Fans of dead data ‘liberator’ Swartz press Obama to sack prosecutor
A new online petition has called for the firing of US attorney Carmen Ortiz for pursuing Aaron Swartz with charges that could have put him in prison for at least three decades.
Meanwhile, Democrat congresswoman Zoe Lofgren has drawn up a new bill called “Aaron’s Law” to amend the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act used to prosecute Swartz until his death last week.
Internet prodigy Swartz, 26, took his life on Friday in the midst of a lengthy computer fraud case against him. The charges were brought after he copied 4.8 million scientific articles from the nonprofit journal archive JSTOR to allegedly redistribute online.
In the days after he was found dead at his New York home on Friday, Swartz’s family said their son’s suicide was “the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach”.
Now Lofgren has announced on Reddit, the immensely popular discussion website Swartz helped build, her intention to put forward Aaron’s Law. The bill aims to tighten up the Act’s definition of fraud.
“There’s no way to reverse the tragedy of Aaron’s death, but we can work to prevent a repeat of the abuses of power he experienced,” she wrote.
“The government was able to bring such disproportionate charges against Aaron because of the broad scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and the wire fraud statute. It looks like the government used the vague wording of those laws to claim that violating an online service’s user agreement or terms of service is a violation of the CFAA and the wire fraud statute.
“Using the law in this way could criminalise many everyday activities and allow for outlandishly severe penalties.”
Her proposed bill, which would need to be discussed and passed around the House of Representatives and the Senate to take effect, asks to change the CFAA to make it more specific by excluding certain violations of user agreements.
Meanwhile, a White House website petition to have US attorney Ortiz removed from office for “overreach” in Swartz’s case has surpassed the 25,000 signatures it needs to land an official response. More than 35,000 people have signed the petition since it was created on Saturday.
Swartz was known to be depressed and took his life shortly after his legal team was unable to convince prosecuting lawyers to reduce the charges for “liberating” the JSTOR archive and help him avoid a long spell behind bars. ®