Farewell, Aaron Swartz

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Yesterday, Aaron Swartz, a prominent collaborator of the EFF, took his own life. He was a well-regarded programmer and activist, who had dedicated his life to making the Internet a thriving ecosystem for open knowledge, and to keep it that way. His contributions were numerous, and some of them were indispensable. When the EFF asked him in late 2010 for help in stopping COICA, the predecessor to the SOPA and PIPA Internet blacklist bills, he founded an organization called Demand Progress, which mobilized over a million online activists and proved to be an invaluable ally in winning that campaign.

Other projects he had worked on included the RSS specifications, web.py, tor2web, the Open Library, and the Chrome port of HTTPS Everywhere. Aaron helped launch the Creative Commons. He was a former co-founder at Reddit, and a member of the team that made the site successful. He also had a successful blog.

His undoing, however, was when in 2011 he used the MIT campus network to download millions of journal articles from the JSTOR database, allegedly changing his laptop’s IP and MAC addresses when necessary to get around blocks put in place by JSTOR and MIT and sneaking into a closet to to get a faster connection to the MIT network. For this purported crime, Aaron was facing criminal charges with penalties up to thirty-five years in prison, most seriously for “unauthorized access” to computers under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Before the likes of a certain Second Life anti-open source and anti-privacy troll (and major drama queen) start saying “he was a criminal” and the like, I must say that most of the articles Swartz unleashed into the wild should have been by law in the public domain anyway, as their copyrights had expired years, if not decades, ago. Yet, the JSTOR kept them behind a paywall.

These works of science and knowledge that Swartz liberated from the JSTOR’s “responsible businessmen” were works that the public had paid for; works that the JSTOR, with its exorbitant and – yes – extortionate financial demands keeps out of the public’s reach. Out of the reach of those who funded the creation of this knowledge with their taxes. Aaron tried to liberate knowledge. He tried to give us access to this material, so we could all read those articles, analyze them as a single giant dataset, something Aaron had done before. While his methods were provocative, the goal that Aaron died fighting for — freeing the publicly-funded scientific literature from a publishing system that makes it inaccessible to most of those who paid for it — is one that we should all support.

One must also note the sheer injustice of American computer crime laws, and particularly the punishments they impose on those that run afoul of them. Aaron’s act was undoubtedly political activism, and taking such an act in the physical world would, at most, have a meant he faced light penalties akin to trespassing as part of a political protest. Because he used a computer, he instead faced long-term incarceration. This is a disparity that EFF has fought against for years. Yesterday, it had tragic consequences. Lawrence Lessig has called for this tragedy to be a basis for reform of computer crime laws, and the overzealous prosecutors (who often have professional and financial ties with the companies that abuse copyright and support pro-censorship “anti-piracy” legislation in order to keep knowledge out of most people’s reach, while blatantly exploiting the intellectual work of the scientific community) who use them.

Aaron Swartz will be sorely missed by anyone who values knowledge and freedom.


All this becomes even more sickening when one remembers that the architects of the global financial crisis wine and dine at the White House and that the banksters of HSBC (a bank also known for its involvement in a massive tax evasion scandal by Greek politicians and media moguls, as documented in the whole “Lagarde List” debacle) that have been laundering money for drug cartels are not going to face prosecution, ever. It also becomes even more disgusting when I see the supposedly tech-savvy and sensitive w.r.t. civil liberties and freedom of information community of SL blogbabble about how “revolutionary” prim boobs and genitals are. Our priorities are just plain messedfucked up.


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Mona (formerly slutrix)


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