Sunday, January 20, 2013

Out of Proportion

Trey Smith

On Friday morning, I shared with you some links and a brief bit of information about the suicide of internet activist Aaron Swartz. What makes his death so compelling is that a lot of people believe that the federal government's overzealous prosecution of him for the unauthorized downloading of academic papers for public distribution was THE precipitating factor in Swartz deciding to end his young life.

As Ian Millhiser wrote on Alternet earlier this week, if convicted, Swartz "faced 50 years or more in a federal prison" for his crime. That's right. 50 long years! What makes this potential sentence so egregious is that there are a lot of federal offenses that are far more heinous and injurious that result in far less time behind bars.

For example, Millihiser notes that the penalty for manslaughter or selling child pornography is significantly less.
Federal law provides that someone who kills another human being “[u]pon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion” faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if subject to federal jurisdiction. The lesser crime of involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of only six years.

The maximum prison sentence for a first-time offender who “knowingly sells or possesses with intent to sell” child pornography in interstate commerce is 20 years. Significantly, the only way to produce child porn is to sexually molest a child, which means that such a criminal is literally profiting off of child rape or sexual abuse.
This is absolutely crazy. You can kill another human being or sell child pornography and receive a sentence of no more than 20 years, yet if you illegally download academic research, you can be locked up for one-half of a century. Doesn't that seem completely out of proportion to the crimes committed?

It certainly does UNLESS you factor in the growing tentacles of the police state. Under the police state, the most serious breach a person can commit is the sharing of information that the powers that be do not want shared. Such information can sway public opinion and not allow the leaders to get away with what they want to get away with. In our current system, governmental and corporate leaders desire a docile public and the best way to insure we stay docile is to insure that we remain ignorant.

And that is why the Obama administration has squashed whistleblowers -- like Bradley Manning and Aaron Swartz -- with an iron boot. Whistleblowers commit the gravest travesty possible in a police state: the sharing of [secret] information that the government doesn't want us to know!!!

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