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Feb. 12, 2013
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Stefan Molyneux, host of Freedomain Radio, discusses the Aaron Swartz case with Jeffrey Tucker, head of Laissez-Faire Books.
Also, Ron Paul is using a form of eminent domain to seize URLs?
26-year-old Swartz had been pursued by the Department of Justice for two years. He was charged in July 2011 with accessing MIT's computer network without authorization and using it to download 4.8 million documents from the online database JSTOR. His actions, the government alleged, violated Title 18 of the U.S. Code, and carried a maximum penalty of up to 50 years in jail and $1 million in fines.
Why does one group accept a 14-year-old as an equal partner among professors and professionals while another spends two years pursuing a court case that's divorced from any sense of proportionality to the alleged crime? How can one sort of organization develop a young man like Aaron Swartz, and how can another destroy him?
"Everyday, millions of innocent children are unwillingly part of a terrible dictatorship. The government takes them away from their families and brings them to cramped, crowded buildings where they are treated as slaves in terrible conditions. For seven hours a day, they are indoctrinated to love their current conditions and support their government and society. As if this was not enough, they are often held for another two hours to exert themselves almost to the point of physical exhaustion, and sometimes injury. Then, when at home, during the short few hours which they are permitted to see their families they are forced to do additional mind-numbing work which they finish and return the following day.
"This isn't some repressive government in some far-off country. It's happening right here: we call it school."
"Getting 'real information' to people on the World Wide Web is 13-year-old Aaron Swartz's job. He's tired of all the banner ads, the sponsorships and other miscellaneous 'junk' hogging the screens," explained the Chicago Tribune in a June 2000 article about Swartz's contest entry. "That's not what the Internet was made for. It was based on open standards and freedom, not ads," Swartz told the Tribune. It didn't matter that Swartz's friends and family were the only ones that used The Info Network, or that, for some reason, its highest-rated entries tended to concern Chicago Cubs benchwarmers like Shane Andrews and Jeff Reed. At an early age, he'd discovered what he loved to do: find information, organize it, and share it with anyone who cared to look.
But Swartz soon had his eyes on a larger prize: PACER, the electronic storehouse for federal court records. PACER's contents are all public records, and anyone can access them via the Web for a small fee (now 10 cents per page). An open-government activist named Carl Malamud argued that these documents shouldn't cost a dime, as they're government products and thus non-copyrightable. In 2008, Malamud put out a call for like-minded folk to grab as much from PACER as possible during a trial period in which documents would be downloadable for free at select libraries.
This call for action held a natural appeal to Swartz, an avowed enemy of copyright restrictions and supporter of open data. In September 2008, he went to a library in Chicago and installed a Perl script that pulled a new document from PACER every three seconds. Before the library caught on and shut him down, he'd downloaded 19,856,160 pages, which he donated to Malamud's open-government site Public.Resource.Org.
Though they'd done nothing illegal, the PACER stunt earned Swartz and Malamud some FBI attention. Swartz later acquired his FBI file, which indicated that agents had surveilled his parents' Highland Park home. That FBI file, Swartz said, was "truly delightful." At the time, it all seemed funny—the feds getting so upset over something so minor. But Malamud now believes the PACER downloads contributed to the government's subsequent fervor in prosecuting the JSTOR case. In their eyes, Swartz was a repeat offender, a data vigilante. This was no small thing...