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The Aftermath of Aaron Swartz's Suicide; Using PayPal at the Pump

An illustration of online payment service PayPal at LeWeb Paris 2012 in Saint-Denis, near Paris on December 5, 2012.

The death of a freedom of information campaigner and accused hacker is prompting a bid to change federal law on computer abuse and fraud. Aaron Swartz, 26, killed himself on Friday as he awaited trial for breaking into MIT's computer system to make public subscription-only academic journals in a database called J-Stor. Professor James Grimmelmann at the New York Law School says that he himself probably violated the same law that ensnared Aaron Swartz, a law Grimmelman sees as a blunt instrument.

"I wrote a blog a few years ago, and I needed to download a complete archive, so I wrote a program to do that," says Grimmelman. "It's basically the same thing Aaron did. He wrote a program, downloading a lot of articles from J-Stor."

Critics say prosecutors were too aggressive in their handling of the Swartz case. Now, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California is proposing a change to federal computer hacking law.

"I think it's a great first step, addressing a problem that the Electronic Frontier Foundation's been long concerned about, which is creating criminal law from the violations of terms of service or contractual agreement you may have with an online service provider," says Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation supported Swartz in his legal battle. Fakhoury says while serious cyber crime has to be punished severely, the law needs further changes so minor computer infractions are not charged as felonies.


People tend to use Ebay's Paypal system when buying stuff online, but you'll be able to use it out in the world. A new alliance between NCR, the cash register and automated teller company, and Paypal means you might soon pay for gas using your smart phone. And, says Rick Oglesby, an analyst at the Aite Group, it won't be just feeding your car.

"They're working together to create a new way that you can check out of a restaurant," explains Oglesby. "If you consider a situation where you're sitting at a table and your kids start acting up and you haven't seen your wait staff for quite some time, you can just pick up your phone and order the payment to be made through your phone and walk out the door, so that you don't actually have to wait to give them your card."

The NCR-Paypal effort could even lead to the ability to order your food before you go to the restaurant.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio
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