Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz

As the pieces of the Aaron Swartz case slowly come together it seems one government agency may be unwilling to comply with the law. Jason Leopold, the Lead Investigative Reporter at Truthout, was denied a Freedom Of Information Act request by the Secret Service. The reason given for the denial? The Aaron Swartz case is still open.

Yes, you read that right. The Secret Service is apparently still of the opinion that charges may be forthcoming against Mr. Swartz despite the inconvenient fact that Swartz is dead. Surely even US Attorney Ortiz is not so craven as to bring new charges even if there is some common law precedent.

Also, why the hell was the United States Secret Service even investigating Aaron Swartz? Do copyright violations threaten the President’s life now? Was Swartz stealing the files from the Treasury on printing US currency? No, apparently the Secret Service now asserts its right to participate in investigations outside its purview.

On the morning of January 4, 2011, at approximately 8:00 am, MIT personnel located the netbook being used for the downloads and decided to leave it in place and institute a packet capture of the network traffic to and from the netbook.This was accomplished using the laptop of Dave Newman, MIT Senior Network Engineer, which was connected to the netbook and intercepted the communications coming to and from it. Later that day, beginning at 11:00 am, the Secret Service assumed control of the investigation.

Get ready for this, the Secret Service claims to have the right to investigate American citizens if one of three ridiculously broad criteria are met:

* Significant economic or community impact
* Participation of organized criminal groups involving multiple districts or transnational organizations
* Use of schemes involving new technology

You’ve got to be kidding me, anything and everything falls into that criteria, easily. Just how big a budget is the USSS angling for exactly? Are Columbian prostitutes that expensive?

But it gets even more interesting as Truthout also wonders if I received all the FBI files that exist on Aaron Swartz.

The records the FBI did release pertain to a 2008 investigation the bureau conducted into Swartz’s attempts to download millions of pages of federal public court documents housed on the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system, a database that charges users about 10 cents per page. The investigation against him was dropped.

But [Ryan Noah] Shapiro, who is interested in obtaining records on Swartz to “examine law enforcement’s role in investigating political protest,” believes there are more records the FBI has on Swartz. Shapiro and Truthout have appealed the adequacy of the FBI’s search for records on Swartz.

“It’s unlikely this is all the FBI has on him,” Shapiro said. “Given Swartz’s long history of activism and the FBI’s much longer history of investigating activists, it’s improbable the PACER downloads were Swartz’s only actions that sparked FBI interest.”

Truthout, myself, and others will be digging for all the information related to this increasingly complex case (remember when it was just a rogue prosecutor? Those were the days). Prepare for more, seemingly inevitable, police state lulz.

Photo Courtesy of Quinn Norton released under Creative Commons License

Dan Wright

Dan Wright

Daniel Wright is a longtime blogger and currently writes for Shadowproof. He lives in New Jersey, by choice.