The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Brett Abrams : 516-841-1105 :

On Day Swartz Trial Would Have Begun, Demand Progress and Swartz's Partner Announce Week of Action Against Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

Activists Seek to Defeat CFAA Expansion Proposal, Pass Reforms to Protect Innovators and Internet Users.


Today, on the day that Aaron Swartz's trial was set to have begun, Demand Progress and Aaron Swartz's partner Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman announced that activists will engage in a week of action starting on Monday, April 8th.

Swartz, who committed suicide on January 11, was being prosecuted for downloading too many academic articles from the journal cataloguing site JSTOR -- with decades in prison being held over his head. His trial was set to begin April 1.

"Aaron's friends and family, I, and the whole world lost a truly amazing person to this travesty. Aaron was a leader and an innovator," said Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Aaron's partner. "Aaron had already done so much, and there's no telling how much more he would have done. Instead, he was prosecuted ruthlessly under over vague and outdated statutes that allow prosecutors almost unlimited discretion to abuse their power.

"Aaron's trial was set to begin today. We would have been in the courtroom for the next two weeks, fighting unjust charges under an unjust law. As a country, we owe it to Aaron to make sure this can never happen again."

The week of action has two main asks:

1) Call for the defeat of a proposal to expand and harshen the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, under which Swartz was prosecuted.

View the discussion draft here:

2) Call for reforms to the CFAA, to protect innovators and Internet users. Law enforcement currently asserts that this broad, vague law criminalizes even violations of websites' terms of service agreements.

Participants in the week of action will include a variety of online organizations, including the Internet Defense League -- the core group of activist organizations and websites that came together to defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act last year:

The week of activism will end with a rally in downtown Boston near the U.S. Attorney's office and the Moakley U.S. Courthouse on Saturday, April 13th. Attendees may RSVP and find more details here:

Many of Aaron's charges stemmed from alleged violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which has become a focal point for supporters.

"The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is older than what most of us think of as the internet," said David Segal, Executive Director of Demand Progress. "It was written in 1984, before Netscape Navigator was invented, before most of us had personal computers, much less dial-up internet. It still governs what's legal and what's not online, and is so outdated and broad that it makes violating terms of service - those things you agree to but never read - federal felonies. We need to change that, and we need to do it before we have another case like this."

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D - CA 19) has proposed revisions to the CFAA known as "Aaron's Law". In the last week, however, the House Judiciary Committee has floated revisions to the CFAA that would actually expand that law and harshen the severity of certain penalties created therein.

"Aaron's Law is a great first step towards making sure the laws that govern the Internet reflect the ways it's used now," continued Segal. "Right now, however, there's talk of increasing the penalties. That's a step in the wrong direction - towards more criminalization of everyday actions online. We need to update the CFAA - and that means making it so terms of service violations aren't felonies and bringing punishments in line with the crimes."

Demand Progress amplifies the voice of the people -- and wields it to make government accountable and contest concentrated corporate power. Our mission is to protect the democratic character of the internet -- and wield it to contest concentrated corporate power and hold government accountable.