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Posts Tagged ‘information-based economy’

Death & Data by Matthew Bulger

In copyright, government, information, information science, internet, society on June 23, 2013 at 20:45

From: Death & Data: What should the punishment be for a crime that’s often benign in nature and consequence? by Matthew Bulger, The Humanist. http://thehumanist.org

This past January Aaron Swartz, a brilliant young computer programmer and activist, committed suicide after apparently being harassed for over a year by federal prosecutors. Swartz, the twenty-six-year-old who helped develop the social news site Reddit and founded the Internet activist group Demand Progress, was a technological pioneer who cared as much about the next big digital breakthrough as he did about social justice.

Swartz was also very interested in how knowledge is shared in modern society, and how the concentration of knowledge behind pay-to-view barriers could cause entire segments of the population to be less educated and therefore less likely to succeed in an information-based economy. With this concern in mind, he set out to share a virtual treasure trove of academic articles from the online archive JSTOR. Swartz downloaded several million academic articles and, while he never actually published them online for anyone to see, he did receive an unwelcome visit from the government and several law enforcement agencies. Swartz was promptly charged with thirteen felony counts of hacking and wire fraud, charges that mandated decades in prison and some pretty monstrous fines.

It’s apparent now that the laws Swartz was accused of breaking are as draconian as they are obsolete. The most flawed is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which contains provisions that are just plain unworkable in our interconnected world. For example, the CFAA makes it illegal to gain access to computers or websites “without authorization” or in a manner that “exceeds authorized access.” Unfortunately, authorization is never really defined by the CFAA, and that ambiguity has allowed federal prosecutors to stretch the law in order to put more people in jail.

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Reposted with permission from: The Humanist

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