STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Redress for Swartz Is Not on the Way Despite Petitions
By Staff News & Analysis - February 14, 2013

White House Must Respond to Petition Seeking Swartz Prosecutor's Firing … A whitehouse.gov petition demanding the President Barack Obama administration remove Aaron Swartz's prosecutor in the aftermath of the internet activist's suicide has surpassed 25,000 signatures. That means the Obama administration is obliged to enter the debate over whether authorities — including line prosecutor Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann — went too far in prosecuting the 26-year-old internet sensation. Swartz, a founder of Demand Progress who had written about his own depression, was found dead at his Brooklyn apartment last month. He was under indictment for more than a dozen counts of computer hacking and wire fraud in connection to the illicit downloading of millions of academic articles from a subscription database. – Wired

Dominant Social Theme: Once a petition about Swartz gets noticed, redress will be initiated.

Free-Market Analysis: There is some idea, apparently, that a government petition focused on firing the chief prosecutor of the Aaron Swartz case will begin to redress injustice. We doubt it, however.

Aaron Swartz is dead of an apparent suicide apparently brought on by prosecutorial misconduct regarding an offense for which he had been charged criminally (see above). Now, it is true that Swartz did "hack" an MIT/JSTOR academic digital database. But as the Wired article points out, he didn't hurt anyone and he was performing an act of civil disobedience.

Nonetheless, an overzealous prosecutor decided to press Swartz and turn a modest case into a severe one. If ever the US government needed to explain a prosecution, it is this one. However, the petition process in which people seem to place some trust is probably not going to deliver a satisfactory result. The administration of Barack Obama is under no obligation than to do more than respond, whatever that means.

The response can take the form of an explanation but presumably it doesn't have to. In this case, we doubt an explanation will be forthcoming. Here's more from the article:

His prosecution was being handled by Heymann, the Boston-based cybercrime prosecutor who won a record 20-year prison stretch for TJX hacker Albert Gonzalez. Another defendant connected to the TJX case, Jonathan James, committed suicide.

The Swartz case has been wending through pre-trial motions for 18 months, and was set for jury trial on April 1. "We should not destroy the lives of human beings for crimes against computer systems that harm no one and provide no benefit to the perpetrator," said the petition, which reached 25,000 signatures on Monday, triggering a forthcoming response from the government.

"Such actions should be treated as forms of protest and civil disobedience. To prosecute these actions the same as rapes and murders is a savage abuse of the criminal justice system which continues to destroy the lives of peaceful, productive members of society."

Swartz had said his motive to was to free up intellectual research to the masses. Another petition seeking the removal of Carmen Ortiz, Heymann's boss and the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, has also garnered enough signatures requiring the administration to respond. Responses to both petitions are pending.

The larger issue spotlighted by Swartz's prosecution and suicide is why the government was involved at all. MIT had declined to press charges and, in any event, Swartz had never distributed any of the data.

This issue is a good example of why we think what we call public justice is so flawed. The state had no business in this case, from what we can tell. Justice on the whole is far better served when the two (or more) parties come together to resolve differences as best they can.

This is the way disputes, civil or criminal, used to be resolved. Parties could attempt to deal with issues on their own or through a private third-party intermediary. It is only in the past century, really, that the rise of the state as prosecutor of first and last resort has become accepted throughout the West.

Even today, in various countries, criminal actions as serious as murder are resolved via a "blood price" paid to the victim's family by the offending party. This offers some level of financial satisfaction without depriving the offending party's family of a breadwinner or parent.

One of the problems with the US's six million-plus person Gulag is that those incarcerated so often have not just families but dependents. And as penalties for even insignificant infractions can be several decades, families are often bereft of a parent and children are impoverished and psychologically injured.

Almost 50 percent of all US households are now led by just a single parent and one would think the US justice system is responsible at least in part for these terrible statistics. Even after an individual is released, the damage remains and is difficult to work through from a familial and professional standpoint.

Often, we will hear that the state is involved because justice seeks that an individual, if guilty, must pay his debt to society. But in Swartz's case, there was no debt to pay, as no damages had occurred.

The real reason for such massive and growing state involvement in civil and criminal cases is one of control, so far as we can tell. It is the same reason so many laws are passed and so many penalties carry near-life terms.

The modern justice system is being driven by elite priorities, in our view. The idea is to ensure that society is so layered with laws and so penetrated with police investigations and federal "pre-crime" surveillance that anyone can be charged with anything at any time.

The end result is supposed to be a passive and cowed population that will not resist the implementation of further statist initiatives including increased global governance. Swartz got caught up in this system and presumably he believed that he and his case would be dealt with rationally on its merits and that a public discussion would ensue instead of an increasingly high profile public prosecution.

What Swartz didn't understand was that the system as it is currently formulated is not about justice but control. And that the point is to make examples of people so as to cow the rest.

After Thoughts

For this reason we doubt that the current petition regarding Swartz will draw any kind of significant action. Those behind the petition don't understand what the modern US justice system has become anymore than Swartz himself did – or not until it was too late.

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