Sunday, January 13, 2013

A question in response to the case of Aaron Swartz

I follow Robert Scoble on Twitter. This morning (i.e., Saturday), he retweeted this from Tim Berners-Lee:

I had no idea who "Aaron" was, and initially thought he was just someone whom Scoble and Berner-Lee knew and whom some of their friends might know.

Even if the tweet had given the subject's full name - Aaron Swartz - I would not have caught the reference. I don't remember having heard of him before today.

I have spent the last hour or so getting a clue, both as to who Aaron Swartz was, and why Scoble retweeted Berners-Lee's tweet.

My first stop, CNN - whose headline summarizes both things well: "Internet prodigy, activist Aaron Swartz commits suicide."

As I began to get an idea of the scope of Swartz's achievements - co-creating RSS, developing Reddit, leading the campaign against SOPA/PIPA - I grew a little annoyed with myself for not knowing who he was.

Then I read "Remember Aaron Swartz," the official statement from Swartz's family and partner, which says in part:

"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. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles."

And I read "The Truth About Swartz's 'Crime'", by Alex Stamos, who was preparing to serve as an expert witness in Swartz's trial for computer fraud and related charges.

And the more I read, the more I began to wonder, "Is the President of the United States responsible for the conduct of federal prosecutors?" Because if so, the prosecution of this case deepens my queasiness about President Obama, my concern about where he stands on civil liberties - a queasiness initially stirred when he signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, authorizing the indefinite detention of American citizens without trial.

My vote for Mr. Obama in November (which my queasiness says I should have cast differently) will likely turn out to be my last vote for either a Republican or a Democrat for president. I don't think either party will offer someone whom I can trust to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States - which in turn protects us from an overreaching government.