People have a natural want of doing really well in their jobs to help themselves get promoted in their chosen career. This is usually a good thing, as it creates a meritocratic system of the best-of-the-best rising to the top in a given field. One of the big exceptions to this system is in the case of public prosecutors. For example, earlier this year a co-founder of the popular news aggregating website Reddit, Aaron Swartz, killed himself, after the state of Massachusetts charged him for enough crimes to put him away for decades. His crime, was gathering electronic articles from MIT without authorization and sharing it to the world. MIT was not willing to file charges against the young man, however the state wanted to lock him up as if he were a serial killer. I’m not condoning the action of Swartz, but clearly the potential punishment did not match the crime. The state prosecutors were not seeking comparative justice; they were looking to see their names in the paper for a record of sentencing for a cyber crime.
Today, another great example of this treatment on a man out of Arkansas. Andrew Auernheimer, was sentenced to 41 months in jail for “hacking” AT&T. Auernheimer was able to get access to 114,000 iPad user accounts from AT&T’s online verification system. The thing about this case is how the prosecution defined hacking though. You see, Auernheimer did not do anything crazy technical to get this information, as he simply used something called a “GET” request on AT&T’s servers for the data, and the AT&T’s servers were stupid enough to reply with the requested information. It’s the equivalent of walking into your local bank and asking the teller for all the bank customers account information – and the teller saying “OK, here you go!” Now, Auernheimer used this information to make a name for himself and gave it to Gawker media, which probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But again, he didn’t “steal” data from AT&T, he simply used software to ask for the information and AT&T handed it right over.
Again, I’m not condoning the actions of these people, but certainly their “crimes” do not warrant excessive punishment. This is the same justice system that just sentenced two rapists of a 16 year old girl in Ohio to 1 & 2 years (one got 2 years because he took naked photographs of the girl). It’s also the same justice system that failed to prosecute a single individual for all the mortgage dealings that lead to the Great Recession. In the 21st century, being part of a civilized society requires a system of comparative justice where the punishment matches the crime; not a system where people are trying to make a name for themselves.