On Thursday morning, the judge overseeing Jeremy Hammond’s trial for his alleged involvement in the famed LulzSec Stratfor hack refused to step down from presiding over the case, despite a reported conflict of interest. Hammond’s attorneys had filed a motion to have Judge Loretta Preska recuse herself from the case after it emerged that her husband had been a Stratfor client with data released by the hack.
The legal system is such that it was up to Preska herself to step down — she opted against it, and Hammond will appear in court in April with the judge presiding. The same judge denied the activist bail (he has been held in a Manhattan federal prison for over a year, regularly placed in solitary confinement) and told the defendant that he could face life in jail for his alleged involvement in the hack.
On the same morning Judge Preska announced that she would not be stepping down from the case, Hammond released a statement of his own through his lawyers. The tract decries the criminal justice system’s treatment of cyber activists, condemns government’s persecution of dissent, and above all celebrates the work of the late Aaron Swartz.
The tragic death of internet freedom fighter Aaron Swartz reveals the government’s flawed “cyber security strategy” as well as its systematic corruption involving computer crime investigations, intellectual property law, and government/corporate transparency…
It is not the “crimes” Aaron may have committed that made him a target of federal prosecution, but his ideas – elaborated in his “Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto” – that the government has found so dangerous. The United States Attorney’s aggressive prosecution, riddled with abuse and misconduct, is what led to the death of this hero. This sad and angering chapter should serve as a wake up call for all of us to acknowledge the danger inherent in our criminal justice system.
Hammond’s words echo those of, among others, Swartz’s family and partner who blamed overzealous prosecutors and a flawed criminal justice system for driving the online activist to suicide over charges relating to downloading academic articles. Hammond sees Swartz’s case in the context of growing persecution of online activism and dissent under the dangerously broad Computer Fraud and Abuse Act:
The rise in effectiveness of, and public support for, movements like Anonymous and Wikileaks has led to an expansion of computer crime investigations – most importantly enhancements to 18 U.S.C § 1030, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Over the years the CFAA has been amended five times and has gone through a number of important court rulings that have greatly expanded what the act covers concerning “accessing a protected computer without authorization.” It is now difficult to determine exactly what conduct would be considered legal.
… The sheer number of everyday computer users who could be considered criminals under these broad and ambiguous definitions enables the politically motivated prosecution of anyone who voices dissent.