Outrage. That is the only word that came to my mind when I got an email two days ago from the the White House staff.
I have trouble even writing this right now because I kind of want to scream when I think about it. I was going to make a video but then I decided that would just end up being rather belligerent and would not really convey the point of what I really think about this.
Perhaps I am jumping ahead a bit here.
This all began back in 2010 when Aaron Swartz made a decision that would end his life. He suffered from one of the most deadly traits a human can have, idealism. His story serves as a chilling reminder of how good intentions can reveal the horrors of humanity.
See.. here I go again being all dramatic. Even when typing this out and putting thought into each word I am having a hard time bottling my anger about this in.
If you are not already familiar with the story the decision that would end up being so fatal for Aaron was deciding to download academic papers from an MIT computer that he had access to at the time. It was the type of thing you would do as a student and not think twice about it. Why would anybody care if you took knowledge that was freely available and made copies of it?
Aaron broke the terms of service of the system he copied those papers from. Yes, he had the legal right to download any of those papers but the way in which he did so technically was not allowed. It was a truly victim-less crime. Those who wrote the papers wanted the knowledge to be shared, those who ran the computer systems did so with the intent to share those papers.
So how did this all go so wrong? If nobody was hurt by Aaron’s actions and his only crime was breaking the TOS of the computer he was on then what factor made this story have such a dark ending?
In 2011 Carmen decided to take Aaron to court. She was a federal prosecutor that clearly felt it was her duty to make sure that no breach of a terms of service would go unpunished. I would love to say that Carmen was an elected official and that we, the people, had any sort of say in this matter but that would be far to idealistic. Carmen went forward and pressed charges against Aaron in federal court for theft.
Yes, theft is a pretty strong word to use in this case. It would be hard to find anyone outside of our government that would say Aaron deserved anything more than a stern warning for his infraction. The school the papers were taken from declined to press charges, those who owned the system the terms of service were breached on also declined to press charges. Even the state prosecutors who reviewed the case decided to drop all charges. Normally that is when a story like this would end. Aaron would have been arrested and then let free with no charges pressed. However this story is not normal and Carmen just could not let this go.
After the state prosecutors dropped the charges Carmen decided to use her power as a federally appointed prosecutor to supersede that decision and add nine more charges of theft on top of the ones already present and moved forward with the trial.
Aaron was facing up to 50 years in prison and up to 1 million dollars in fines all because he circumvented the computer system he was on and breached the terms of service in order to share papers that were intended to be shared by those who created them.
Like all of you reading this I too have made stupid mistakes in my life. Thankfully for you and I our mistakes did not take the notice of a federal prosecutor looking to make an example of us. Aaron simply wanted to share knowledge and for that crime he was facing a life in prison.
I have never personally wanted to end my own life it is hard for me to imagine a situation where death would seem like the best option. However I cannot blame Aaron for taking his own.
We are all raised in this country to believe that truth and justice are the American way. I learned that this was not the case in my own life at fairly young age. Aaron learned this lesson the harshest way imaginable when his country turned its back on him and decided that the just thing to do was to demonize him for the crime of sharing academic papers.
I still have not gotten back to that email from the White House staff yet have I?
During the build up to the last presidential election President Obama launched a new version of WhiteHouse.gov that included a rather interesting new feature which was an option to create a petition on the site for anything at all. If the petition you created got enough clicks on the site then the Presidents very own staff would be required to formally make a statement on the petition. At the time this seemed like a novel way of finding out what the President and his staff really thought about things. In reality this was Barack doing what he does best and it was all for show. It became quite clear after a few petitions reached the threshold for a response that anything that the president did not think was important would be casually dismissed while the things that fell in line with his politics would be given serious consideration.
Then in 2013 came this – https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/remove-united-states-district-attorney-carmen-ortiz-office-overreach-case-aaron-swartz/RQNrG1Ck
Of course I clicked the button on this one. It was insane that this case spiralled out of control like it did. There was no reason for any of these charges to be filed, let alone pressed with such fervor. I had completely forgotten I had even clicked on that petition since then as time slipped by and it seemed likely that the White House simply did not have the balls to admit they made a mistake in appointing Carmen to the position of federal prosecutor.
Then, two days ago (in 2015) I received this message.
Aaron Swartz’s death was a tragic, unthinkable loss for his family and friends. Our sympathy continues to go out to those who were closest to him, and to the many others whose lives he touched.
We also reaffirm our belief that a spirit of openness is what makes the Internet such a powerful engine for economic growth, technological innovation, and new ideas. That’s why members of the Administration continue to engage with advocates to ensure the Internet remains a free and open platform as technology continues to disrupt industries and connect our communities in ways we can’t yet imagine. We will continue this engagement as we tackle new questions on key issues such as citizen participation in democracy, open access to information, privacy, intellectual property, free speech, and security.
As to the specific personnel-related requests raised in your petitions, our response must be limited. Consistent with the terms we laid out when we began We the People, we will not address agency personnel matters in a petition response, because we do not believe this is the appropriate forum in which to do so.
Casual fucking dismissal is what I read here.
Aaron Swartz may have ended his own life but only after being betrayed by his country who then backed him into a corner and demonized him for something no sane man would consider a sin. Carmen Ortiz was the one backing Aaron into that corner and Barack Obama is the one that enabled her to do so. Aaron Schwartz deserves a better response than “no comment”.
I am an atheist but there are times where I can sympathize with christians. I would love to believe that hell exists so that I could rest assured that Barack and Carmen would burn their together someday. Unfortunately I do not get that comfort as I do not believe in fairy tales any longer. My only comfort is my outrage and in this case I welcome it with open arms.