Cambridge Man Of Ethics Faces Federal Charges For Computer Crimes And Stealing Scientific Papers From MIT

Cases of cyber crimes seem to be hitting the headlines a lot these days.

Take Aaron Swartz, 24, of Cambridge (hereinafter, the “Defendant”) for example. He was a fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics until quite recently. Now, he is facing allegations that he committed federal crimes. Specifically, he is charged with hacking into a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer archive system to steal more than 4 million articles from scientific journals and academic work.

The charges are wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer. He faces up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

At the moment, the Defendant is not in custody. He was released at a bail figure of $100,000.

Interestingly, although the government treats his actions as criminal, the Defendant has made a name for himself advocating for the elimination of barriers to the distribution of information over the Internet, and for the widest public distribution of information in libraries. He is a founder of Demand Progress and a co-founder of These political action groups, oppose what the Defendant has described as the “corrupting influence on big institutions.” In a statement released after his arrest, his colleagues at Demand Progress both denounced and ridiculed the government’s actions.

“This makes no sense,” David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress said in a statement. “It’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.” He also added that MIT and the Defendant have settled the matter between themselves before the prosecution even began.

To make matters more absurd, according to Segal, because MIT indicates that, “…they’ve suffered no loss or damage, and asked the government not to prosecute.” Segal .

Prosecutors said the Defendant allegedly broke into a computer wiring closet in a basement at MIT to access MIT’s network without authorization from a computer switch within that closet. The access allowed him to download materials from JSTOR, a non-profit archive of scientific journals and academic work. They further allege that he into the system to distribute JSTOR’s archives through file-sharing sites.

The articles and journals listed under the JSTOR system are available through a paid subscription, with some subscriptions costing as much as $50,000. A portion of the fee is in turn paid over to copyright holders.

The indictment also alleges that the Defendant’s illegal downloads impaired JSTOR’s computers and servers, depriving regular customers access to the archives.

Prosecutors add that even after security officials blocked the Defendant’s access, he hacked into the system again.

US Attorney Carmen Ortiz said in a statement announcing the indictments that the Defendant’s actions warranted his being treated like a criminal. “Stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data, or dollars,” Ortiz said in a statement. “It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away.”

Attorney Sam’s Take Theft Of Intellectual Property

Sometimes, it just seems as though folks just ask for trouble.

I sympathize with the Defendant and his cause, but among our Constitutional rights there has not yet been created an amendment which reads, “The people shall have the right to disobey the law if they do not agree with it.”

The timing of this alleged offense is no help either to the Defendant. Many industries are really hurting because of copyright infringement and piracy which our technology, due primarily to the internet, has made so easy to commit.

Physical objects are no longer the only things that can be the property of specific people. Ideas can be so regarded as well. This is why there is a particular area in the law, intellectual property, to deal with it.

The rights to certain material are not the only things that can be owned. Also, the right to access this material is can be owned.

And, as we know, items that are owned can be stolen or violated in varioustheft crimes.

In the instant case, as in all criminal cases, the person or entity which allegedly owns the items, or access to them, need not desire to prosecute in order for a prosecution to take place. They are merely witnesses.

It is the government, in this case, the federal government, who presses the case.

“Well, Sam, what if the person who owns the material, or access to it, refuses to cooperate?”

They get subpoenaed to court to testify.

“What if they ignore the subpoena?”

They get arrested and can locked up.

“Well, that hardly seems fair, does it?”

Again, this is the criminal justice system. Not the criminal fairness system. And the term “justice” is interpreted by the prosecutors…at least until a judge steps in.

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