The partner of the late Internet activist Aaron Swartz has called his prosecution “political,” after reading a report in the Huffington Post of a briefing last week for congressional staffers given by a Department of Justice official.
“The DOJ has told Congressional investigators that Aaron’s prosecution was motivated by his political views on copyright, ” Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman asserted in her latest blog post. “I was going to start that last paragraph with ‘In a stunning turn of events,’ but I realized that would be inaccurate — because it’s really not that surprising.”
Swartz campaigned for more public access to information. In 2011 Massachusetts federal prosecutors charged Swartz with multiple violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act after he downloaded a large volume of academic documents from online database JSTOR using Massachusetts Institute of Technology computers. The Guerilla Open Access Manifesto, to which Swartz contributed in 2008, said that activists “need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks.”
Defenders of the Internet activist, who hung himself early this year, attribute his final act to stresses related to the prospect of multiple decades in prison, though in reality he only faced a few months of jail time had he agreed to plead guilty.
Steinbrickner-Kaufman also complained that Swartz’s defense strategy put a barrier between them, as their not being married meant there was no marital privilege, meaning prosecutors could have compelled testimony from her. Asked by Main Justice what she wishes she could have said about the case to Swartz before his January suicide, she said via a Twitter direct message: “I wish I could have asked him what he had been planning to do with the data, and why he chose to do the downloads at MIT.”
The Guerilla Open Access Manifesto, to which Swartz contributed in 2008, said that activists “need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks.”
“Let me tell you,” she wrote yesterday on her Tumblr page, “really not fun to go through a few years of a serious relationship and make life-changing decisions together like whether you should take a plea bargain, while having to worry that something you tell the other person could be used against you in a court of law.”
Stinebrickner-Kauffman said Tuesday that her characterization of the prosecution being “political” was not one that her partner shared during his lifetime.
He thought it was overreach by some local prosecutors who didn’t really understand the internet and just saw him as a high-profile scalp they could claim, facilitated by a criminal justice system and computer crime laws specifically designed to give prosecutors, however incompetent or malicious, all the wrong incentives and all the power they could ever want.
Last Friday Associate Deputy Attorney General Steven Reich briefed congressional staff about the prosecution, and some of those staffers spoke anonymously to The Huffington Post. They indicated that DOJ officials gleaned motive from his political writings, although Swartz hadn’t distributed the JSTOR content. The HuffPo said that the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto “demonstrated [to prosecutors] Swartz’s malicious intent in downloading documents on a massive scale.”