Sunday, January 18, 2015
Obama won’t fire Aaron Swartz’s federal prosecutors
Citing "personnel matters," the White House is refusing to fire two federal officials involved in the prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide ahead of his hacking trial.
“We will not address agency personnel matters in a petition response,” the White House wrote Wednesday. “We do not believe this is the appropriate forum in which to do so.”
Two years ago, White House petitions demanded that the Obama administration fire the two lawyers connected to Swartz's case, which many suggested was the result of overzealous prosecutors.
"We should not destroy the lives of human beings for crimes against computer systems that harm no one and provide no benefit to the perpetrator,” said the petition. “Such actions should be treated as forms of protest and civil disobedience. To prosecute these actions the same as rapes and murders is a savage abuse of the criminal justice system which continues to destroy the lives of peaceful, productive members of society."
The founder of Demand Progress, Swartz had written about his own depression. He was discovered dead at his Brooklyn apartment in January 2013. The 26-year-old was facing charges of more than a dozen counts of computer hacking and wire fraud in connection to the downloading of millions of academic articles from a subscription database, JSTOR. His case briefly prompted an examination of federal hacking laws. But as time went on, the debate slowly faded into the ether.
Swartz faced years behind bars. He rejected a six-month plea deal before his April 2013 trial was to commence. Swartz had maintained that his motive was to make available to the masses the intellectual research he downloaded.
Prosecutor Stephen Heymann was spearheading Swartz's prosecution. Heymann had scored a 20-year prison term, a record, for TJX hacker Albert Gonzalez. Another defendant involved in that case, Jonathan James, committed suicide. A second White House petition sought the removal of Carmen Ortiz, the US attorney for Massachusetts and Heymann's boss.
The White House's terms of participation for the "We the People" petitions says the government may refuse to respond to petitions relating to "procurement, law enforcement, adjudicatory, or similar matters properly within the jurisdiction of federal departments or agencies, federal courts, or state and local government."
That said, the White House included language in its responses Wednesday that noted 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," the responses continued.
Another high-profile petition has been awaiting the government's response for about 19 months. It seeks a pardon for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. It has been languishing since July 2013.
"Edward Snowden is a national hero and should be immediately issued a full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed related to blowing the whistle on secret NSA surveillance programs," the petition reads.