Media Researcher And Swartz's Friend
"What I feel right now is anger. I'm angry at Aaron, angry at the state, angry at MIT, angry at anti-hactivist sentiment & angry at myself." Read Boyd's full statement on Swartz's death <a href="http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2013/01/13/aaron-swartz.html">here</a>.
Cory Doctorow, Science Fiction Author And Swartz's Friend
"Whatever problems Aaron was facing, killing himself didn't solve them. Whatever problems Aaron was facing, they will go unsolved forever. If he was lonely, he will never again be embraced by his friends. If he was despairing of the fight, he will never again rally his comrades with brilliant strategies and leadership. If he was sorrowing, he will never again be lifted from it." Read more <a href="http://boingboing.net/2013/01/12/rip-aaron-swartz.html">here</a>.
Swartz Family Statement
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death.” Read more <a href="http://rememberaaronsw.tumblr.com/post/40372208044/official-statement-from-the-family-and-partner-of-aaron">here</a>.
Lawrence Lessig, Director Of The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics At Harvard University
"The question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a 'felon.' For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept, and so that was the reason he was facing a million-dollar trial in April -- his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge. And so as wrong and misguided and fucking sad as this is, I get how the prospect of this fight, defenseless, made it make sense to this brilliant but troubled boy to end it." Read more <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lawrence-lessig/aaron-swartz-suicide_b_2467079.html">here</a>.
JSTOR, Academic Archive
"We are deeply saddened to hear the news about Aaron Swartz. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Aaron’s family, friends, and everyone who loved, knew, and admired him. He was a truly gifted person who made important contributions to the development of the internet and the web from which we all benefit." Read more <a href="http://about.jstor.org/statement-swartz">here</a>.
L. Rafael Reif, MIT President
"I have asked professor Hal Abelson to lead a thorough analysis of MIT's involvement from the time that we first perceived unusual activity on our network in Fall 2010 up to the present. I have asked that this analysis describe the options MIT had and the decisions MIT made, in order to understand and to learn from the actions MIT took. I will share the report with the MIT community when I receive it." Read more <a href="http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2013/letter-on-death-of-aaron-swartz.html">here</a>.
Anonymous, Hacktivist Collective
On Sunday night, one day after Swartz's death, Anonymous knocked out Internet access at MIT, <a href="http://tech.mit.edu/V132/N61/anonymous.html" target="_hplink">according to The Tech</a>, a campus newspaper. Two MIT-affiliated websites were rewritten with the following message from the hacktivist group: "Whether or not the government contributed to his suicide, the government's prosecution of Swartz was a grotesque miscarriage of justice, a distorted and perverse shadow of the justice that Aaron died fighting for - freeing the publicly-funded scientific literature from a publishing system that makes it inaccessible to most of those who paid for it - enabling the collective betterment of the world through the facilitation of sharing - an ideal that we should all support." Read the full text of the hack <a href="http://gizmodo.com/5975646/anonymous-hacks-mit-in-aaron-swartzs-name">here</a>.
Danny O'Brien, Journalist And Swartz's Friend
"Ada [O'Brien's daughter] cried, then we hugged, then Ada suggested we have a goodbye party, with ice-cream and sprinkles and a movie, and make a board where we could pin all our memories. We laughed at how funny he was. Aaron taught her so well." Read more <a href="http://www.oblomovka.com/wp/2013/01/12/he-was-funny/">here</a>. <strong>Correction:</strong> This slide originally reported that Ada was Aaron Swartz's daughter, not Danny O'Brien's. The Huffington Post regrets this error.