When the leader of a computer crime ring was sentenced in Boston to 20 years in prison for his role in one of the largest-ever U.S. hacking cases in 2010, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz vowed to “use all available resources” to investigate and prosecute cyber criminals no matter where the crime is committed. Months later, federal prosecutors didn’t have to look far to build the controversial hacking case against entrepreneur and political activist Aaron Swartz, who was charged in 2011 with the unauthorized use of a university’s networks to download millions of articles from the online archive of scholarly literature at the nonprofit JSTOR, says the National Law Journal.
“Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars,” declared Ortiz when she announced the charges against Swartz, a prominent figure in the advocacy for a free, open Internet. “It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away.” Swartz’s suicide on Friday in New York at the age of 26 triggered a wave of criticism of Ortiz and her top prosecutors, including Stephen Heymann, for their alleged overzealousness in the pursuit of criminal charges and for the insistence of incarceration as punishment. Digital rights advocates are urging a review of the case itself and of the laws under which Swartz was indicted. On the flipside, a prominent scholar of computer crime on Monday defended the merits of the charges, calling them the stuff that any good prosecutor would bring.