by Brad Rodriguez via Wendy McElroy
Speaking of the larger implications of the Aaron Swartz case, Glenn Greenwald clearly gets it:
This is not just prosecutorial abuse. It’s broader than that. It’s all part and parcel of the exploitation of law and the justice system to entrench those in power and shield themselves from meaningful dissent and challenge by making everyone petrified of the consequences of doing anything other than meekly submitting to the status quo.
Greenwald’s analysis of both the specific and the larger issues is spot on, and I’d like to buy the man a beer. Where he and I part ways is looking forward, to What Can Be Done.
Greenwald still believes in reform. Fire Ortiz and Heymann, the ambitious U.S. Attorneys who wanted to make Aaron Swartz an example; and remove their immunity from personal responsibility. Pass “Aaron’s Law” to strip felony charges from the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.* Put new limits on prosecutorial power.
I say, fat chance. Even if those changes could be enacted, it doesn’t change the underlying incentives. Government is a source of great power. There are those who wish to wield that power, and the least scrupulous win it. Having done so, they will not suddenly develop scruples; they will act to protect and extend their power, to enrich themselves, and to protect and reward their power base. They will mercilessly attack any threat to that power (Greenwald sees this). They will never act to reduce their power or their ability to defend it, unless confronted with an existential threat (such as being voted out of office). And once the threat dissipates, it’s back to business as usual.
The only way to end the game is to remove the prize: to make government powerless, so that it can’t grant favors, abolish competitors, enrich cronies, and destroy enemies. Eliminate the profit to the winners, and eliminate the incentives.
Of course, it’s far too late for that to happen in the U.S. So at some level, at least, I hope Greenwald is right: that it is possible to reform the system from within the system. I doubt it, but I’ll be happy to be proved wrong.
* As Stephen L. Carter points out, the CFAA is so broad that paying your Visa bill from your office computer could make you guilty of a felony.