15 Jan 2013

Hacker's suicide linked to 'overzealous' prosecutors

The suicide of computer programmer and internet activist Aaron Schwartz last Friday has sparked a debate over the pursuit and punishment of so-called cyber criminals, with two top US prosecutors taking heavy criticism.

Cyber Crime: laws have 'problematic elements'?

Mr Schwartz was charged two years ago with the unauthorised use of a university network to download millions of articles from the on-line archive of scholarly literature at not-for-profit digital library JSTOR. The charges came just months after US Attorney Carmen Ortiz – who led the case - vowed to ‘use all available resources’ to investigate and prosecute cyber criminals, reports The National Law Journal.

Data or dollars

When announcing the charges against Mr Schwartz, Ms Ortiz said: ‘Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars.’
However, Ms Ortiz and fellow prosecutor Stephen Haymann are now under fire for the alleged ferocity of their pursuit, including an insistence on a prison term for Mr Schwartz, who suffered from depression. Digital rights activists are now demanding a review of the laws under which 26-year-old Mr Schwartz was indicted.


Marcia Hoffman, a lawyer with San Francisco-based advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation, claimed that ‘extremely problematic elements of the law’ allowed prosecutors to hound Mr Schwartz.
The spectre of being incarcerated for years should never have haunted Aaron, but it did,’ said Ms Hoffman. ‘Brilliant, talented, visionary people should be spending their time building our future, not worrying about wasting away in prison.’
A spokesperson for the US attorney’s office said Ms Ortiz and Mr Heymann would not comment on the case.