Jan. 11, 2023 marks the tenth anniversary of the death of Aaron Swartz. Swartz had a prolific career as a computer programmer: At the age of 12 he created The Info Network, a user-generated encyclopedia widely credited as a precursor to Wikipedia. Swartz’s later work would transform the internet as we know it. He helped co-found Reddit, developed the RSS web feed format, and helped lay the technical foundations of Creative Commons, “a global nonprofit organization that enables sharing and reuse of creativity and knowledge through the provision of free legal tools.” In 2011, Swartz was arrested and indicted on federal charges after downloading a large number of academic articles from the website JSTOR through the MIT network. A year later, prosecutors added an additional nine felony counts against Swartz, ultimately threatening him with a million dollars in fines and up to 35 years in prison.
November 8, 2020 would have been Aaron’s 34th birthday, but instead we mourn our friend and wonder what could have been, had he not taken his own life seven years ago after being terrorized by a career-driven prosecutor and U.S. Attorney who decided to just make shit up, make an example out of Aaron, impress their bosses and further their own careers. As it turns out though, Aaron’s downloading wasn’t even illegal, as he was a Harvard Ethics Fellow at the time and Harvard and MIT had contractual agreements allowing Aaron to access those materials en masse. But all this didn’t come to light until it was too late. Aaron was careful not to tell his friends too much about his case for fear he would involve them in the quagmire.
By Eleanor Goldfield for Occupy.com. This week on Act Out!, the cries of white genocide are growing. What's the psychology behind white death, white suffering and what can we do to prevent legitimate rage from turning into illegitimate white supremacy? Next up, net neutrality, calling on and calling out Congress, plus Aaron Swartz Day. And finally, the latest attempt to break dissent around dirty energy and the indigenous ideas to always keep that fight alive.
The Internet’s Own Boy follows the story of programming prodigy and information activist Aaron Swartz. From Swartz's help in the development of the basic internet protocol RSS to his co-founding of Reddit, his fingerprints are all over the internet. But it was Swartz's groundbreaking work in social justice and political organizing combined with his aggressive approach to information access that ensnared him in a two-year legal nightmare. It was a battle that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26. Aaron's story touched a nerve with people far beyond the online communities in which he was a celebrity. This film is a personal story about what we lose when we are tone deaf about technology and its relationship to our civil liberties.
Aaron Swartz was an Internet prodigy and a trouble-maker. The new documentary The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz is not only about Swartz, but about why we should care about the issues he cared about, and the trouble that triggered his suicide. Swartz was committed to an open and secure Internet, and was acutely aware of how that openness is compromised in different ways every day. To Brian Knappenberger, the film’s director, Swartz was something of a canary in a coal mine. “We all live massively networked lives,” Knappenberger explains. “All our lives have an Internet component to them. So everyone lives online and yet no one knows how it works.” Swartz, who was only 26 when he died in 2013, was a child of the Internet. He grew up with computers and began writing code at a young age. He was a furious inventor; as a teen he helped design the web feed service RSS and the copyright licensing system Creative Commons. At 20, Swartz got rich when Reddit (the crowd-source aggregator with which he’d merged his own start-up site) was sold to Condé Nast. The film tracks the development of an extraordinary talent, who used his talents in unorthodox ways to resist both money and power. Up until his strike-it-rich moment, Swartz could have been any of a number of Silicon Valley whiz kids. But then he just walked away from the game; as his one-time girlfriend explains in the film, he wanted his work to change the world, not just make money. He couldn’t find a way to do that in start-up culture, so he headed east, and cast about for social change.
This art exhibition is a visual manifestation of Aaron’s journey with activism. Launched digitally to honor Aaron’s lifelong pursuit of justice, Unbound will be presented in New York City at ThoughtWorks, a progressive company built by a community of passionate individuals whose purpose is to revolutionize software design, creation and delivery, while advocating for positive social change. This is where Aaron Swartz worked before he left us, building software in support of grass-roots political movements
Since Aaron Swartz’s death a lot of activists realize they’re facing huge battles, but everybody can be doing something to fight back in a way to address that, Parker Higgins from the Electronic Frontier Foundation told RT. RT: ‘The Day We Fight Back’ protest scheduled for Tuesday coincides with the anniversary of internet activist Aaron Swartz's death. How has privacy legislation progressed following his suicide, allegedly prompted by severe charges for unlawfully downloading academic journals online? Parker Higgins: Obviously, a year ago we knew much less about the NSA, GCHQ and other Intelligence Agencies. In the last six to seven months we've learned things from Edward Snowden’s leaks that of course were issues that Aaron was himself very interested in.
Activists in New York City commandeered the Verizon building to promote the February 11th day of action to stop the NSA. Members of the New York City Light Brigade, The Illuminator Art Collective and other allies turned the Verizon building in downtown New York into a large billboard to project the all seeing “NSA eye” along with text stating “you will never be alone”, “our eye is on you”, and “Wherever you go, whatever you do, you are under surveillance.”
One year ago this month, the young Internet freedom activist and groundbreaking programmer Aaron Swartz took his own life. Swartz died shortly before he was set to go to trial for downloading millions of academic articles from servers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology based on the belief that the articles should be freely available online. At the time he committed suicide, Swartz was facing 35 years in prison, a penalty supporters called excessively harsh. Today we spend the hour looking at the new documentary, "The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz." We play excerpts of the film and speak with Swartz’s father Robert, his brother Noah, his lawyer Elliot Peters, and filmmaker Brian Knappenberger.
Inspired by the work he did and the people he touched, we are organizing recurring hackathons at locations all over the world in memory of Aaron Swartz. The next set will be synchronized on the weekend of November 8-10, 2013. The event will bring together the varied communities that Aaron touched to figure out how the important problems of the world connect, and to share the load of working on those problems. Within weeks of Aaron's death in January, 20 hackerspaces, schools, and libraries organized Aaron Swartz Memorial Hackathon events all over the world. In our collective shock and grief, we came together to console ourselves, remember Aaron, and, in his memory, to work on important problems ranging all the way from open access advocacy to a web.py database refactor. Half a year later, we still feel an immense shock and loss, and after many conversations with people who attended one of the initial events, still think that we need to be there for each other and focus on the things that are important.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered the government to “promptly” begin releasing Swartz’ records. The government told my lawyer that it would release the first batch tomorrow. But minutes ago, Kollar-Kotelly suspended that order at MIT’s urging, to give the university time to make an argument against the release of some of the material. MIT claims it’s afraid the release of Swartz’s file will identify the names of MIT people who helped the Secret Service and federal prosecutors pursue felony charges against Swartz for his bulk downloading of academic articles from MIT’s network in 2011. MIT argues that those people might face threats and harassment if their names become public. But it’s worth noting that names of third parties are already redacted from documents produced under FOIA.