Crime Or Download?

That seems to be the question surrounding the indictment of Aaron Swartz, a former Reddit employee. He was indicted last week on charges that he violated the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. If you read the indictment, it sure sounds like he hacked into a database maintained at MIT, and downloaded a “massive” amount of material from the site. The indictment says Swartz broke into a restricted computer wiring closet at MIT and accessed the network from a switch there. The CFAA prohibits accessing a computer system without access, so it sounds like the government has a case here. But the Demand Progress organization disagrees. It says Swartz is being indicted for simply downloading too much information. It compares Swartz’s “crime” to checking out too many books at the library. One problem with the CFAA is that it potentially makes it a crime to violate a computer use policy. Demand Progress sees it that way. But the US attorney says that “theft is theft.” It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.