The Internet is abuzz with the news of Aaron Swartz's death, and there has been plenty of controversy about it. I don't want to go into who was at fault here; clearly suicide is a personal choice and with few exceptions no one is at fault except the individual making that choice. However, the pressure put on him by law enforcement officials for a trivial matter certainly would not have helped.
But the actions of the US (in)Justice Department have certainly made clear that they went light years too far in this case.
They effectively told him that unless he plead guilty (duress anyone?) he would face up to 50 years in prison. Apparently this is standard practice for prosecutors in the US now.
What for you might ask? Murder? Rape? Arson?
Nope. All those charges have a maximum of 20 years. All Aaron did was violate the terms of service of an internet archive, an archive that was freely open to all via the MIT network, and consisted of scientific papers, locked up copyright wise yes, but many funded by taxpayers money. (Which as I understand it publicly funded documents in the US are exempt from copyright.)
Here's the question I want to ask you. How many ToS's have you broken?
- Ever do something in a game you shouldn't have done?
- Ever sign up to a web service like Facebook using false information?
- Ever download something you shouldn't have?
- Ever use a disallowed workaround to access something you legally purchased?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you could have the Feds on your back too.
Well, perhaps not normally. But if you challenge the status quo like Swartz did you might find some additional charges popping up.
Don't forget, the Feds didn't get Al Capone on any smuggling or murder charges, the most heinous of his crimes, they did him on tax evasion.