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Edward Tufte's Defense of Aaron Swartz and the "Marvelously Different" 152

zokuga writes "Data visualization pioneer Edward Tufte spoke at hacker-activist Aaron Swartz's public memorial. In his message, he described how he came to know Swartz at Stanford and how Tufte's own college hacking exploits had the potential to ruin his own life."
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Edward Tufte's Defense of Aaron Swartz and the "Marvelously Different"

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  • Re:Poor young people (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday January 20, 2013 @04:18PM (#42641255) Homepage

    Yeah, I was going to say pretty much the same thing. In high school, a friend and I had a running interaction with NASA security at the Manned Spacecraft Center (Lyndon B. Johnson Spacecraft Center to you modern folk). This involved penetrating the MSC by walking into places we *really* should not have walked into looking stupid / innocent. This was tolerated to a large degree until we found a place were we *** really *** should not have been.

    Then we were politely told by security to cut it out. Enough fun. We weren't arrested. It was logged - when my friend went to get some high security clearance they brought it up (as well as asking for the every time we had done drugs since college - every time). Didn't seem to be a problem.

    I hate to think what would have happened if we had done this in the past decade. We probably couldn't even get past the first gate now. We'd be in some high security prison somewhere learning really useful things like home made weapon production instead of being nominally useful members of society.

  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Sunday January 20, 2013 @04:25PM (#42641297)

    Glenn Reynolds [pjmedia.com] just posted his essay Due Process when Everything is a Crime [ssrn.com] relating in part to the Aaron Swartz case.

    Cases like the Aaron Swartz prosecution are a direct result of the huge, intrusive, abusive government we have. Unfortunately most Slashdotters seem to support this government and want to make it even larger and more involved in everyone's daily lives. Will Slashdot learn anything from Aaron Swartz's death? Or are we still just a few more government programs away from living in a utopia -- this time for sure?

  • Who hasn't? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Sunday January 20, 2013 @04:50PM (#42641435)

    I'm guessing every half-decent engineer working in computing has some of this in their past. It's part of the process of how someone becomes an engineer - exploring, testing limits, finding way to use things in ways they weren't intended to be used. I know I did, I know my coworkers did. I work in education, and we've caught a student there trying to hack our network. Give him another ten years, and he'll be the admin trying to keep out the next generation of engineers-to-be. I'm not even an engineer: I'm a lowly technician.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 20, 2013 @04:53PM (#42641449)

    In the Bush-the-first Administration a friend and I "hacked" into a password-less guest account and over-wrote the login shell script with ftp. This made the low-privilage account a lot less low-privilage than the system administrators wanted. We let the administration know after the fact. They fixed the problem.

    By today's laws and possibly those of the time, we committed a felony under both state and federal law. Morally I knew it was probably criminal but common sense and the morals of the time would call it a wrist-slap misdemeanor. I guessed correctly that the computer administrators would be more interested in fixing the problem than punishing us. As far as I know neither of us got into any trouble over it. I didn't. The statutes of limitations are long since expired or I wouldn't be making this admission in public. Within a few short years social attitudes changed and what we did would've likely gotten us some serious campus discipline and a "scare/threat" of arrest at a minimum.

  • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Sunday January 20, 2013 @05:16PM (#42641591) Homepage Journal

    However, it must be wielded with - pardon the pun - discretion.

    It's NOT okay to have strict liability crimes without almost universal knowledge of the crime and likely punishment.

    It's NOT okay to use discretion to coerce plea agreements.

    In general, the discretion should be based on published, preferably well-known guidelines that all prosecutors in a given geography and who are prosecuting given types of crimes agree on. In other words, there shouldn't be "good luck" and "bad luck" for the defendant when cases are handed out to prosecutors.

    You do need proprietorial discretion so prosecutors can deal with things like local priorities, priorities that change over time, laws that have outlived their usefulness, etc. Prosecutors in a city with a high car-theft crime and a publicized crackdown would - and should - be less interested in offering mercy on new car thieves than prosecutors in a city without a high car-theft problem.

    You also need to have proprietorial discretion to give leniency where the criminal act may warrant severe punishment but the criminal intent, while present, was not that of a hardened criminal or where "mother nature" has already meted out some punishment. For example, a person who steals a car to joy-ride and wrecks it causing himself severe injury should get a lot more mercy than someone who steals the car for profit. Why? The INTENT was to return the car intact, so the "criminal intent" is much less, and the person's injuries and medical bills will ensure he won't soon forget the experience.

    In cases of civil disobedience, the prosecutors in an area should also have a "standard, well-known" response which may be to decline prosecution specifically to deny the citizen the public platform that he is seeking. Another "pre-planned response" may be to seek a very short jail sentence with a long probation period, with a prohibition of associating with other like-minded people during the probation period. Such a response will effectively separate those who are really willing to throw years of their life away for a cause from those who aren't, while appearing to the general public to be showing some leniency.

    In the Swartz case, I wonder how differently things would have turned out if the prosecutor had said "Okay, here's our plea offer - 6 months in federal prison on reduced misdemeanor charges. If you don't take it, we'll ask the judge for a felony conviction and a sentence of 'A year and a day.' Talk it over with your lawyer and get back to us."

"Call immediately. Time is running out. We both need to do something monstrous before we die." -- Message from Ralph Steadman to Hunter Thompson