Monday, January 21, 2013

Aaron Swartz 1986-2013

Internet activist Aaron Swartz' public memorial was held Saturday at the visionary college Cooper Union in New York City, with around 900 people filling its historic Great Hall to standing capacity - site of civil rights and anti-slavery speeches in the past.  Democracy Now! carried a live stream virtually attended by many more viewers, with a recording viewable at this link, along with other shows hosting discussions about this extremely disturbing story and the human rights issues at stake.  You can also watch the memorial at the Remember Aaron Swartz Memorial Site. brief, Mr. Swartz (age twenty-six) was a highly gifted programmer and Reddit founder who believed deeply in the freedom of the internet.  A member of the Harvard University Center for Ethics, he started the online group Demand Progress, instrumental to the defeat of SOPA.

In January 2011, Mr. Swartz was arrested by federal authorities in connection with systematic downloading of academic journal articles from JSTOR that he intended to share with the public.  He used equipment on M.I.T. property.  While JSTOR dismissed the matter, M.I.T. did not, and the case was so aggressively pursued by the Massachusetts office of U.S. attorney Carmen Diaz that Mr. Swartz - who suffered from depression, and what he described on his blog as a mood disorder - committed suicide.  Apparently, the prosecutors' office knew that Mr. Swartz was a suicide risk as they went after him in a way friends, family, colleagues, and supporters described as vindictive and brutally unfair -- characteristic of a morally bankrupt, Kafkaesque, and deeply disfunctional criminal justice system -- whereby prosecutors, at one point, deemed a 6 month plea bargain sufficient - and in the next moment, leapt into hot pursuit of a 35 year prison sentence with one million dollars in fines -  and as more befitting the actions under their so-called scrutiny.  

A White House internet petition is circulating asking that Obama remove Carmen Ortiz for prosecutorial overreach.  At the time of this posting, it has close to 46,000 signatures.

More discussion here with attorney Alex Stamos about some of the legal and computer issues in the case.

New York Magazine reports M.I.T. currently investigating its own role in the Swartz case.  During the memorial, Yale professor and statistician Edward Tufte asked why the university wasn't celebrating making academic journals open to everyone;  and Aaron Swartz' partner, Taren Stinebrickner-Kaufmann said, "The U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts must be held accountable for its actions... M.I.T. must ensure that it’s never complicit in another event like this." 

David Segal, Executive Director of Demand Progress, stated at the memorial, "As amazingly, the whole planet now knows, Aaron was indeed a passionate activist for access to information and for a free and open internet.  He believed in these things for their own sakes, but moreover, as a means towards an even deeper end of building a world defined by social and economic justice."  

A video of Mr. Segal's full remarks:

The grandson of Pete Seeger read a message from his 93 year old grandfather;  the legendary American folk singer and activist wrote that it was "a tragedy for this brilliant young man to be so threatened that he hanged himself."

Venture Beat describes the two hour memorial as predominantly a call to political action.  Speakers also exchanged loving memories, recited poetry, listened to music, and recounted Aaron Swartz' numerous personal attributes and strengths. 

Photo credit/courtesy of wikipedia, photographer: Daniel J. Sieradski, Aaron Swartz in 2012 protesting against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). 


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