Exactly one year ago today, the world lost a kind, brilliant and courageous human being. Aaron Swartz, who had already accomplished so much in his short time with us, was driven to suicide by an out of control, unenlightened and increasingly fascistic government, determined to prosecute this gentle genius.
In remembrance of Aarron, I am reposting in full, the post I wrote about him and his story shortly after his death one year ago titled: Remembering Internet Prodigy and Activist Aaron Swartz (1986-2013): Your Life is an Inspiration.
Rest in Peace.
Remembering Internet Prodigy and Activist Aaron Swartz (1986-2013): Your Life is an Inspiration
It takes a person like Aaron Swartz to remind you how little you are actually doing to bring forth social, political and economic justice in this increasingly insane and sick world. I’m not exaggerating when I say his life was an inspiration. At 14 years old he helped start the RSS feed system, which so many now use to read content online. He also co-founded Reddit, and its sale to Conde Nast is what afforded him the resources to dedicate his life to the defense of a free and open internet. His most remarkable success in this regard was the creation of the organization Demand Progress, which was instrumental in defeating the internet censorship bill know as SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act).
He ran afoul of the law due to his actions in the fall of 2010 when he downloaded millions of academic journal articles from the nonprofit online database JSTOR. While JSTOR could have pursued charges against Aaron for his activities, they decided against it. However, our Federal Government was not so kind. They decided to make an example of Aaron and charged him with multiple felonies. Charges that carried up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines. Aaron was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment this past Friday, in an apparent suicide.
If you had asked me about Aaron Swartz three days ago I could have told you none of the above. This is despite the fact that I now spend pretty much all of my time trying to read through news and understand the true nature of the world around me. Even more pathetically, it is despite the fact that a close friend of mine had met Aaron this past summer and was trying to coordinate a time for us all to meet. Sadly, we never connected.
As part of my tribute to Aaron, I will commit myself even more fully to the cause of freedom in America. I spent the last 12 hours reading about him and I have compiled some of the most interesting excerpts from various sources below. Please take the time.
First from the official statement from his family and partner:
Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.
Next from Lawrence Lessig, the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and friend of Aaron. He writes:
Early on, and to its great credit, JSTOR figured “appropriate” out: They declined to pursue their own action against Aaron, and they asked the government to drop its. MIT, to its great shame, was not as clear, and so the prosecutor had the excuse he needed to continue his war against the “criminal” who we who loved him knew as Aaron.
From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The “property” Aaron had “stolen,” we were told, was worth “millions of dollars” — with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.
I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.
For remember, we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House — and where even those brought to “justice” never even have to admit any wrongdoing, let alone be labeled “felons.”
From the Huffington Post:
Swartz spent the last two years fighting federal hacking charges. In July 2011, prosecutor Scott Garland working under U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, a politician with her eye on the governor’s mansion, charged Swartz with four counts of felony misconduct — charges that were deemed outrageous by internet experts who understood the case, and wholly unnecessary by the parties Swartz was accused of wronging.
Swartz repeatedly sought to reduce the charges to a level below felony status, but prosecutors pressed on, adding additional charges so that by September 2012 Swartz faced 13 felony counts and up to half a century in prison.
Swartz’s friend Henry Farrell, a political scientist at George Washington University, also pointed at the DOJ. “They sought felony convictions with decades of prison time for actions which, if they were illegal at all, were at most misdemeanors.”
Had JSTOR wanted to pursue civil charges against Swartz for breach of contract, it could have. But JSTOR did not, and washed its hands of the whole affair.
Last June, Swartz told HuffPost that both JSTOR and MIT had advised prosecutors they were not interested in pursuing criminal or civil charges.
But the government pressed on, interpreting Swartz’s actions as a federal crime, alleging mass theft, damaged computers and wire fraud, and suggesting that Swartz stood to gain financially.
JSTOR issued a statement late on Saturday expressing regret at Swartz’s passing, criticizing his prosecution.
“The case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge,” the statement reads. “At the same time, as one of the largest archives of scholarly literature in the world, we must be careful stewards of the information entrusted to us by the owners and creators of that content. To that end, Aaron returned the data he had in his possession and JSTOR settled any civil claims we might have had against him in June 2011.”
From Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian:
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