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Aaron Swartz and overcriminalization

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The suicide of Aaron Swartz on the second anniversary of his arrest has drawn attention to the problem of overcriminalization. Jonathan Blanks and Scott Greenfield have good summaries noting that Swartz is hardly unique that are worth reading in addition to the more personal Larry Lessig post you have probably already seen.

Update: see also Orin Kerr for a perspective on the underlying law, Walter Olson with a roundup, and my 2008 American Spectator article on prosecutorial overreaching. Kerr's legal analysis I don't think fairly takes into account the "hacker ethos" of MIT that encourages the sort of rebellious computer activity Swartz engaged in, as bad as it can be made to look on paper. Computer culture can look more sinister than it is to the humorless outside of it; I once saw a lawyer identify Overlawyered's 404 page joke as evidence of a conspiracy either out of ignorance or cynical disingenuousness. But try explaining 404 pages to a judge (or, worse, to a $500/hour attorney).

And if you're an attorney who uses PACER, you can bring the world a little bit closer to Swartz's ideal (and save you or your clients a bit of money) by installing RECAP on your Firefox browser. Right now PACER, which recently raised its rates 25%, generates a $100 million surplus selling Americans electronic access to publicly available litigation documents.

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Isaac Gorodetski
Project Manager,
Center for Legal Policy at the
Manhattan Institute
igorodetski@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Press Officer,
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

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