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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Another Would-be Digital Martyr...

Ah, another story of a would-be martyr in the Digital Revolution™.  Stories like this always nail home for me the fact that there is rebellion to make a point, rebellion for the sake of rebellion, and simple stupidity.  Stealing articles through an MIT account when you can legally read them through your Harvard account isn’t rebellion—it’s just dumb. 
Now, granted, it’s also really brainless for a judge to convict the guy of using the wrong account to download articles he was legally permitted to download using another account.  But let’s put that aside for the moment and look at what Swartz did.
Swartz’s actions weren’t accidental.  He deliberately used an account to illegally download files, presumably to make some kind of rebellious “freedom of information” point.  And yet, he was trying to hide his identity.  If he’d succeeded, it seems, nobody would’ve known who did it.
So…what point did he make, again?  The only point I took away from this is that he’s a pretty poor hacker, unable to even hide his identity.  I definitely agree with the poster who said what he did shouldn’t be construed as theft—he was, as the article points out, legally able to access JSTOR from another institution, so where he got the articles shouldn’t be an issue—if he’s legally allowed to access them, he should be legally allowed to access them.  However, what he did do was hack into MIT’s system, and from there, in turn, hack into JSTOR.  Computer hacking is its own crime, not analogous to theft.
I just kind of wish these techno-activists/cyber-pirates/whatever-they-like-to-be-called’s would figure out a more productive way of bringing about change.  Criminal activity has almost never been successful, and something like 90% of all “Revolutions” are crushed without anyone even noticing a lingering effect. In the end, this type of "advocacy" isn't advocacy at all, because it only hurts the people and ideals for whom these people claim to advocate. 

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