7 Controversial Figures of Internet Freedom

In the Information Age, data is the new currency, and knowledge is power.

And thanks to the Internet, we’re used to being able to access information at whim, quickly and easily — and for free.

But throughout history, those in power have guarded their secrets closely. In the face of a movement towards more freedom of information, they work harder than ever to keep their secrets from falling into the wrong hands, or being exposed to the public.

In that clash of secrecy vs. freedom of information, these seven famous men have become polarizing figures. Depending on which side you believe, they are either heroes of the free Internet fighting censorship, or traitors who are putting lives in danger.

From exposing government corruption to freely disseminating academic research, these men all had different motives and goals. But all of them had one thing in common: their belief in humanity’s right to freedom of information.

“Freedom of information” sounds good in principle, but some argue that secrets are sometimes necessary to protect and save lives. While Edward Snowden may have had good intentions when he leaked classified NSA documents to foreign powers, prosecutors argued that his actions put thousands of US citizens at risk. He now faces up to 30 years of prison time if convicted.

But for others on this list, the reasoning for such harsh sentencing isn’t quite so clear. Aaron Swartz illegally accessed JSTOR to make academic research freely available to all, not just those who could afford the high fees. Though his actions put no lives at risk, he faced up to 35 years years in prison and a million dollar fine. In the face of persecution, he committed suicide in 2013.

Are these punitive actions necessary for the greater good? Or is freedom of information the higher priority? Check out the facts below, and see which side you fall on.

7-Controversial-Figures-of-Internet-Freedom2

7 Controversial Figures of Internet Freedom

Freedom fighter or terrorist? Activist or anarchist? Depending on who you are, those making a stand for an open internet are either heroes of democracy or enemies of state security.

Here are some controversial figures whose actions have divided opinions worldwide.

Roger Shuler

  • Nationality
    • US American
  • Occupation
    • Blogger
  • Cause
    • Reporting corruption in Alabama state politics
  • Offence
    • Refusing to comply with court injunctions demanding removal of defamatory posts
  • Result
    • Charged with:
      • Contempt of court
      • Resisting arrest
  • Filed
    • October 23 2013
  • Sentence
    • 90 days suspended sentence for resisting arrest
    • Held indefinitely without bond for contempt of court
  • Status
    • Freed on March 26 2014 after his wife took down the offending blog posts
    • Shuler’s blog posts are frequently salacious and hazily sourced, however the First Amendment and its protections still apply online. Shuler’s case suggests there are exceptions.
    • According to the Committee to Project Journalists, during the time of his imprisonment, Shuler was the only known reporter jailed for journalism offences in the Western Hemisphere.

Ladar Levison

  • Nationality
    • US American
  • Occupation
    • Owner of Lavabit, an anonymous email service
  • Cause
    • The protection of internet privacy
  • Offence
    • Refusing to comply with court orders to hand over private encryption keys
  • Result
    • Shut down company
  • Filed
  • Sentenced
  • Status
    • Currently working with the Dark Mail Alliance to create secure alternative to email.
    • When forced to hand over his encryption keys as part of an FBI investigation, Levison sent the details in 4-point type over 11 pages.
    • Levison shut down his company after “refusing to be complicit in crimes against the American people.”

Julian Assange

  • Nationality
    • Australian
  • Occupation
    • Editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks
  • Cause
    • Government transparency
  • Offence
    • Releasing classified US diplomatic documents
  • Result
    • Not charged with any offence
  • Filed
  • Sentence
  • Status
    • Living in asylum in Ecuadorean embassy, London
    • Despite not being charged with any offences, papers from US legal proceedings reveal that a ‘criminal/national security’ investigation into WikiLeaks is still ‘active and ongoing’.
    • Assange is still wanted for questioning over sexual assault allegations made in Sweden. Since taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy, 24/7 police presence around the site has cost UK taxpayers £6.4m ($10.6m).

Peter Sunde

  • Nationality
    • Finnish/Norwegian
  • Occupation
    • Co-founder of The Pirate Bay
  • Cause
    • Decriminalizing file-sharing for personal use
  • Offence
    • Operating The Pirate Bay
  • Result
    • Charged with:
      • Copyright infringement
  • Filed
    • 2009
  • Sentence
    • 8-month prison sentence
    • 46 million SEK fine ($6.9 million)
  • Status
    • Currently in jail
    • Though scheduled to begin his sentence in 2012, Sunde went on the run and was arrested in June 2014.
    • Speaking from prison, Sunde states: “As activists and entrepreneurs, we need to challenge monopolies. We need to build a pirate social network that is interoperable with Facebook.
    • Since his imprisonment Sunde has complained about the lack of vegan meal options and his inability to meet with a representative from the Church of Kopimism – an official religion that considers CTRL+C and CTRL+V sacred symbols.

Jeremy Hammond

  • Nationality
    • US American
  • Occupation
    • Computer hacker
  • Cause
    • Political change via ‘electronic civil disobedience’
  • Offence
    • Hacked emails of Stratfor, a intelligence company
  • Result
    • Charged with:
      • Conspiracy to commit computer hacking
      • Computer hacking
      • Conspiracy to commit access device fraud
  • Filed
    • March 5 2012
  • Sentence
    • After pleading guilty to one conspiracy charge, Hammond was sentenced to:
    • 10 years in jail and 3 years on supervised release
  • Status
    • In prison.
    • Hammond describes himself as an anarchist, stating: “I believe we need to abolish capitalism and the state in its entirely to realize a free, egalitarian society.”
    • Hammond has suggested the FBI manipulated him to carry out hacking attacks through “Sabu”, the leader of Lulzsec, who turned out to be an FBI informant.

Edward Snowden

  • Nationality
    • US American
  • Occupation
    • Former systems administrator for the CIA
  • Cause
    • Disclosing the extent of government spying
  • Offence
    • Leaked classified NSA documents
  • Result
    • Charged with:
      • Theft of government property
      • Unauthorized communication of nation defense information
      • Willful communication of classified communications intelligence to an unauthorized person
  • Filed
    • June 14 2013
  • Sentence
    • If convicted, Snowden faces:
    • Maximum 30-year prison sentence
  • Status
    • Temporary asylum in Russia
    • Though criticized for putting US citizens at risk, Snowden claims his actions were to improve the NSA and allow society the choice to change.
    • He stated: “I realized I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”

Aaron Swartz

  • Nationality
    • US American
  • Occupation
    • Computer programmer
  • Cause
    • Free and open access to academic journals
  • Offence
    • Allegedly downloaded over 4 million JSTOR articles after breaking into a MIT computer closet.
  • Result
    • Charged with:
      • Wire fraud
      • Computer fraud
      • Unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer
      • Recklessly damaging a protected computer
  • Filed
    • September 12 2012
  • Sentence
    • Had Swartz been convicted, he would have faced:
      • Up to 35 years in prison with 3 years’ supervised release
      • Up to $1 million fine
  • Status
    • Committed suicide on January 11 2013
    • Despite JSTOR dropping its charges, the government pursued the case aggressively under violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).
    • This has resulted in Aaron’s Law, a bill that hopes to reform the CFAA to make it less prone to prosecutorial abuse.

It’s clear that governments and internet users can be at odds with each other when it comes to who should control the internet.

But is state intervention tantamount to censorship, or essential for the greater good of society?

Sources

  • Alleged Hacker Charged with Stealing over Four Million Documents from MIT Network – justice.gov
  • USA vs. Aaron Swartz – archive.org
  • Timeline: USA v. Swartz and the Aftermath – tech.mit.edu
  • Aaron Swartz Suicide Prompts MIT Soul-Searching – business.time.com
  • Introducing Aaron&Rsquo;S Law, a Desperately Needed Reform of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act – wired.com
  • US Files Criminal Charges against NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden – theguardian.com
  • Profile: Edward Snowden – bbc.co.uk
  • &Lsquo;I Already Won&Rsquo;: Snowden Is Helping the NSA Though It Brands Him a Traitor – rt.com
  • Pirate Bay Co-Founder Peter Sunde to Run for EU Parliament – pcworld.com
  • Pirate Bay Co-Founder Arrested in Sweden to Serve Copyright Violation Sentence – reuters.com
  • Pirate Bay Founder Peter Sunde Requests Pardon – torrentfreak.com
  • Pirate Bay Co-Founder Peter Sunde Arrested Years after Conviction – techcrunch.com
  • 10 Days in Sweden: The Full Allegations against Julian Assange – theguardian.com
  • No Charges Ever Pressed: Assange Marks Three Years of UK Detention – rt.com
  • Assange Targeted by FBI Probe, US Court Documents Reveal – smh.com.au
  • Julian Assange Sees Himself as &Ldquo;a Martyr without Dying&Rdquo; – thenextweb.com
  • Swedish Court to Rule on Lifting Julian Assange Arrest Warrant – theguardian.com
  • Lawyers for Lavabit Founder: Judges May Dismiss Civil Liberties Concerns – theguardian.com
  • Julian Assange Sex Case: Warrant for Wikileaks Founder Upheld – bbc.co.uk
  • Ladar Levison: &Ldquo;an Open Conversation about Internet Communications Privacy&Rdquo; – crcs.seas.harvard.edu
  • Hacker with a Cause – newyorker.com
  • Jeremy Hammond Federal Complaint – freejeremy.net
  • The Rise and Fall of Jeremy Hammond: Enemy of the State – rollingstone.com
  • 10 Years in Prison for Circulating Information in Public Interest – en.rsf.org
  • Jeremy Hammond Supporters Speak out for &Lsquo;Whistleblower&Rsquo; Ahead of Sentencing – huffingtonpost.com
  • Jailed Anonymous Hacker Jeremy Hammond: &Lsquo;My Days of Hacking Are Done&Rsquo; – theguardian.com
  • Case of Jailed Blogger Raises First Amendment Concerns – america.aljazeera.com
  • Blogger&Rsquo;S Incarceration Raises First Amendment Questions – nytimes.com
  • Shelby Country Blogger Sentenced to 90 Days for Resisting Arrest, Remains in Jail without Bond on Contempt Charges – blog.al.com
  • Alabama Court Shuts Blogger up with Prior Restraint Court Order, Indefinite Jailing for Contempt of Court – techdirt.com
  • Legal Schnauzer Blogger Freed from Jail after 5 Months; Had Been Held on Contempt of Court – blog.al.com

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