By Andrew Crocker
Activist Arrested for Allegedly Hacking JSTOR
On July 19, police arrested Aaron Swartz, a 24-year-old programmer and Internet activist, in Cambridge, Massachusetts for allegedly committing wire and computer fraud when he downloaded approximately 4.8 million scholarly articles and other files from the JSTOR database, reports the New York Times. As alleged in the indictment, beginning in September 2010, Swartz used MIT’s network to run an automated script to download the material from JSTOR, and eventually physically jacked into a network closet on the MIT campus after MIT blocked his remote access. Swartz is known for his work on Really Simple Syndication (“RSS”) and the social news website reddit. He also founded the organization Demand Progress, which advocates for progressive Internet and government transparency policies. Wired reports that although the indictment alleges Swartz intended to distribute JSTOR’s copyrighted material, he may have been conducting research, having previously worked on a study that analyzed the funding sources for a several hundred thousand law review articles. According to Ars Technica, Swartz’s arrest has provoked protest by at least one fellow proponent of open access to scholarly works, who responded by posting nearly 19,000 scientific articles on Pirate Bay.
Ninth Circuit Reverses Conviction for Online Threat Against Obama
In a split opinion, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed the conviction of a California man who posted an online comment in October 2008 that appeared to call for then-Senator Barack Obama’s assassination, reports Wired. Walter Bagdasarian was convicted under a federal law that makes it a felony to threaten to kill a major presidential candidate, but Judge Reinhardt, writing for the majority, found that Bagdasarian’s post did not rise to the level of a “true threat,” because there was insufficient evidence that “a reasonable person who read the postings within or without the relevant context would have understood either to mean that Bagdasarian threatened to injure or kill the Presidential candidate.” In addition to failing this objective test for a true threat, the postings would also not support a subjective test for Bagdasarian’s intent to threaten Obama, and according to the court, either failure would be sufficient grounds for overturning the conviction. Furthermore, although the post could be read as “an imperative intended to encourage others to take violent action,” the relevant statute does not criminalize exhortations to others, so Bagdasarian could not be convicted on this basis. However, Eugene Volokh suggests that given the uncertainty in constitutional precedent on true threats and protected speech, this case is likely not settled and will either be reheard by the Ninth Circuit en banc or by the Supreme Court.
Controversial Data Retention Bill Clears House Committee
H.R. 1981, a bill that would require Internet providers to retain users’ IP addresses and other personal information for one year, has cleared the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 19-10. The bill, which CNET reports has received support from the Justice Department, is intended to make it easier for law enforcement officials to investigate crimes committed over the Internet. According to the National Journal, critics of the bill have pointed to what they see as its politically opportunistic name, the Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011, as an attempt to hide its broad scope and lack of privacy protections. In addition to lawmakers from both parties, civil liberties organizations, such as the Center for Democracy & Technology, have criticized the bill, arguing that its data retention provisions are invasive, confusing in scope, and burdensome to small Internet providers.