The Aaron Swartz tragedy has unleashed an intense debate about computer “crime” and the US criminal justice system. Heavyweights like Lessig, Doctorow, Greenwald, Masnick, Wu and Kerr have all written with great passion about the case. But the one article that really resonated with me was written by the Harvard Business Review blogger James Allworth. Provocatively entitled “Aaron Swartz’s “crime” and the business of breaking the law”, Allworth compares Swartz’s “crime” with crimes committed by money launderers and deadly corporate criminals. As he told me, there appears to be a “systemic” problem with an American legal system in which an activist hacker like Swartz faced personal bankruptcy and 35 years in jail, while a healthcare executive guilty of bringing a product to market that killed innocent people only got 9 months in jail. It’s “extremely unfair” Allworth told me, arguing that the Swartz case proves that the American criminal justice system can be bought by powerful corporations.
So is Allworth right? Has the Swartz case exposed the flagrant unfairness of the legal system? And do we need an “Aaron’s Law” to, at least, ensure that the Swartz tragedy will never happen again?
James A Allworth is a fellow at the forum for growth and innovation at Harvard business school focusing on technology and disruption; a writer at Harvard business review; and co-author of the nyt best-seller How will you measure your life? (Harper Collins). His work has been featured on Bloomberg, business insider and Reuters; on a particularly good day, the front page of reddit or Techmeme.