Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hactivist, Internet innovator Aaron Swartz commits suicide

Aaron Swartz
Hactivist, Internet innovator Aaron Swartz commits suicide
Juan Carlos Perez
@JuanCPerezIDG Jan 12, 2013 4:47 PM

Aaron Swartz, the brilliant Internet pioneer, passionate political activist and computer programming prodigy, committed suicide on Friday as he faced hacking-related charges that could have landed him in jail for decades, according to published reports.

Swartz, who was 26, killed himself in his New York City apartment, according to The Tech, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) newspaper that first reported his passing on Saturday.

Swartz played key roles in the development of the RSS online content syndication technology, in the creation of the Creative Commons licenses, in a campaign against the SOPA and PIPA bills and in the success of the Reddit news sharing site.

He apparently hanged himself and was found by his girlfriend, according to The New York Times.

Swartz faced a variety of charges in a Massachusetts federal court, including computer intrusion, wire fraud and data theft stemming from allegations that he stole millions of scholarly articles and documents from an MIT subscription-based service called JSTOR.

If convicted, Swartz, whose intentions allegedly were to make the articles and documents freely available, could have been hit with a 35-year jail sentence and a US$1 million fine. Swartz had been involved in previous efforts to "liberate" government documents whose access require fees, such as those in the PACER database of court filings.

"Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars," Carmen Ortiz, U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said in a statement when the indictment was unsealed in July 2011. "It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away."

Family blasts prosecution
In a statement posted Saturday on Tumblr, Swartz's family blasted both MIT and the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's Office, blaming them for playing a part in his death.

"Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach," reads the statement, which also provides information about funeral plans for Swartz next week.

Swartz's family also eulogized him saying that he was deeply committed to social justice, a life-defining pursuit, and that he had insatiable curiosity, creativity and brilliance, as well as "reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love."

"He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place," they wrote.

Online tributes
Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard University Law School Professor and a friend of Swartz's, reacted to the news with an angry blog post in which he characterized the U.S. government's prosecution of the gifted technology innovator as disproportionately aggressive and punitive.

"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," Lessig wrote. "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."

Swartz, Lessig wrote, was always motivated by what the young man considered the public good, never financial riches. Lessig described him as "brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think?"

"That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying. 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," he wrote.

In his personal site, Swartz featured a short biographical sketch in which he highlighted several of his current and past projects, including his founding of Demand Progress, which advocated against the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) bills out of concern they'd give the U.S. government power to engage in Internet censorship. The bio also mentions Swartz's work with Web creator Tim Berners-Lee at MIT, and the fact that he co-authored the RSS 1.0 specification.

Novelist, journalist and Boing Boing co-editor Cory Doctorow, another friend of Swartz's, posted a tribute to him in which he also questioned the wisdom of the prosecution. Doctorow also brought up Swartz's bouts with depression, which Swartz had publicly discussed.

"We have all lost someone today who had more work to do, and who made the world a better place when he did it," Doctorow wrote.


  1. Why has a government, that was put in place by the American people to do what is right for the people, to help make our lives more prosperous, more idealistic, that swore by an oath to protect and preserve our Constitution, turned against the people, to make the people and the Constitution the enemy? It seem that they have made an issue of ‘them against us’, and when they declare a war (or as they like to say, ‘A Police Action’), against a foreign country, it is not the people of a foreign country that are our enemy, it is the government of that foreign country. If the people don’t want war, but we have war anyway, who is the real enemy of the people?
    AAron Swartz, and others that worked with him, has recieved far too little recognition from the people of America for the HERO that they are. Could it be because the media and our government has seen fit to surpress his story to the vast majority of the people?
    Why are our leaders (just being facetious), so fearful of a tool that allows the people of the world to the fresh air truth in a mass way, that is competing with tv and newspapers, could it be as simple as the fact that they have a fearful dread for the TRUTH, and what 99% might do when they are fully awake? Kind of reminds me of blod sucking vampires, when they are exposed to the sun (TRUTH), they head for a dark place because they know it is their demise.
    VIVA Aaron Swartz, and his ilk. Rise and shine your light on the corruption, caused by greed of a worthless dollar, and a hyper-inflated ego of a supposed power posistion caused by the loss of morals of men and women that have lost their spine.

  2. '' Where the law is unjust, man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so."
    ~ Thomas Jefferson

    "There is no justice in following unjust laws."
    ~ Aaron Swartz (1986-2013)

    "Aaron's Law" Introduced to Alter Computer Fraud Penalties:

    " In Washington, Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, has introduced a measure in honor of Aaron Swartz.

    Lofgren's bill, dubbed "Aaron's law," would modify the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to omit terms of services breaches.

    In a statement , Lofgren said: "There is no way to reverse the tragedy of Aaron's death, but we can work to prevent a repeat
    of the abuses of power he experienced." (From the Headlines of 1-16-2013).

  3. Anyone wanna take bets that he was "suicided"?


This blog is supported by ads and donations. If you enjoy this blog please consider supporting it with a contribution via PayPal.