February 18, 2015 archive

No Shame

CFAA == Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Nominee For Attorney General Tap Dances Around Senator Franken’s Question About Aaron Swartz

by Mike Masnick, Tech Dirt

Wed, Feb 18th 2015 11:31am

While there have been many egregious CFAA cases, one of the most high-profile, of course, was that of activist Aaron Swartz, who was arrested for downloading too many research papers from JSTOR from the computer network on the MIT campus. The MIT campus network gave anyone — even guests — full access to the JSTOR archives if you were on the university network. Swartz took advantage of that to download many files — leading to his arrest, and a whole bunch of charges against him. After the arrest, the DOJ proudly talked about how Swartz faced 35 years in prison. Of course, if you bring that up now, the DOJ and its defenders get angry, saying he never really would have faced that much time in prison — even though the number comes from the DOJ’s (since removed) press release.

Swartz, of course, tragically took his own life in the midst of this legal battle, after facing tremendous pressure from the DOJ to take a plea deal as a felon, even as Swartz was sure he had done nothing illegal or wrong. Since then, there have been a few attempts to update the CFAA to block this kind of abuse, but they have been blocked at every turn by a DOJ that actually wants to make the law even worse. This includes the White House’s latest proposal for CFAA reform, which would actually make more things a felony under the CFAA, and could drastically increase sentencing for things that many of us don’t think should be a crime at all — such as tweeting out a list of worst passwords on the internet.

Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder has done his best to ignore or downplay any suggestion that his Justice Department abused the CFAA in going after Swartz. And it looks like his likely replacement is trying to do the same.

Senator Al Franken questioned nominee Loretta Lynch about Swartz and the CFAA (.pdf) and got back a response that is basically her avoiding the question. She doesn’t say anything about Swartz, but goes off on some FUD about the dangers of malicious hackers and how the DOJ needs the tools to fight spyware. She then claims that the newly proposed CFAA changes are okay because they only increase the possible maximum sentences, but not the minimums, leaving things up to the discretion of judges (and prosecutors).

This is such a total braindead law enforcement view of things: that if only there were greater punishment it would scare the “bad people” out of doing what they’re going to do. That’s never really worked, and especially not in this area, where the law is being abused to go after people who don’t think they’re actually doing anything wrong.

Second, it just plays up the FUD that “bad stuff is happening” so “something must be done.” But it ignores how vague the law is and how it’s wide open to abuse. A good law enforcement official would ask for clearer laws that more narrowly target actual bad behavior, rather than celebrating a broad and vague law that can be, and is, widely abused just to rack up more DOJ headlines and “victories.”


TBC: Morning Musing 2.18.15

I have 3 articles – 2 longer ones – but all 3 good reads.

First, a great piece on ACC and the Pentagon:

The Pentagon & Climate Change: How Deniers Put National Security at Risk

Rear Adm. Jonathan White, the Navy’s chief oceanographer and head of its climate-change task force, is one of the most knowledgeable people in the military about what’s actually happening on our rapidly heating planet. Whenever another officer or a congressperson corners White and presses him about why he spends so much time thinking about climate change, he doesn’t even try to explain thermal expansion of the oceans or ice dynamics in the Arctic. “I just take them down to Norfolk,” White says. “When you see what’s going on down there, it gives you a sense of what climate change means to the Navy – and to America. And you can see why we’re concerned.”


On This Day In History February 18

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 18 is the 49th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 316 days remaining until the end of the year (317 in leap years).

On this day in 1885, Mark Twain publishes his famous, and famously controversial, novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Considered as one of the Great American Novels, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is among the first in major American literature to be written in the vernacular, characterized by local color regionalism. It is told in the first person by Huckleberry “Huck” Finn, a friend of Tom Sawyer and narrator of two other Twain novels (Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective).

The book is noted for its colorful description of people and places along the Mississippi River. Satirizing a Southern antebellum society that had ceased to exist about twenty years before the work was published, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an often scathing look at entrenched attitudes, particularly racism.

The work has been popular with readers since its publication and is taken as a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It has also been the continued object of study by serious literary critics. It was criticized upon release because of its coarse language and became even more controversial in the 20th century because of its perceived use of racial stereotypes and because of its frequent use of the racial slur “nigger”, despite that the main protagonist, and the tenor of the book, is anti-racist. According to the January 20, 2011 Chase Cook/The Daily article, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn novel will be released in a new edition. Two words will be changed throughout the whole book, “injun” and “nigger” to “indian” and “slave”. The book is being changed as quoted in the article, “only to make it viable to the 21st century”.

Late Night Karaoke