Aaron Swartz and Occam’s razor

A lot of people have written about the government’s strange decision to throw the book at Aaron Swartz, when even JSTOR (the nominal victim in the case) didn’t want to press charges.

But is it really so strange? Instead, let’s suppose that the US Attorney was faithfully carrying out government policy. What does the prosecution tell us about that policy? Swartz was a crusader for open information. (For example, before JSTOR, Swartz was making public court records available to the public.) The Obama administration — which is notoriously opposed to open information — threw the book at him.

So maybe this was a rogue US Attorney, losing sight of the big picture and of common decency. Maybe. But Occam’s razor suggests a simpler explanation: the US Attorney, taking her cue from her boss, wanted to make an example of Aaron Swartz, so she did.

UPDATE: Adding credence to my theory, an unchastened White House is cool to the idea of passing “Aaron’s Law”, which would scale back criminal penalties for harmless terms-of-use violations.

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