Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) a member of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to look into what he says was
overly aggressive prosecution of Internet and social activist Aaron Swartz, who
committed suicide earlier this month almost a year to the day after he helped
derail antipiracy legislation Cornyn ultimately opposed.
In the letter, Cornyn pointed out that the Justice
Department had charged Swartz with felony counts for fraud and computer crimes
that could mean decades in prison and a $1 million fine for allegedly hacking
into MIT computers and downloading thousands of articles from a subscription
service to make them available free.
The severity of that prosecution, he said, "raises
important questions about prosecutorial conduct."
Cornyn wants a number of questions answered including
whether prior investigations of Swartz played a role in the decision to charge
him, why the Department filed a superseding indictment with even more charges,
whether there was consideration to the proportionality of the potential
penalties to the alleged conduct and whether the department was trying to
"make an example" of him.
Finally, he said, the U.S. Attorney has involved in the
prosecution has blamed the charges on the "severe punishments authorized
by Congress" for online piracy. Cornyn wants to know if Justice gives its
attorney's discretion within that statute to charge or not "consistent
with their view of the gravity of the wrongdoing in a specific case."
The senator did not give Holder a deadline for responding,
but said he wanted "prompt and thorough answers."
Swartz' death has already become something of a "Joe
Hill"-like rallying point for activists looking to prevent any revival of
the SOPA/PIPA legislation Swartz helped defeat in particular and money-driven,
heavy-handed government in general. "[O]ur fight was his fight. And that
while only he was Aaron Swartz, we are all now Aaron Swartz," said
activist and academic Lawrence Lessig in an email from his rootstrikers.org.
Family and friends gathered Jan. 19 for a memorial ceremony at
Cooper Union's Great Hall in New York.
Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
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