Aaron Swartz RIP

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Aaron Swartz, 26, took his own life Friday January 11th, 2013. Aaron will be missed by his family, friends and everyone that he touched in the world with his passion, gifts and talents.

All human life is precious and death is a terrible part of life that we all must know and even experience ourselves. Sometimes after a death, the hole left in our hearts for the loss of that person seems even greater because of the work and gifts to to world that person leaves behind. Aaron Swartz was one of those people.

Here is a short bio on Aaron that I found on one of his favorite places in the world, the Internet. It does not do him justice. The man was a genius.

Aaron Swartz is the founder and director of Demand Progress, a nonprofit advocacy group with over a million members. He is also a contributing editor to the Baffler magazine and his writing has been anthologized in The Best Software Writing and The Best Technology Writing. His piece "Image Atlas" (with Taryn Simon) has been exhibited at the New Museum. He studied sociology at Stanford University and was a research fellow at Harvard's Center for Ethics. He co-authored the RSS 1.0 specification, used by millions of websites to publish updates; cofounded the startup Reddit.com, now one of the top 100 websites in the US; and architected the website OpenLibrary.org, which provides free access to millions of books. "In the technology world," The New York Times observed, "Mr. Swartz is kind of a big deal."

Aaron was a smart dude, and a fighter. Don’t let his tragic death detract from that. Aaron fought for internet freedom. Remember SOPA and PIPA? This man fought those internet freedom restricting pieces of legislation tooth and nail, and won, with the help of our Honorable Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon even. In his short time, he truly was a renaissance man having a commanding hold of interests from activism to information technology, even sociology and civic awareness. But before all that Aaron was a person; a fellow human being trying to make the world a better place. The following unassuming young man speaking from behind his laptop will surprise you considering what an amazing voice for democracy in the Digital Age he was. And is.

Aaron believed in the free sharing of information. Particularly, Aaron believed academic journals should be made available to everyone for free, and not at a financial charge through a digital library system called JSTOR. Short for Journal Storage, this digital resource offers an array of academic journals, books and primary sources for a fee.

Aaron’s alleged “crime” was downloading nearly five million academic journals to allegedly put in the public domain. He did this at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The government went after him for “hacking” under the outdated and tragically broad Computer Fraud and Abuse Act passed in 1986.

At the time of his death, Swartz was under indictment for logging into JSTOR, a database of scholarly articles, and rapidly downloading those articles with the intent to make them public. If Swartz had lived to be convicted of the charges against him, he faced 50 years or more in a federal prison.

Aaron faced multiple decades in prison for these crimes while, like many on twitter point out Wall Street bankers that ruined the whole country's finances got off with a slap on the wrist. The proportionality of the “crime” and the punishment sought became a red hot issue online. People were, and are, upset. To add to the tragedy, a final plea deal sought by Aaron’s lawyer was denied by the prosecution, US District Attorney Carmen Ortiz, on Jan. 9th. On Friday January 11th, 2013 Aaron Swartz was found dead in his apartment in New York. He was 26. Monday January 14th it was revealed that Aaron’s attorney told federal prosecutors that Aaron was suicidal. Their response was “...put him in jail, he'll be safe there."

The news about Aaron’s death spread quickly through the Internet that he contributed so much to. Anonymous, a hive-mind like collective of Internet hackers and activists dedicated to internet freedoms among other causes, humbly offered their services in tribute to the late Mr. Swartz. DDoS attacks were launched at www.doj.gov (prosecutors of Aaaron), www.mit.edu (the instutions Arron allegedly “stole” from) and www.w3.gov (the “main international standards organization for the World Wide Web”).

A petition to the White House to remove the overzealous prosecutor in the case was started.

The academics, in their “Ivory Towers” started throwing manuscripts out the proverbial windows for anymore to read by freely sharing their papers, research etc. on twitter at hashtag #pdftribute. The documents are being compiled and archived for the benefit of the public at-large. Many feel this is a fitting tribute to Aaron and exactly what he would have wanted.

This tweet crystallized a lot of what people were feeling and why they were sharing in honor of Aaron:

Bender Rodríguez @plungerman RT @AnonymousIRC: Join the Fight. Share Knowledge using#pdftribute hashtag. No Copyright Is Worth A Human Life.#Anonymous #OWS

On an MIT website, Anonymous left their calling card and a nice and positive, but firm message which I will get back to later. In Memoriam, Aaron Swartz, November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013, Requiescat in pace.

During the reaction to Aaron’s death, an anonymous twitter account tweeted:

Anonymous @YourAnonNews The Internet is a living thing, it breathes, it feels pain. We must free it. It wants to be free. We must make it so. #JusticeForAaronSwartz

MIT, to their credit, seems on a path to do some soul-searching after Aaron’s death. Lawyer’s told the Huffington Post Monday that MIT “declined to support a petition last fall from Aaron Swartz's attorneys that could have helped the well-known Internet activist avoid prison”. Swartz's father: "They [MIT] put institutional concerns ahead of compassion."

Aaron wanted information to be free. He will be missed but the work he started must go on. It is part of the human experience to look for meaning in the world, even when there really isn’t any. However this is not one of those times. This brilliant, passionate young man gave selflessly to the world. We lost him for reasons that could have been prevented and it is up to us to do what is right in his memory and honor. We must make sure his ideas about information and democracy live on. Young, bright minds acute to the problems (and even some of the solutions) in life deserve the same decency and humanity they freely give everyone.

Here are a few demands Anonymous left on an MIT website. I think this is a good place to start in honoring Aaron’s memory and continuing the work he fought so bravely for:

Our wishes

  • We call for this tragedy to be a basis for reform of computer crime laws, and the overzealous prosecutors who use them.
  • We call for this tragedy to be a basis for reform of copyright and intellectual property law, returning it to the proper principles of common good to the many, rather than private gain to the few.
  • We call for this tragedy to be a basis for greater recognition of the oppression and injustices heaped daily by certain persons and institutions of authority upon anyone who dares to stand up and be counted for their beliefs, and for greater solidarity and mutual aid in response.
  • We call for this tragedy to be a basis for a renewed and unwavering commitment to a free and unfettered internet, spared from censorship with equality of access and franchise for all.

The US Department of Justice has dropped all charges against Aaron.

The funeral for Aaron Swartz was held at 10am at Chabad of Highland Park, IL, tuesday, January 15th, 2013. Friends, family and supporters gathered to remember Aaron. Some held candles, quietly, somber in the winter air. Candles are fitting. A bright light went out in the world January 11th, 2013 and out of that let’s remember that we have a responsibility to share our light, our knowledge, our wisdom, our understandings with one another, just like Aaron did.

Update Jan. 17th 2013

Congresswoman introduces ‘Aaron's Law’ to honor Swartz

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Anonymous hackers have released a video to announce the start of the second phase of OpAngel, the campaign initiated after members of the Westboro Baptist Church threatened to picket the funerals of Reddit founder and hacktivist Aaron Swartz. Full Story Here

Anonymous: #OpAngel, Phase II.

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