The Persecution and Death of Aaron Swartz: "Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world's entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations.", Aaron Swartz July 2008, Eremo, Italy Aaron Hillel Swartz (November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013) was an American computer programmer, writer, political organizer and Internet activist. Swartz was involved in the development of the web feed format RSS, the organization Creative Commons, the website framework web.py and the social news site, Reddit, in which he became a partner after its merger with his company, Infogami.
Swartz's later work focused on sociology, civic awareness and activism. He helped launch the Progressive Change Campaign Committee in 2009 to learn more about effective online activism. In 2010 he became a research fellow at Harvard University's Safra Research Lab on Institutional Corruption, directed by Lawrence Lessig. He founded the online group Demand Progress, known for its campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act.
On January 6, 2011, Swartz was arrested by MIT police on state breaking-and-entering charges, after systematically downloading academic journal articles from JSTOR. Federal prosecutors later charged him with two counts of wire fraud and 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, carrying a cumulative maximum penalty of $1 million in fines, 35 years in prison, asset forfeiture, restitution and supervised release.
Two years later, two days after the prosecution denied his lawyer's second offer of a plea bargain, Swartz was found dead in his Brooklyn, New York apartment, where he had hanged himself.
In June 2013, Swartz was posthumously inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.
In 2008, Swartz founded Watchdog.net, "the good government site with teeth," to aggregate and visualize data about politicians. In the same year, he wrote a widely circulated Open Access Guerilla Manifesto.
In 2009, wanting to learn about effective activism, Swartz helped launch the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. He wrote on his blog, "I spend my days experimenting with new ways to get progressive policies enacted and progressive politicians elected." Swartz led the first activism event of his career with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, delivering thousands of "Honor Kennedy" petition signatures to Massachusetts legislators asking them to fulfill former Senator Ted Kennedy's last wish by appointing a senator to vote for health care reform.
In 2010, Swartz co-founded Demand Progress, a political advocacy group that organizes people online to "take action by contacting Congress and other leaders, funding pressure tactics, and spreading the word" about civil liberties, government reform, and other issues.
During academic year 2010–11, Swartz conducted research studies on political corruption as a Lab Fellow in HarvardUniversity's Edmond J. Safra Research Lab on Institutional Corruption.
Author Cory Doctorow, in his novel, Homeland, "dr on advice from Swartz in setting out how his protagonist could use the information now available about voters to create a grass-roots anti-establishment political campaign." In an afterword to the novel, Swartz wrote, "these tools can be used by anyone motivated and talented enough.... Now it's up to you to change the system.... Let me know if I can help." On January 6, 2011, Swartz was arrested near the Harvard campus by MIT police and a U.S. Secret Service agent. He was arraigned in Cambridge District Court on two state charges of breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony.
On July 11, 2011, Swartz was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and recklessly damaging a protected computer.
On November 17, 2011, Swartz was indicted by a Middlesex County Superior Court grand jury on state charges of breaking and entering with intent, grand larceny and unauthorized access to a computer network. On December 16, 2011, state prosecutors filed a notice that they were dropping the two original charges; the charges listed in the November 17, 2011 indictment were dropped on March 8, 2012. According to a spokesperson for the Middlesex County prosecutor, the state charges were dropped in order to permit the federal prosecution to proceed unimpeded.
On September 12, 2012, federal prosecutors filed a superseding indictment adding nine more felony counts, which increased Swartz's maximum criminal exposure to 50 years of imprisonment and $1 million in fines.
After his death, federal prosecutors dropped the charges. On December 4, 2013, due to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit opened by Kevin Poulsen (editor of Wired), several documents related to the case, including a video of Swartz entering MIT's network closet, were released by the U.S. Secret Service. On the evening of January 11, 2013, Swartz was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment by his partner, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman. A spokeswoman for New York's Medical Examiner reported that he had hanged himself. No suicide note was found.
Swartz's family and his partner created a memorial website on which they issued a statement, saying, "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."
Days before Swartz's funeral, Lawrence Lessig eulogized his friend and sometime client in an essay, Prosecutor as Bully. He decried the disproportionality of Swartz's prosecution and said, "The question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a 'felon'. For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept."
Cory Doctorow wrote, "Aaron had an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill, and intelligence about people and issues. I think he could have revolutionized American (and worldwide) politics. His legacy may still yet do so."
The same day, the Wall Street Journal published a story based in part on an interview with Stinebrickner-Kauffman. She told the Journal that Swartz lacked the money to pay for a trial and "it was too hard for him to ... make that part of his life go public" by asking for help. He was also distressed, she said, because two of his friends had just been subpoenaed and because he no longer believed that MIT would try to stop the prosecution.
On January 19, hundreds attended a memorial at Cooper Union. Speakers included Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Open Source advocate Doc Searls, Creative Commons' Glenn Otis Brown, journalist Quinn Norton, Roy Singham of ThoughtWorks, and David Segal of Demand Progress.
On January 24, there was a memorial at the Internet Archive with speakers including Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Alex Stamos, and Carl Malamud.
On February 4, a memorial was held in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill. Speakers included Senator Ron Wyden and Representatives Darrell Issa, Alan Grayson and Jared Polis. Other lawmakers in attendance included Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Jan Schakowsky. "Stick it to the man," said Issa. "Access to information is a human right." A historic photo of Warren and Issa sitting together before an image of Swartz was posted on Twitter.
An MIT/Boston memorial took place on March 12, 2013 at the MIT Media Lab. ------ ...