By Ian Madewell
Aaron Schwarz by Jacob Appelbaum cc
January 11, people all around the internet were greeted with tragic news: The co-founder of Reddit and political activist Aaron Swartz was found hung in his Brooklyn apartment. It is assumed that this was an act of suicide.
While people mourn this young man’s death, the story of Aaron and what led to this must be told.
Aaron was know around the internet as a political activist and advocate of free exchange of ideas. He was responsible for the birth of Demand Progress, a political action group made famous for its militant opposition of the infamous Stop Online Piracy Act, which was opposed for it’s censorship of violating sites and overall government overreach into people’s private lives.
Aaron made multiple public appearances and created a variety of informative services to spread awareness about the proposed bill.
After a long and hard fight, S.O.P.A was struck down by a petition of over 1 million citizens against it. The Internet won the fight, and Aaron was at the heart of it. Aaron later made a speech to the denizens of the Internet in regards to why he became involved, the struggles involved fighting S.O.P.A, and his emotional congratulations to everyone who fought beside him.
Aaron-Swartz by Perez Partensky CC
However, he had only just begun. Aaron was a adamant supporter and organizer on the international activist site Avaaz.com. He participated in multiple Internet rights campaigns and movements around the world.
Aaron was also the man behind the leak of thousands of government documents from the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER). PACER was charging citizens 8 cents to view a single page on the site, when many argued that since government files are not protected by copyright, they should be free of charge to the public. The case was dismissed, but Aaron was watched by the FBI afterword.
One of the final acts of defiance and activism was the theft of hundreds of JSTOR (Journal Storage) academic journals and subsequent distribution online, free of charge. In order to do this, he broke into MIT’s local JSTOR access point and copied all of the journals to an individual jump drive. Aaron was caught later, but JSTOR pressed no charges. JSTOR said that it may have been stealing, but it was a good deed to spread knowledge free of charge. MIT did press charges in regards to trespassing, a legal “slap on the hand”. However, the state of Massachusetts had a very aggressive prosecution, one that managed to change a short slap on the hand charge to a 35 year prison sentence.
The denizens of the Internet and even professional computer forensic experts (such as the one managing the case) said that this crime was not worth 35 years in federal prison.
On January 11th, 2013, Aaron was found dead in his apartment. He had hung himself. Aaron had a long battle with depression, and in the end, he lost.
In my eyes, the prosecution was an abuse of proportionality. I don’t think someone who distributes supposedly free academic information should be charged with such punishing charges. Trespassing should ,of course, be prosecuted. However, it is still only a slap on the hand, as opposed to something that could practically end your life as an independent person.
Regardless of what any person thinks, may Aaron rest in peace and may his family find the ability to move on without their beloved son.