We already discussed Eric Holder’s absolute failure on issues related to the press and media, but a great article by Tim Wu in the New Yorker details how Holder’s legacy is littered with him totally failing the digital world through a combination of ignorance, neglect and simply poor decision-making. Wu points to the prosecutions of both Chelsea Manning and Aaron Swartz as examples, noting Holder’s awful response when asked about the Swartz prosecution:
Holder himself did not run that prosecution, and cannot be blamed directly for it. But, in the aftermath of Swartz’s suicide, he was presented with an opportunity to step back and examine what had happened. He might have taken a careful look at how the Justice Department was enforcing the underlying law, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which, as I and others have argued, is among the worst and most dangerous sections of United States federal law. If he had, he might have noticed that the Swartz prosecution wasn’t the first of its kind and wouldn’t be the last, and pushed for better enforcement guidelines for federal prosecutors.
Holder did not take that path—the kind of reflection, notably, that he would demand of the Ferguson police department. Instead, he blandly defended his prosecutors, and even testified before the Senate that prosecuting Swartz was “a good use of prosecutorial discretion.” In that moment, he lost a good deal of the tech community’s goodwill and respect.
On the question of Ed Snowden and surveillance, Wu notes that Holder failed to uphold the Constitution in blocking the abuses, but rather appears to have signed off on them.
Holder didn’t initiate the bulk collection of phone or e-mail records; nor did he run the N.S.A. But Holder, as the Administration’s top lawyer for half a dozen years, nonetheless bears responsibility for these gross and repeated violations of Constitutional principles. It is ultimately the Justice Department’s duty to stand up for the Constitution when other parts of government want to abandon it, and this Holder failed to do.
There’s more in the article as well, but the key point seems to be that Holder just seemed fundamentally unconcerned about digital rights, and that’s a problem in an increasingly digital world:
Mainly, in the end, Holder seems to have not truly grasped that our rights matter online as well as offline. He never appeared sensitive to the idea that having our e-mails read by the government can be as intrusive and as unpleasant as having government agents rifle through our desks. Whatever the reason, and even if his commitment to civil rights did not waver, his disregard for digital rights was blatant and painful for those who looked to and hoped for an Obama Administration that would become the much promised “tech Presidency.”
The fact that the rumored “leading” choice to replace Holder is current Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the former top litigator for both the MPAA and RIAA — who handled the lawsuits against Grokster, YouTube and Jammie Thomas, among others, doesn’t exactly bode well that Holder’s successor will be much of a champion of digital rights either. There are, however, some other choices on the table apparently, and it would be nice if future attorneys general actually recognized the importance of digital rights as well.