Archive for the ‘hacking’ Tag

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John Oliver “Speaking of the President, he ended this week having to deal with the imminent release of a major report on the CIA and torture. Leaks suggest that this country is about to have to confront the brutality that has been committed in it’s name.  And, the President attempted to prepare us all for that in a bizarrely casual way.”

President Obama “We did some things that were wrong.  We did a whole lot of things that were right.  But, we tortured some folks.”

Oliver “What? Folks?  When you are admitting one of the darkest chapters in recent American history, it’s maybe best to not come off like an old man in a Country Time lemonade commercial.  ‘Well, that was the day I met your grandmother.  We spent the whole afternoon at the county fair.  Then, that night we tortured some folks.  We did it, and we’ve been together, that’s our story.’  Even the CIA’s conduct toward the Senate committee that wrote the report is proving to be controversial.  Back in March Diane Feinstein (D-CA) accused them of hacking in to the Senate committee’s computers, which CIA director John Brennan thought sounded crazy.”

Brennan March 11, 2014 “The allegations of CIA hacking into Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth.  We wouldn’t do that.  That’s just beyond the scope of reason.”

Oliver “Uh huh, OK, beyond the scope of reason.  I get it.  Guess what?”

Reporter “CIA director John Brennan apologized today after an internal investigation determined the agency had spied on staff members of the United States Senate.”

Oliver “OK, so it wasn’t so much beyond the scope of reason as it was nestled extremely deep within the scope of reason…This man has either lied to Senators or been guilty of not knowing what his own agency was doing.  At the very least this has got to knock the President’s confidence in John Brennan.”

President Obama “I have full confidence in John Brennan.”

Oliver “How?  How is that possible?  The only way you can have full 100% confidence in him, is if you somehow had 300% confidence in him before all of this happened. In fact Mr President, let me try and put this in terms you might understand.  You really might want to consider disciplining some folks.”


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The family and friends of Aaron Swartz — the famed Internet hacktivist who took his own life on Friday at the age of 26 — released a public statement on Saturday, placing some of the blame for Swartz’s suicide on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach,” the statement read. “Decisions made by officials in the U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death.”

Swartz, long regarded as one of the major proponents of a free and open Internet to further the spread of information, was indicted in July of 2011 on federal charges of illegally accessing documents on JSTOR, the online digital library that hosts academic journal articles, books and primary sources. His alleged crime involved downloading nearly 5 million articles off the service from MIT’s on-campus network.

He faced upwards of 30 years in prison, along with $1 million in fines.

After Swartz turned over his hard drives, JSTOR decided not to pursue any legal action against him.

“The case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge,” JSTOR wrote on Saturday in a statement to the public hosted on its Web site. “At the same time, as one of the largest archives of scholarly literature in the world, we must be careful stewards of the information entrusted to us by the owners and creators of that content. To that end, Aaron returned the data he had in his possession and JSTOR settled any civil claims we might have had against him in June 2011.”

But U.S. Attorneys Carmen Ortiz and Steve Heymann, backed by Federal government, continued to pursue the prosecution of Swartz, with the tacit support of MIT behind them.

Said Ortiz in 2011: “Stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars.”

Earlier on Saturday, acclaimed academic and friend to Swartz, Lawrence Lessig, suggested that Ortiz’s steadfast pursuit of Swartz was outlandish and unnecessary, and part — though not the direct cause — of what brought Swartz to the grim solution he chose.

“From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way,” Lessig wrote on his personal blog. “… [A]nyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.”

Paul Graham, the founder of angel investing firm Y Combinator, has mentored generations of Silicon Valley whiz kids. In an essay about hackers and the role they’ve played driving technology forward, he wrote that “hackers are unruly. That is the essence of hacking. And it is also the essence of Americanness.”

wartz used a similar tactic to liberate academic articles from the JSTOR database. He logged onto the network of MIT, which has a JSTOR subscription, and began rapidly downloading articles. When MIT cut off access to its wireless network, Swartz snuck into an MIT network closet and plugged his laptop directly into the campus network.

This last stunt led to his indictment on federal computer hacking charges. All told, the charges against him could have led to decades of prison time. Swartz’s trial was scheduled to start in the spring.

Harvard law professor Larry Lessig was a friend and mentor to Swartz. In a Saturday blog post, Lessig reported that the costs of his defense were close to depleting Swartz’s financial resources. Lessig is in a position to know; his wife started a legal defense fund for Swartz last September. Lessig says Swartz was “unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge.”

As I said at the time of Swartz’s arrest, his actions were foolish and some punishment was probably appropriate. But he probably shouldn’t have been the subject of a criminal indictment and he certainly shouldn’t have faced felony charges.

Graham reports that while working on the Manhattan Project, the physicist Richard Feynman made a hobby of cracking military safes. Graham said that there was something very American about the fact that American officials didn’t throw Feynman in jail for his antics. “It’s hard to imagine the authorities having a sense of humor about such things over in Germany at that time,” he noted wryly.

I worry that Swartz’s prosecution is a sign that America is gradually losing the sense of humor that has made it the home of the world’s innovators and misfits. A generation ago, we hailed Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg as a hero. Today, our government throws the book at whistleblowers for leaking much less consequential information.