From the Archives: Thoughts on the Law

The following was originally published on my Blogger blog space, in early 2013. While I don't claim to be a legal expert, I do claim to be a common sense citizen that understands the law. That being said, I still hold the following beliefs.

Recently I've noticed what may be an increasing irreverence of the law. Specifically are two very different but interesting examples.

First, the uproar over the suicide of Aaron Swartz. Not the uproar about his death specifically, but the blame that Swartz supporters are levying on others. If you are unfamiliar with the Aaron Swartz story, here is an overly simplified overview. Swartz is an internet celebrity and internet/technology advocate. He (allegedly) hacked into the MIT computer network, downloaded proprietary research from JSTOR, and then freely distributed JSTOR's property on the internet. He was charged with at least 6 felonies and faced anywhere from 6 months to 35 years in jail. He committed suicide recently, and his family reports that he took such an unfortunate and permanent action because he was so distraught over the legal action pending against him. Many Aaron Swartz supporters (and lovers of the internet for that matter) are blaming Aaron's death on the legal system.

This blows me away. Apparently some people have a hard time separating their affinity from things like logic and reason. Like it or not, breaking into a private computer network and stealing property is a crime! Swartz (allegedly) broke the law! If someone broke into your company, stole your valuable property, and gave it away to strangers for free, would you not expect them to be prosecuted?

Another example comes from my home state of Oregon where a county sheriff has warned the Obama administration that he will not enforce any new gun laws or regulations that he believes violate the Second Amendment. Yes, you read that correctly, he will not enforce the law. The problem here is that it is not a sheriff's job to decide what is or isn't law. That's why they are called law enforcement, not law makers.

Our country has arguably the most fair, transparent, and civilized legal system. The people elect representatives, who create laws, enforced by the legal system, and ultimately ratified or shot down by the courts (specifically, the Supreme Court). There are fair, transparent, and civilized ways of challenging or changing the law. If society doesn't like something, they can change it. Swartz had every opportunity to a fair trial and full defense. Sheriffs and the citizens of their counties have a voice through their elected representatives and via elections.

Why do supporters of the internet and information freedom believe they get to unilaterally decide what is a crime or isn't? Would they have cared so much if Swartz wasn't an internet icon or if it were their property broken into and stolen? Why does a sheriff think he can ignore the law of the land and interpret the constitution on his own?

What happened to the rule of law and civility? This is a scary trend and I hope it does not continue.