by Mike Masnick
Wed, Oct 7th 2009 4:16am
A bunch of folks have sent over the incredible story of how the FBI investigated well-known programmer Aaron Swartz, after discovering that he had installed a perl script on a computer at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals library in Chicago, to cycle through PACER documents and upload them to an Amazon S3 account. Basically (as we've discussed in the past), court documents -- which are in the public domain -- are mostly locked up in the gov't's PACER system, which costs $0.08/page. However, since the documents are public domain, once you get them, you're free to do what you want with them. The Government Printing Office started an experiment last year, offering free access to PACER in certain libraries. Swartz just went to one and then installed his script to cycle through and upload those documents. The library's IT staff eventually noticed the issue (it took a few weeks) and alerted the FBI who began an investigation of Aaron, after Amazon handed over his info. While you can sorta understand why the FBI might look into why someone had installed a program on a court library computer, once it became clear that it was only accessing public domain documents, it seems pretty silly to have continued onward -- including driving by his home and considering a stakeout.
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