House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) announced yesterday via Twitter that he and ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) will be officially briefed by the Justice Department regarding the prosecution tactics used by Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office in the Aaron Swartz ‘hactivism’ case. A spokesperson for Issa however, has declined to say when the meeting would take place.
On Monday hundreds of people gathered at a memorial ceremony in Washington, D.C., to mourn, and pay respects to the 26-year-old Internet activist who committed suicide Jan 11., leaving behind a legacy of technological achievements.
Several speakers including six lawmakers, a few university professors and a number of renowned activists called for immediate changes to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), used to prosecute Swartz.
Issa, along with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Reps. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) all spoke at the event, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) also attended.
The lawmakers stated that the CFAA gives far too much authority to prosecutors in ‘hactivism’ cases where there is little or no damage done to the victim.
“The crime and the punishment have to fit,” Issa said.
“We are going to change this unjust law,” said Wyden.
“Stick it to the man,” Issa said, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Access to information is a human right.”
Activists are now pushing to enact “Aaron’s Law”, a bill being developed by Silicon Valley Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), which would shorten sentences for minor hacking violations, exclude crimes that are nothing more than breaches of user contract, and ban the prosecution of those who have authorized access to data, but use unconventional methods to obtain it. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has also proposed a number of modifications to revise and improve the CFAA.
The bill has yet to come in front of Congress, but a White House petition to have Ortiz, who is also under severe scrutiny in the Beacon Hill case, fired, has exceeded 50,000 signatures – now more than twice the threshold at which the Obama administration vowed to respond.