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Did The DOJ Do The Same Thing They Were Prosecuting Aaron Swartz For Doing Decades Ago?

from the low-court,-high-court dept

Ben Huh points us to a Wired Magazine article from its very first issue back in 1993 (20 years ago, which makes me feel old, since I had that magazine!) concerning the accusations by software company INSLAW that the Justice Department had made illegal copies of its software, which it then sold to many other countries. Huh suggests that this is a situation where the DOJ did decades ago what it was accusing Aaron Swartz of doing more recently. Actually, it was almost certainly much, much worse. If you're unfamiliar with the Inslaw case, it's a wild roller coaster ride of government corruption, espionage and coverups spanning many decades. Oh, and there are even some random accusations of murder thrown in as well, though those get mighty close to pure conspiracy theory territory. The Wikipedia entry is not a bad place to start, though that Wired article is good too. The only issue is that so much happened after the Wired article as well.

The story is so complex that you really ought to explore not just the Wikipedia version, but some of its sources, which will take you down quite a rabbit hole (warning: it may take a lot of time). While there remain some denials of wrongdoing, and there were (along the way) findings that the software in question was actually in the public domain, it seems pretty clear that what the government was doing was significantly more questionable than any action by Swartz. Swartz was seeking to download a vast trove of academic research. It has been suggested, though never confirmed, that his intention was to release them to the public (some have argued this might not have been his plan at all, or he might have only released the portion that was in the public domain). At no point has anyone -- even the Justice Department -- suggested that he sought to profit from the plan.

That is not true of the accusations that were made against various Justice Department officials, some of whom were accused of getting their hands on an unlicensed copy of Inslaw's PROMIS software and then selling it to other countries, sometimes for personal profit. Furthermore, accusations were made (and at least one court agreed) that the DOJ then sought to force Inslaw into bankruptcy, forcing it to liquidate, so that it couldn't take them to court.

I had read about the Inslaw case many years ago, but it's been a while since I've been reminded of it, and I had really forgotten most of the details until recently refreshing my memory. While it was actually a very, very different kind of case than the Swartz case, it is fairly incredible when you think about just how much the Justice Department itself was able to get away with... and then think of how minor Swartz's own activity was in comparison. It really does seem like yet another example of the high court/low court principle in action.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Ninja (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 7:54am

    I'd love to bash the DOJ but let us play devil's advocate: the only thing the DOJ is at fault here is for not punishing the prosecutors that incur in such extreme extents. Other than that Swartz was a victim of systemic failures that go beyond the DOJ. However the High Court/Low Court thing is interesting, shows us that the impunity dates way back and it's not new. The only difference is that nowadays it's completely shameless and blatant and wrongdoers at the high tip of the power scale are doing it with no limits or remorse.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2013 @ 8:41am

    typical 'dont do what i do, do what i tell you' case. perhaps it could help in the Megaupload case too. there must have been some sort of copyright on the Inslaw stuff and as they are after Mega, on behalf of the entertainment industries, for copyright infringement, the pot and kettle example jumps out!

     

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  3.  
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    silverscarcat (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 8:44am

    The only difference between the Mob and the FBI is...

    A badge.

    Nothing else.

     

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  4.  
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    dennis deems (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 8:51am

    pure conspiracy theory territory

    it's a wild roller coaster ride of government corruption, espionage and coverups spanning many decades. Oh, and there are even some random accusations of murder thrown in as well, though those get mighty close to pure conspiracy theory territory.
    Err... government corruption, espionage and coverups -- that stuff IS conspiracy. If you mean to say that you give the murder accusations no credence then just say that. There's no reason to flash your "I'm a good American who believes that conspiracy theories are crazy" badge. Especially when the story you're writing about is a conspiracy theory.

     

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  5.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 8:55am

    Re: pure conspiracy theory territory

    "I'm a good American who believes that conspiracy theories are crazy" badge."

    Thank you Dennis.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2013 @ 8:57am

    While it was actually a very, very different kind of case than the Swartz case, it is fairly incredible when you think about just how much the Justice Department itself was able to get away with... and then think of how minor Swartz's own activity was in comparison.

    Then what is the point of invoking Aaron Swartz? The CFAA has no bearing here does it? The allegation sounds more like commercial infringement. I think it's fine to comment on DoJ's bad conduct, but tying to Swartz case seems purely exploitative.

     

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  7.  
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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 9:04am

    Re:

    And it wasn't the IPtards that helped draft and push the CFAA in any sense? Rriiight.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2013 @ 9:29am

    Re:

    The CFAA has no bearing here does it?

    IANAL, but isn't unlawful access the crux of the CFAA? If you mean CFAA has no bearing because government isn't (or at least acts like it isn't) beholden to its own laws, then you may be on to something.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2013 @ 10:05am

    When the DoJ commits criminal infringement for profit it's "misappropriation" but when someone shares a song online for no profit it's "theft."

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2013 @ 10:18am

    Re: pure conspiracy theory territory

    The Megaupload case is a conspiracy theory too.

     

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  11.  
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    Pitabred (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 11:01am

    Re:

    That's kind of the point... the power rests ENTIRELY on prosecutorial discretion, and that they can easily push for asinine punishment if they feel like it.

    The DOJ is at fault because they're playing favorites, the laws don't apply equally to all people. There's no "devil's advocate" to be had in those situations.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2013 @ 12:32pm

    Re: Re:

    I infer from the article that the issue was making unauthorized copies. Nothing specific about about unlawful access to a computer or network which I'd agree would violate the CFAA.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2013 @ 1:06pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    How exactly then do you think they got the copy of the 32-bit version from Inslaw?

     

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 1:53pm

    And some people think the "High Court/Low Court" thing was new.
    Justice is what you can get away with, and if you have more power and money you get away with murder.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2013 @ 6:26pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I don't know. The article was ambiguous. Do you?

     

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  16.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Feb 15th, 2013 @ 9:08pm

    Re: Re: pure conspiracy theory territory

    A Mega conspiracy at that.

     

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  17.  
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    mick, Dec 4th, 2013 @ 5:46pm

    Inslaw

    Just found this site and I have to add my comments as one who was assisting Bill Hamilton in exposing the truth. I worked with Danny Casolaro. It is to incredible to conceptualize so I will only share that Danny, while investigating BCCI and the DOJ/Inslaw suit, accidentally learned the entire truth about 11/22/1963. This is what cost him his life

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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