There’s a story making news of late about a hacker that “broke into” the JSTOR database and “stole millions” of articles. Apparently the guy is a Fellow at (irony warning) Harvard’s Center for Ethics. He is accused of sneaking into a closet at MIT and downloading a bunch.
There are so many issues with this, I’m not sure where to start. First of all, why was he doing this at MIT when he presumably had access via Harvard? (And the fact that he’s in the Center for Ethics is just too delicious.)
Secondly,the numbers don’t jive:
The programmer reportedly broke into a computer-wiring closet at the campus to access the university network and downloaded thousands of files from JSTOR—an online database of scholarly articles and journals. The university pays a subscription fee for use of the database.
A commenter pointed out that these files are in PDF format; if he “stole millions” of articles, there should have been millions of files downloaded, not thousands.
Thirdly – and this is what has serious implications for academia – he is seemingly being charged with downloading too many articles. Granted, the number (thousands? millions?) is high, but who gets to set the bar?
And finally, it’s not JSTOR that’s bringing the suit; it’s the Federal Government. As a point of fact, JSTOR has asked the government not to prosecute. It seems that the government has decided that,
downloading said articles is actually felony computer hacking and should be punished with time in prison.
I’m assuming that this was done rather deliberately, making a point about freedom of information and free access. He did break into the computer closet at MIT. And is accused of,
various attempts by Mr. Swartz to mask his identity while downloading the information, including setting up fake university accounts and obtaining new IP addresses after JSTOR and the university blocked access to his laptop computer.
Those are both no-no’s. But deciding that the downloads of articles is computer hacking???? Uhmmm, no.
It appears that our government has too much time on their hands. It’s not like they have anything better to do. </sarcasm>