THE US ATTORNEY for Massachusetts at the heart of the web storm over the death of internet activist Aaron Swartz has issued a statement attempting to minimise her over the top prosecution of him and downplay the pressure that she applied to him.
US Attorney Carmen Ortiz has been widely criticised for coming down too hard on Swartz following his suicide last weekend, and a petition to see her removed from office has enough signatures to warrant the attention of the White House.
In this, her first statement, she expressed sadness but claimed that the criticisms are unfounded.
"I must, however, make clear that this office's conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case," she said, according to the statement published at the Wall Street Journal's law blog.
"At no time did this office ever seek - or ever tell Mr. Swartz's attorneys that it intended to seek - maximum penalties under the law."
This is far from the text of the original statement that announced charges against Swartz. There the Department of Justice looked confident in seeking a 35 year prison sentence and its suitability.
"AARON SWARTZ, 24, was charged in an indictment with wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer," it said.
"If convicted on these charges, SWARTZ faces up to 35 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, restitution, forfeiture and a fine of up to $1 million."
"Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars," added Ortiz then. "It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away."
According to an earlier report by the Wall Street Journal, Swartz's lawyers watched as prosecutors dismissed the prospect of a short sentence, just days before the suicide.
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California has introduced Aaron's Law to make sure that no one ever faces such "disproportionate charges" again.
"We should prevent what happened to Aaron from happening to other internet users. The government was able to bring such disproportionate charges against Aaron because of the broad scope of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and the wire fraud statute," she said as she introduced the legislation on Reddit.
"When our laws need to be modified, Congress has a responsibility to act. A simple way to correct this dangerous legal interpretation is to change the CFAA and the wire fraud statutes to exclude terms of service violations. I will introduce a bill that does exactly that."
The petition to unseat Ortiz has almost 40,000 signatues at the time of writing. Meanwhile, this week, GOP House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa told the Huffington Post that the Justice Department's prosecution of Swartz is under investigation.
There is additional recent commentary about this at the Guardian. µ
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