Feds Go Overboard In Prosecuting Information Activist

Timothy B. Lee | Ars Technica | September 20, 2012

Violate website terms of use and you too could be a felon.

When I was in grad school, we had a "visitor" WiFi network available to people visiting campus. The network was only supposed to be used by guests; access was automatically cut off after two weeks to force students and staff to register for the main campus network. But registering was a bit of a hassle, so when I first got to campus I simply used the visitor network. When my two weeks ran out, I was still too lazy to register—so I spoofed my media access control (MAC) address and got another two weeks of free access.

Maybe that's why the federal government's aggressive prosecution of activist Aaron Swartz for "hacking" activities that include MAC address spoofing makes me so uncomfortable. A year ago, we wrote about the indictment of Swartz for spidering millions of academic papers from the JSTOR subscription archive. Now, the federal government has unsealed a new indictment, increasing the number of charges against Swartz from four to thirteen. If convicted of all charges, Swartz could be sentenced to decades in prison...