Posts Tagged ‘Aaron Swartz’

The Internet’s Own Boy

September 20, 2014

Documentary on internet pioneer and activist Aaron Swartz.

Aaron Swartz Public Memorial Service at Cooper Union

January 20, 2013
Demand Justice for Aaron Swartz

Demand Justice for Aaron Swartz

Aaron did not commit suicide, but was killed by the government. Someone who made the world a better place was pushed to his death by the government. — Robert Swartz, father of Aaron Swartz

Yesterday (Saturday) hundreds attended the memorial in New York for internet activist Aaron Swartz who was found hanged, driven to his death by a vindictive Public Prosecutor and US Department of Justice.

Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman:

He was so scared and so frustrated and so desperate and, more than anything else, just so weary. I think he just couldn’t take it another day. In the end, he couldn’t allow (prosecutors) to control him, either.

Doc Searls:

When we’re young we think our cause is a sprint, and when we’re middle-aged we thing is it’s a marathon. But when we’re old we think it’s a relay race. And Aaron was the one you wanted to hand it off to.

Roy Singham, a close collaborator with Aaron Swartz who founded the Freedom to Connect initiative:

This was not suicide. It was murder by intimidation, bullying and torment. We must demand accountability for those who tormented Aaron. He was, in my humble opinion, one of the true extraordinary revolutionaries that this country has produced.

Grandson of activist folk singer Pete Seeger, Kitama Jackson, read a note from his grandfather:

These modern times are filled with such contradictions that experts are not agreed on what the future of the human race will be. But we can agree today that it was a tragedy for this brilliant young man to be so threatened that he hanged himself.

The Public Prosecutor who drove Aaron Swartz to his death should be driven out of public office, she is not fit to hold any public office, not even that of public rat catcher. Nor is she fit to practice law, the Bar Association should strip her of her licence to practice law.

Contrast Aaron Swartz with facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Aaron Swartz worked for the common good, was an advocate of an open internet, believed public information should be made public. Mark Zuckerberg works for his own private greed, violates personal privacy for monetary gain, is trying to turn an open internet into a privately controlled intranet.

Demand Progress, founded by Aaron Swartz, is asking you to sign their petition and demand justice for Aaron Swartz. Their demands, our demands will make a fitting memorial, that his early death was not for nothing.

Representative Zoe Lofgren has introduced what’s been named “Aaron’s Law.” It would fix a key part of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which is one of the statutes under which Aaron was indicted. We need to pass Aaron’s Law AND further amend the CFAA.

The CFAA makes violations of a website’s terms of service agreement or user agreement — that fine print you never read before you check the box next to it — a FELONY, potentially punishable by many years in prison. That’s how over-broad this dangerous statute is, and one way it lets showboating prosecutors file charges against people who’ve done nothing wrong.

Aaron’s Law would decriminalize violating these agreements: They’re essentially contracts, and as with other contracts, disputes about them should be settled in civil courts rather than in out of control criminal trials under threat of decades of prison time. As currently written, Aaron’s Law alone wouldn’t have saved Aaron — there is still more to do to make sure that victimless computer activities are not charged as felonies — but this is a solid start that we can pass now and it’s a law he wanted to change. Then we’ll keep pushing forward.

Additionally, Congressman Darrell Issa — who controls the powerful Oversight Committee — has been asked to open an investigation into prosecutorial misconduct in Aaron’s case. Amazingly, he’s already responded and is dispatching a staffer to investigate the US. Attorney who was pressing charges against Aaron.

We want the inquiry to proceed, and to be broadened to include a more thorough investigation into rampant over-prosecution of alleged crimes with no victims — as in the case of what Aaron was accused of. And we want those who abused their power to be held to account.

We loved Aaron — so many people loved Aaron — and his death is tragic. We and others who were close to him are overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, and the calls for justice. Thank you for joining us in that fight.

Please ensure this is widely shared. Please do not let the death of Aaron Swartz be for nothing.

Yesterday was also Internet Freedom Day, the first anniversary of the killing dead of Sopa. Aaron Swartz was instrumental in leading the fight against Sopa, which made him a target and led to him paying the ultimate price, his life.

The Many Killers of Aaron Swartz

January 13, 2013
The internet activist Aaron Swartz

The internet activist Aaron Swartz

There are days when sitting down to write is a joy. This isn’t one of them.

I’ve been accused of pacing like a caged animal while thinking, and of my initial observable reactions to tragedy seeming more analytical than emotional.

And truth be told, today I have indeed worn a deep furrow in my cage, and my protective channeling of Mr. Spock is very much in full bloom. There’s time for crying later.

In the case of Aaron Swartz’s suicide at age 26, we begin at the end of the story, can flashback to origins, and in doing so we find a very broad, and to some extent largely predictable, cast of characters and events.

Entangled with the immediate horror of Aaron’s death are a set of ironies suitable for a Shakespearean drama.

It’s been noted that Aaron apparently took his life two years to the day after his arrest by MIT authorities for the JSTOR-related break-ins and thefts of which he had been accused and was awaiting trial. And the fact that just a couple of days ago, it was announced that JSTOR documents would (on a limited basis) become available for free public access is also impossible to ignore. To speculate that both of these points played into Aaron’s thinking, given the public knowledge that he had been struggling with depression for years before any of these events took place, seems entirely reasonable, and immensely disturbing.

But the awful irony is that none of this needed to have occurred at all.

For the ultimate outcome of the underlying battle in which Aaron and others in the “information should be free” movement have been fighting — whether one agrees with this perspective or not — has already been decided, and neither sacrifices nor crucifictions are likely to change the long-term course of events.

Indeed, the traditional concept of copyright and content control is already doomed by technological changes — the ability to quickly copy, store, preserve, mirror, and communicate data around the world nearly instantaneously.

Business models predicated on limiting access to data, either by assuming time and expense in duplication and transfer, or via false confidence in fragile Digital Rights Management (DRM) and other so-called “anti-piracy” measures, are rapidly becoming zombies now, still acting as if their old status quo could last forever, while the real world passes them by.

True, this process has not proceeded as rapidly as some would like. It is, in many respects, like an enormous steamroller lumbering toward a destination that is already set and immutable. And like when dealing with a steamroller, anyone who gets in its path, either to try block its progress or even to urge it onward, runs the risk of being crushed by its plodding yet relentless movement.

It’s tempting to oversimplify the tragedy in this case, but the players are many and there is painful blame to spread far and wide.

Major content producers, by pushing for the criminalization of associated “hacking” and data thefts to be treated more harshly in many cases than crimes of violence — all to try protect their obsolete business models — carry much of the guilt.

The politicians who then acted to create associated draconian penalties subject to overzealous invocation, and the publicity-seeking prosecutors who use prosecutorial discretion as a lethal weapon, certainly share the blame as well.

Saddest to say, Aaron himself played a major role too, voluntarily painting a giant target on his own back, not just through the scope of the unauthorized data copying of which he was accused, but by reportedly physically entering MIT network wiring closets and planting computers there for months at a time as part of the process.

That Aaron felt he was morally justified in his actions is clear — and unfortunately irrelevant to the government’s interest in “making an example” of his behaviors in particular.

And while it’s obvious to virtually all observers that the government vastly overstepped the bounds of appropriate prosecution in this case, it is also sadly true that their reaction to this sort of situation — given the recently toughened laws that had been put in place at the time — should not have come as an enormous surprise. Remember that steamroller.

Which brings us back to the present, and the needless death of a young man who really had only begun to live.

While the sorts of theoretical maximum sentences and fines that have been discussed for his case sound very alarming, the reality is that federal sentencing guidelines, especially for relatively young first offenders, point to vastly lessor penalties, especially when the government proceeded to prosecution without the support of the technically aggrieved parties, as in this case.

But that’s small comfort in the end. Nobody wants to go to prison at all, and the personal financial result from such a trial, even with the best possible outcomes for a defendant, would still probably be ruinous.

I likened all this to a Shakespearean drama earlier — but perhaps a Greek tragedy is more apt an analogy.

When we mere imperfect mortals deem to pit even our most righteous beliefs against the timorous gods of old, it is simultaneously an act of faith and the voluntary assumption of enormous risk, for the gods of obsolescence still possess mighty powers indeed.

In the end, the old gods of information scarcity and control will indeed die, and more open models will win the future.

Until then, as the path leading to that future continues to be laid through battles yet to come, it might do us well to ponder the many killers of Aaron Swartz, and the very human guilt and frailties that we all — each and ever one of us — must jointly share.

Rest in peace, Aaron.

— Lauren Weinstein

Re-post of original article by Lauren Weinstein.