The Allure Of Unquestioned Premises: "The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz"

Smart people are a-dime-a-dozen. Very smart people are common. Though geniuses are statistically uncommon, humanity's surging tide produces tens of thousands of them in every generation.

But even geniuses are people, and people tend to play the hand that is dealt to them, or else discard just a few cards to draw new ones. Few question the rules of the game or why they should play it at all.

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz depicts a rare genius who questioned the premise of the game. It's terrific and moving. I bought it, downloaded it, and watched it on my iPad on a plane trip, all of which seemed very appropriate. It was well worth the time and attention and money.

Writer, director, and producer Brian Knappenberger has delivered the sort of documentary I like: one in which the art is mostly transparent. Knappenberger has technique, and a viewpoint, but he deftly employs interviews and archival video and narration to drive the tale of Swartz's life so that it's easy to forget you're watching a documentary rather than hearing a story told by friends. He uses a light touch with art direction and music and editing so that a piece that could have been an outraged screed is instead a compelling portrait of an unusual man with unusual views. Knappenberger avoids bogging down in technical details or legal procedures, using a level of description that is accessible but takes the viewer seriously. He falls into the easy trap of talking about maximum potential federal sentences rather than likely sentences, which is misleading, but doesn't dwell on it.

Swartz wasn't different because he was so smart; he was different because of what he did with his gifts. He questioned. Most of us think of government and private entities as being distinct, and even adverse to each other. Swartz questioned that premise and pointed out how private companies reap benefits from the public fisc, as in the case of private companies selling access to scholarly articles backed by public money. Conventional wisdom held that SOPA and PIPA were unstoppable and that grassroots efforts could not prevail against entertainment industry money; Swartz questioned that premise and became an effective leader in the successful fight against those measures. Swartz could have cashed in any number of ways, but questioned whether being silicon-rich was how he wanted to live his life.

But the movie shows that Swartz and his supporters failed to question premises when he encountered the criminal justice system. Most people make that mistake. When Swartz's friend Quinn Norton talks about being interrogated by the FBI, she is outraged that they seem indifferent and bored when presented with facts that don't fit their worldview. Norton accepted the premise that law enforcement is trying to find out what really happened, rather than gathering facts to support their version of events. She seems shocked that the FBI agents lied to her repeatedly as they questioned her; she did not appear to question the premise that the government tells the truth. Swartz's backers were enthused when JSTOR announced it was not pressing for charges against him; they did not question the premise that the criminal justice system acts based on what alleged victims need or want. Swartz's friends express disbelief that the federal government would spend resources to prosecute him rather than on far more worthy cases; they do not question the premise that the system makes rational decisions based on resource allocation. Swartz's allies are shocked that AUSA Stephen Heymann says things like "stealing is stealing" and "all hackers are alike"; they don't question the premise that the government's stated motives are its actual motives, or that the system cares whether it is right. Swartz and his supporters are appalled that a federal prosecutor might have been motivated by animus towards Swartz's political and social activism; they don't question the premise that the system is made to protect citizens from the idiosyncrasies and petty malice of its component parts. Swartz and his supporters are amazed that an outdated computer fraud law threatens harsh penalties for downloading scientific journals; they do not question the premise that the law forbids specified acts democratically selected. They do not suspect that the law is a flexible tool made to empower prosecutors to charge whomever they want to charge. You don't need to be particularly smart or creative to figure out a way to charge someone with a federal crime in America.

In short, Swartz's team seemed to view this as an unjust and broken application of a system to an undeserving man, not recognizing that the system is rigged and unjust and broken from the start. That's common among smart, educated, fortunate people. As I have discussed before, my fortunate clients are the most outraged at how they are treated by the criminal justice system, and most prone to seeing conspiracies and vendettas, because they are new to it — they have not questioned the premise that the system's goal is justice. My clients who have lived difficult lives in hard neighborhoods don't see a conspiracy; they recognize incompetence and brutal indifference and injustice as features, not bugs. "Justice system" is a label, not a description. The furnace on a steam locomotive bound for San Francisco does not have a goal of reaching San Francisco; the furnace just burns what you throw into it to move the train along.

Does Knappenberger mean to convey that the system singled out Aaron Swartz for special persecution, or that it is broken? It's a testament to his skill as a filmmaker that I'm not sure. Knappenberger seems comfortable with some ambiguity, and allows his subjects occasionally to undermine their own premises.

Knappenberger permits the same ambiguity to color Aaron Swartz's tragic death. You can take the film's narrative as suggesting that an unprincipled prosecution drove a man past his limits to suicide. But Swartz's loved ones also supply evidence of his long battle with depression. He "didn't want to be a burden," someone says. "None of this made any sense and it still doesn't," his brother says. "Things were a lot harder for him," his girlfriend says. She also says that Swartz probably had clinical depression before "but not when I was with him." I'm very biased on the subject, as I've said before, but to my ear her claim is deliberately presented by Knappenberger as unconvincing.

Aaron Swartz suffered. He suffered long before the implacable system began to grind him up. He was open about his depression and the pain it caused him. Even the government knew it.

But we don't want to believe that a person like Aaron Swartz — strong, brilliant, beloved, with hopes and goals and ideals, supported by family and friends — would take his own life despite all those things because of a disease. It is, strangely, less terrifying to think that a cruel government persecution overcame his ability to cope. It's awful thing, but an notable thing, an unusual thing, not something we imagine happening to us or the people we love. Accepting that the government drove Aaron Swartz to kill himself doesn't force us to ask this question: what if we gave someone we love everything we have, and they had every reason to live, and it wasn't enough? What if someone we love were suffering that much, and we didn't see it?

It's more comfortable to believe that circumstance drives people to kill themselves. That's the premise, and we don't question it. We should. It's wrong. Depression lies, and depression kills. It kills the forgotten and the cherished alike. It kills rich and poor, genius and dolt, the scattered and the capable. It kills the strong with the weak. It kills people undergoing terrible hardship and people who seem to have everything. It can be killing the person you know and love best in the world and you might not see it.

These are hard things to accept. But if we want to help people who suffer from depression, we must question the premise.

Watch the movie. Watch Aaron Swartz question premises, and question some yourself.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

Comments

  1. says

    Whenever I write something like this I always feel compelled to say that I'm doing okay right now. And so I am. But there but for the grace of God go I.

  2. Carl 'SAI' Mitchell says

    The worst bit of depression isn't the depression itself. That just hurts, and possibly kills you.

    The worst bit is the ostracism, both real and perceived. The knowledge that something in your mind is damaged, that some aspect of your most fundamental component is broken. It's a disease of what makes you who you are. When people find out, many treat you differently. They treat you like some fragile thing that can break at the slightest provocation. That just reinforces the idea that you're "different" and pushes you away from the social interactions that can help. There's also a rather significant stigma against mental illness, at least in the US.

    Depression forces the depressed person to be alone, no matter who is there with them. Humans in solitary confinement break down quite quickly, depression can have the same effect. The hardest bit for those trying to help the depressed person is that the loneliness comes from within, and can't be fixed solely through outside interaction.

  3. Grifter says

    Mrs. Grifter's grandfather–a reasonably well-known painter in the narrow niche of "paintings of firefighters"–recently committed suicide in the standard old-white-dude fashion.

    Her family struggled with the notion that a man who everybody in the area loved who, while not rich, was certainly well-enough-off, who was not ill, could have seen fit to end things. "He had everything going for him" they said–and it wasn't my place to point out that, as far as my experience has taught me, all of that is irrelevant when the gaping maw of depression starts to swallow you. Bad circumstances are often almost an excuse to do a thing you were on the edge of doing for quite some time–and if you're on the edge, you can fall off just as easily without the "push" of bad circumstances as you can with them.

    I've seen many a patient who attempted suicide, and several who succeeded either at the time or at a later date. I even got to have a conversation with a man who was self-gutshot and, I knew, almost certainly dead already, but who was lucid and conversational as he placidly told me that he had done what he set out to do. I get so tired of the stigma of mental illness in this country, because gorram it, depression is serious and we need to treat it seriously, not by telling people they just need to cheer up. So, I'll echo Ken (and paraphrase a bit in deference to my own heathen sensibilities): "There but for the grace of circumstance go I"

  4. says

    Thank you, Ken–and thank you for reassuring us that you yourself are doing okay right now.

    My own family is very supportive but they just don't get it. Because I'm doing well right now, they think I'm cured. And for a long time, when I wasn't doing very well (or well at all), it was just easier to fake it. It didn't make me feel any better, but at least they would stop trying to silver line my life for me.

  5. Anonymous says

    As a diagnosed sufferer of clinical depression, I have to agree that circumstances do not cause the bad situations, but they do contribute. I have experienced a situation where it is likely that circumstances caused an instance of 'awake but not awake'. I did not eat or move for some amount of time. Neighbors contacted EMT's, but when they came I told them to go away. A few days later, still concerned, they called the EMT's again. This time I did not respond. They took me away. I was aware of everything, but until the evening, when one of the attendants at the hospital I was checked into asked me a question that apparently triggered some base cognizance, I did not respond to anything. I saw and heard the EMT's. I saw and heard the doctor in the emergency room. The impetus from me to respond, was not there.

    At the same time I am a failure at suicide. I have tried four different times, without success. Was it my inability to perform the function? Or was it really that I did not want to die? Now, ten years later, I still do not know. The drugs they gave me did nothing. And when I quit them, AMA, and I told the shrink that prescribed them, that all the 'end of the earth' likelihoods that would happen if I quit cold turkey, did not happen, he told me they were "just preventative anyway".

    The depression is there. There may be ways to take it away, I have not found them, but have gotten to the point that I can participate in society, to some degree, for now.

    I do not participate in the new health care initiative, cause my depression tells me 'why do you need any care?'. If I die, I die. But depression tells me to do nothing about longevity.

    I can only speak from my own anecdotal experience, and do not pretend to speak for Aaron or any other depressed person. I can only say that depression has had tremendous impact on my life, and those around me. When I get depressed, those around me feel it. And it ain't pretty. If some outside source added some kind of pressure at the wrong time, like SSDI denying me at some time in the future, well, I have no plans after that. What's the point?

  6. says

    I've read more than a few works on the semi-tragedy (how can suicide be a real tragedy) of Aaron Swartz, all of them uncritical of Mr. Swartz, his supporters and all surprised that the US Attorney would actually try to enforce a law or two and their multi-level rationalizations of his behavior. This is the most sensible words I've ever read about "his case." And, of course, the point you were making was about depression, which is what actually killed Mr. Swartz, not being called to account for his (depressing when considering the "felony" price tag) actions.

  7. David Engh says

    — they have not questioned the premise that the system's goal is justice

    A number of years back I was working in the California state courts. When I expressed some exasperation with what was happening with a locally high-profile case, one of the supervisors told me "The law serves itself. Actual justice is an accidental byproduct". It was true then, and is true now.

  8. TTC says

    I always appreciate your articles on depression. I just wanted to add a bit to on the topic of circumstances. There are all sorts of triggers and stressors that can exacerbate depression or initiate an episode. The problem is that when you're depressed your thinking is so messed up and irrational, anything can get to you. This is why people we think aren't vulnerable to depression, ie the rich capable genius, can fall victim to it.

    Anonymous: From my own personal experience at a nadir, my depression was so bad I didn't have the energy or motivation to make an attempt, much less follow through. All I could do was lie there. Don't give up on medication. It can take a long time to find a combination that works for you. It did with me.

  9. Tedderick says

    There is one sentence in the film — that Aaron could have downloaded the JSTOR database to analyze a network of 'climate change' corruption via foundations and grants. If the government is using research to control the opinions and direction of Science that would have been very bad to expose to public scrutiny. We are lucky they chose prosecution. I prefer my Science curated by the government, who has my best interest at heart. People like Aaron should stop interfering with the government's right to control our access to information.

  10. Rick H. says

    As a big fan of the well-turned metaphor, let me applaud this line in particular:

    "Justice system" is a label, not a description. The furnace on a steam locomotive bound for San Francisco does not have a goal of reaching San Francisco; the furnace just burns what you throw into it to move the train along.

  11. Stacey C. says

    Thank you. I'm always heartened to see people talking truthfully about depression. A thing both I and my husband struggle with. Also as Rick H. pointed out…that is a quote that I plan to use often. I was immediately struck by the deep truth of it.

  12. says

    Excellent review. I'll actually watch the film now because of this.

    I'm especially appreciative of learning that the filmmaker allows for ambiguity. I like documentaries like that.

    I'm reminded of "My Kid Can Paint That" where not only is ambiguity is allowed, but the question of how one covers an unanswerable question takes over the latter third of the film.

  13. says

    Do you realize how many people do have routine access to JSTOR? No, you don't. Otherwise, you wouldn't introduce nonsensical conspiratorial spin into the discussion.

  14. Ron P says

    I have atypical depression, it's never gone away, looking back, it's been with me since childhood. The only thing that works for me is getting some omega 3 fatty acids, I take 3 Trader Joe's (brand matters, some are like a fish market on a hot day, some are closer to sashimi) every day, and seem to be fairly good. If I miss a day or two, I really feel it, but I take some, and feel better almost immediately. Circumstances do have serious effects, at least for me. Depression is a mix of hardware (what you were born with, drugs), and software (your thoughts, which in turn are affected by your experiences), both matter, treating both seems to work best.

  15. Babs says

    the government, who has my best interest at heart

    Ahahahahaha! Thanks, Tedderick, I needed that laugh.

    Excellent post, Ken. Hope you're weathering the weather okay and the kids haven't gone completely bonkers.

  16. justanotherthoughtt says

    Your observation about unquestioned premises, how the system works and suicide is particularly striking when read with the second essay on Swartz by Orin Kerr at the Volkh conspiracy, which brings up the Lori Drew case and observes:

    "We deal with the sense of shocking and unimaginable and senseless loss by pinning the blame on someone to create a tidy narrative of wrongful actor and wrongful act. I saw this upclose in the Lori Drew case. Drew was charged with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for aiding and abetting the violation of MySpace’s terms of service. But we all knew the case wasn’t really about that. The case was really about blaming someone for Meier’s suicide. Drew hadn’t actually had much to do with the MySpace profile: It wasn’t her idea, and she didn’t create it. She merely had helped others to create it and went along. But Drew had made callous comments about Meier’s death after it had occurred, and those comments were so out of place that it made her The Most Hated Woman in America. So prosecutors stretched the law to find a theory — any theory — to punish her for the suicide, and the suicide was always there during the case. When I was arguing the motion to dismiss, for example, even Judge Wu kept returning to the fact that a young girl had died. I think we’re seeing that same kind of rage directed at the prosecutors in the Swartz case. In a bizarre juxtaposition, the anger that was directed at the defendant in one Computer Fraud and Abuse Act case is now being directed at the prosecutors in another. But it’s not really about the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act; it’s about the human need to find someone to blame for a senseless and tragic suicide. As human as that instinct is to want to combine them, I think we need to separate out the suicide from our criticisms of the prosecutors’ behavior."

    I may be wrong, but in terms of prosecutor attitude it seems like both cases the interpretation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was informed by moral panic/outrage which exaggerated the severity of the allegations and necessity for punishment.

  17. C. S. P. Schofield says

    Governments should not be trusted. They are necessary; a people who are not governed by their will will be governed by the will of another. But they are not trustworthy, never have been, and I cannot imagine a circumstance in which they ever would be.

    A vast effort has been expended, over decades, even centuries, to make us believe that The State has our best interests at heart. Those responsible for it are mostly predatory vermin with a sprinkling of imbeciles and quislings. There is no depth of Hell too deep for them.

  18. skicow says

    Great post Ken — greater cementing the reason I come to Popehat.

    I've always questioned authority, but you are the reason why I now also question the motives of the government.

  19. A Husband and Father says

    Ken, as always I thank you for speaking to depression. Your personal tales about your struggle are not only a rare look behind the curtain of an outwardly successful man, husband and father, but a beacon for the others who struggle. My warmest thoughts to you.

    I want to share for a moment another side of this struggle. I have been married for two decades to a woman with severe depression, anxiety and rage / anger management disabilities. She has been hospitalized several times. Several times have I stood up, often after episodes of violence towards herself, myself or our children, and said "this cannot stand. I understand you are sick, but we can bear this burden no longer." And then there is some aggressive care, some medication review, some sharing of expectations, some cooling down, and a lot of love.

    And the cycle slowly starts to build again. Kind and happy to strangers, all frustration is directed inward at the family behind closed doors. I often feel abandoned – left to shield the children, to excuse her absence around functions, to excuse my absence because of her jealousy of my time away from her. Let to listen to the breakdown after the rage – of how she isn't good enough, that I'm dumb to stay with her, that she can't be happy and isn't worthy of being cared for. When I speak for myself to a third party, I am accused of hyperbolizing and not respecting her feelings by "keeping score" on the various injustices and disconnects. I feel that the dismissal of abnormal behaviors as "that's part of the illness" takes a part of my own sanity and conservation of ego away with each utterance. And then I immediately feel immensely guilty and selfish for having that thought. It's not my fault she's sick, I think. "It's not your fault, but at some point, you need to protect yourself and your children" my inner circle tells me. I'm too close to it now to objectively gauge how dangerous she is against a normal scale, or how much is my own cumulative intolerance towards minor behaviors and periodic episodes of rage.

    I don't have any advice to share, as I'm only now seeing I need to be seeing my own therapist (and possibly lawyer). But there is absolutely a toll taken on those who love those who are sick and seek to protect them.

  20. James says

    Depression is extremely complex, but I don't think it exists in exactly the way suggested here. We have a lot of different ways of viewing disability. If a person without legs arrives at a flight of stairs in their wheelchair they cannot get to the top. Their disability and the environment they exist in have conspired to create a can't-access-a-place in them.

    I think that's where depression really lies. There are a lot of different ways people think and feel. Some of those ways are quite compatible with out current society, some are not. When there is a significant conflict between who you are, you can't always do the things you want to do. For some it is going up the stairs, for others it is getting out of bed in the morning.

    I'm sure there are cases where people simply have a problem in their brain with feeling certain ways, but the majority of depression isn't so simple as a problem with a person. It's a problem between the person and their environment. Aaron Schwartz worked against a system that he didn't like, but it is quite probable that the system he didn't like is a big part of what made him depressed. This piece mentions a lot of terrible things about the culture we live in – if all those terrible things are there, it is no wonder that some people are unable to tolerate them.

    So I agree that we can't just give people love and think that will make them better, but I don't think we can see depression as simply a disease that makes people kill themselves. We know the environment people live in makes a huge difference. We know that family supports and a network of friends do reduce the chance of suicide. We know that for many people there are specific things that can change in their circumstances that mitigate or alleviate their depression – being allowed to live as the gender of her choice did wonders for someone I know, for example. Depression is a symptom that arises between a person and their environment. Many people could be driven to suicide by sufficiently terrible circumstances, a very small number will commit suicide in almost any circumstance, but circumstance matters a lot.

  21. Seth says

    Yes, I think James makes an excellent point there about circumstances. As a Swartz supporter, I think the post is overlooking that many supporters are against the idea sometimes put forth by his detractors that the stress of the prosecution – the circumstances – played NO significant role (again, in their view) in his suicide. In the detractor's story, there's no problem with anything in the system, it's all a tragedy due to a sad mysterious unfathomable mental defect in Swartz. That's not even an unquestioned premise, it's a counter-narrative.

    It's a bit like the "eggshell skull" story. If someone is badly beaten-up in a mugging, and has an "eggshell skull", they may die in circumstances where another victim would only end up with a painful but not life-ending concussion. But it would be wrong to say that the beating from the mugger played no role in their death, that it was entirely due to having an "eggshell skull".

  22. Andrew says

    @A Husband and Father: You are right to seek your own therapy. I would likewise suggest reading up on something called Borderline Personality Disorder and see whether it speaks to what you are experiencing. There is an excellent book, Stop Walking on Eggshells, that may or may not illuminate some things for you. Best of luck to you and yours.

  23. says

    Not too long ago, I was discussing the link between depression and suicide with a board-certified psychiatrist who had been practicing over thirty years . He said there was an association, of course, but without more information you couldn't necessarily assume the former from the latter. "Sometimes people get depressed, then get more depressed, then become manic or bipolar, then commit suicide. Sometimes people commit suicide and they've never been depressed."

  24. Christophe Pettus says

    I absolutely agree that Swartz should have been called to account for his actions.

    A suitable punishment would have been to send an email to the MIT sys admins apologizing for kinda being a little bit of a dick about things.

    Anything else was simply the system displaying the instruments of torture.

  25. Erich says

    A Husband and Father – I'll second Andrew; look in to Borderline Personality Disorder. I'm in the middle of a disastrous divorce from a woman who suffers BPD/Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Walking on Eggshells is a good book. There's also the site that clued me in originally, shrink4men.wordpress.com

  26. AlphaCentauri says

    @A Husband and Father: I also suggest you look up information about personality disorders. Depression is a mental illness, and it is one of many difficulties that a person might need to learn to deal with while growing up. Personality is the sum of the ways a person deals with such difficulties. Someone with a personality disorder has a dysfunctional way of dealing with problems, but because she has spent her entire life learning to approach problems a certain way, she has no insight into her own failings. She will sooner believe that every single other person in the world is being mean/unfair/envious/etc. She can't question her own worldview without risking questioning everything she has ever come to believe about life. Borderline personality is one of numerous personality disorders, but it is one that often leads to hospitalization, because it is quite severe.

    Your comment that she is nice to strangers and a terror at home sounds very much like the way children with Reactive Attachment Disorder act. They can have various personality disorders as adults, too.

  27. CJK Fossman says

    @Christophe Pettus

    Agreed, only to add that suitable behavior by MIT would have been for the irritated sys admins to approach Swartz personally and ask him to reduce his bandwidth consumption.

  28. Dan Weber says

    CJK, that ignores the fact that he was deliberately evading controls and identification. This wasn't something that happened once and then the hammer suddenly fell — there were many iterations of a technological block being put in place and then bypassed, again and again. "Just ask him nicely to stop" was way in the rearview mirror when the Cambridge police were called to deal with an unknown physical intruder.

    Swartz was recognized as feted by Internet big names from his time as an early teenager. Lots of nerds don't go through their teenage years in such a blanket of support and have to struggle to learn how to cope through adversity — and not all of them make it without significant self-harm. It seems whenever Swartz experienced hardships he was clearly agitated and depressed: some of his earlier remarks about suicide were around the time he got fired from reddit for not doing any work for months, which itself is a big giant warning sign for depression.

    It's easy to post-hoc analyze all this stuff, but the challenge is figuring it out ahead of time. God knows I've been a mess myself at various points in my life. I deeply appreciate Ken's posts on this subject because they show a willingness to have the discussions that we are often afraid to have. We all have our theories and who can say if any of them are right.

  29. CJK Fossman says

    @Dan Webber

    What you fail to understand is that your argument leaves every consumer of web services in legal limbo.

    For example, every web page I create attempts to download a javascript file from Google's cdn.

    If that download fails, should I assume a "technological block" has been put in place? Or should I assume there is a bug and attempt to work around it?

    After all, Swartz had as much rights to down load files from JSTOR as I have rights to grab files from Google's cdn site.

    And WTF is a "technological block?." I've read a fair number of RFC's and I have yet to encounter that term. It sounds like something coined, for lack of a better term, because dreaded piracy.

    And please explain how Swartz evaded "identification." I have read, I think, a lot more about the Swartz case than you. I know of no allegation that he used another user's passwords or attempted to access the system in any way that exceeded his authorization.

    In the end, your argument boils down to "he should have known better." That's just bullshit. He didn't violate MIT's terms of service and he didn't violate JSTOR's terms of service.

    If I'm wrong, please point me to the evidence otherwise. Note: allegations by a federal prosecutor are not evidence.

  30. Kathryn says

    I appreciated the thoughtful review; I will try to watch this documentary, which sounds intriguing.

    I also appreciated the tone of the comments, which tended to be on a par with the original post. If there were mean-spirited responses, they were (rightly) moderated away.

    Regarding JSTOR (and Science Direct, et al): back when I was in grad school at a Cal State University, our library system had subscriptions to some of the journals I needed–but about half the time, the download would fail with an error message saying I did not either have a subscription. After I found out that I should report this to the library, the online subscription specialist found that these were being blocked in error. These services are not exactly reliable in knowing who does or does not have access.

  31. Dan Weber says

    And WTF is a "technological block?."

    You know exactly what this is, and so did Swartz. The world is not an API. Other people do not need to point to RFCs to get you to stop breaking into their buildings or their networks. There is a reason Swartz did not do this at Harvard using his own account.

    Nerds (I am in that category) often have trouble with this aspect of the law. If I can write an interface that handles two different situations with one common API, they must by necessity be the exact same thing in the real world, right? Right? (Wrong.)

    "What Colour Are You Bits?" is a good starting essay for how nerds misread the law.

  32. Personanongrata says

    Suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems.

    It is a lose/lose for all involved.

  33. Khaim says

    @Dan Webber

    "What Colour Are Your Bits?" is not an essay on how nerds misread the law. It's an essay on how the law (in certain areas) doesn't make a bit of sense.

  34. CJK Fossman says

    @Dan Weber

    Sometimes "You know exactly what this is" is code for "I can't really articulate it." Is that the case here?

    And where was the break in? Entering a room with an unlocked door? Connecting a computer to a network he had permission to access? How about downloading files he had permission to download?

    I have serious trouble with an aspect of the law that allows a prosecutor to create crimes out of thin air mixed with the chagrin of a network owner.

    There was a website, Groklaw, devoted to bridging the gap between techies and lawies. I spent a fair amount of time there, so I think I'll skip that essay. But thanks for the tip.

  35. Ryan says

    "Does Knappenberger mean to convey that the system singled out Aaron Swartz for special persecution, or that it is broken?"

    Given the effort the government took to get Aaron's girlfriend to talk about his open access ideas, he was probably on someone's list for a while.

    If I was on his jury, I would have convicted Aaron of at least one charge, maybe not all of them.

    "And where was the break in? Entering a room with an unlocked door? Connecting a computer to a network he had permission to access? How about downloading files he had permission to download?"
    Aaron was very persistent in getting Jstor articles. Even after his MAC address was blocked. Even after MIT blocked Jstor access over the wireless. And he was duplicitous in doing it, his computer was named Gary Host(implying someone named Gary was doing it), he was also secretive in what he was doing.
    What Aaron did wasn't analogous to breaking and entering. It was more like harassing a computer system. Arguably such a thing should be a crime. It just shouldn't be a felony.

Trackbacks