For Reasons Unclear

Aaron Swartz was not only an internet hacktivist, but he was an influential political visionary, and a leader in fairness. After watching a documentary titled, “The Internet’s Own Boy” emotional response to this video-graphical masterpiece is essential. I felt an uncontrollable amount of anger, but that was mellowed out from the realization that our own government for reasons unclear can seemingly do whatever they want. In the following response to this film I want to look at why the US government needs to follow their own rules, and how Aaron impacted the CFAA.


The Collapse

I’ll start by quoting John Naughton’s post titled, Aaron Swartz stood up for freedom and fairness — and was hounded to his death. In this opinion post through The Guardian he says and I quote, “they were determined to make an example of him pour décourager les autres. Which, if true, would mean the Obama administration has taken a leaf out of the Chinese book on internet control:”.

A few of us have heard about the Chinese governments censorship of the internet in China. In the United States we don’t do this, or at least we aren’t aware of it if it’s happening right now. However, the significance of this is that if we let our own government make an example of each prosecution case, then laws and justice are degraded to such a pointless level that everything collapses.

The feds are supposed to be independently unbiased. They are supposed to protect the people. But they weren’t doing their job in the Aaron Swartz’s case.


The Truth About Making Laws a Reality

“Supreme Court Building” by Unsplash is licensed under CC with (CC0 1.0 Universal)

To detail how convoluted our process of even implementing laws is, we need to turn to the simplified USA.gov’s page on how federal laws are made. USA.gov is a website started by Eric Brewer and their mission statement is best summarized as an up-to-date resource on US laws and the processes that go into making them. In a more detailed approach to making laws come to fruition we can look at Senate.gov’s site, but to illustrate my point a combination of both is necessary. From the Senate.gov’s flowchart, roughly 35 steps that go into making these federal laws from the fuller Senate.gov flowchart.

What is ridiculous about this process is the third step from Eric Brewer’s 6-step interpretation. Here, and I quote, “The bill then goes through a process, which can change it, amend, or lay it so there is no vote”. A process? What is this process? Ultimately it’s a time-consuming period where the bill can be changed and revamped to seemingly no end. Eventually when this eternity ends, the legislative branch of our government can vote on the law.

The point I would like to make regarding all of this is that sometimes this process can take far too long to actually make an impact on the life of someone who is at risk.

What Aaron’s Law Means

After Aaron’s suicide there was a definitive movement to make good on this tragic loss of life by preventing people from being abused by the CFAA laws. Ron Wyden best summarizes the amendments to the CFAA on his own website, wyden.senate.gov. The essential first piece of this amendment states that a, “mere breach of terms of service, employment agreements, or contracts are not automatic violations of the CFAA”. This is critical because it helps support the access without authorization predicament that plagued Aaron. Instead, Aaron’s law seeks to help redraw the vague line that the CFAA had set in place. Ultimately, Aaron’s law protects people, it helps define irreparable damage as apposed to the CFAA and hopefully this will lead to further progress in the future.