By JG Vibes
January 14, 2013
Yesterday we broke the sad story of Aaron Swartz, a brilliant activist and technological alchemist who died mysteriously this past week, while awaiting a federal trial where he was accused of releasing copyright protected, educational documents to the public for free.
It is being reported that his death was a suicide, but few details have been released thus far.
There is not enough evidence yet to confirm the specifics of his death, but considering his high profile case and his involvement in the fight for internet freedom, foul play is always a possibility.
Since word of his death has circulated friends and supporters are showing their support in various ways. Some of them were releasing copyright-protected PDF’s in protest of Aarons Case.
“In a tribute to Aaron Swartz, the Internet activist who committed suicide Friday, researchers have begun posting PDFs to Twitter to honor his campaign for open access. The PDF campaign was born out of a desire to honor Swartz’s memory and his battle for open access to documents on the Internet, said Micah Allen, a researcher in the fields of brain plasticity, cognitive neuroscience, and cognitive science.
“A fitting tribute to Aaron might be a mass protest uploading of copyright-protected research articles,” Allen wrote yesterday on Reddit. “Dump them on Gdocs, tweet the link. Think of the great blu-ray encoding protest but on a bigger scale for research articles.”
As of Sunday morning, it appeared that hundreds were participating in the protest/tribute, posting links to thousands of documents on Twitter using the hashtag #pdftribute, the creation of which Allen attributed to Eva Vivalt and Jessica Richman.
“It gives us some action to take in response to our sorrow and frustration about Aaron’s death,” Richman told CNET. “I had met him several times and have friends that knew him well. It’s a tragic loss.”
The following is a screen shot sample showing some of the tweets that were sent out in his honor:
This situation is very important to us here at theintelhub.com and we will be paying close attention to all of the developments in this case, and bringing them to you as they become available.
By Arturo Garcia
Monday, January 14, 2013 11:51 EST
A mentor to online activist Aaron Swartz remembered him on Monday in an emotional interview with Democracy Now anchor Amy Goodman.
“All of us think there are a thousand things we could have done,” Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig said. “A thousand things we could have done, and we have to do. Because Aaron Swartz is now an icon, an ideal. He is what we will be fighting for, all of us, for the rest of our lives.”
Swartz, the co-founder of the social networking site Reddit who developed the RSS feeds common to online publishing at the age of 14, committed suicide on Saturday. He was indicted in 2011 for allegedly downloading academic documents from the online archive known as JSTOR after breaking into a utility closet at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with the intention of releasing them into public domain.
Swartz was scheduled to go to trial in April on charges of computer fraud. While JSTOR declined to press charges, and subsequently released the documents itself, the U.S. Justice Department pursued a case against him.
In a statement shortly after Swartz’s death, MIT President Rafael Reif said, “I will not attempt to summarize here the complex events of the past two years. Now is a time for everyone involved to reflect on their actions, and that includes all of us at MIT.”
While Reif’s statement did prompt the hacker activist collective Anonymous to cease an attack on the school’s website, Swartz’s family criticized MIT in a statement of its own, saying decisions by the school and the Justice Department “contributed to his death.”
Lessig, who acknowledged he acted as an attorney to Swartz, also scoffed at the accusations against him.
“The government was not gonna stop until he admitted he was a felon,” Lessig said. “In a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House, it’s ridiculous to think Aaron Swartz was a felon.”
Watch Lessig’s interview with Goodman, aired on Jan. 14, 2013, below.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has launched an internal probe of the events leading up to the suicide of internet activist Aaron Swartz, who was facing federal charges for allegedly hacking into the school’s journal archives.
“It pains me to think that MIT played any role in a series of events that have ended in tragedy,” MIT President L. Rafael Reif said in a statement. “Now is a time for everyone involved to reflect on their actions, and that includes all of us at MIT.”
Swartz’ legal troubles began two years ago when prosecutors said he illegally downloaded millions of scientific journals from MIT and JSTOR, a journal storage repository. Swartz, 26, had been an advocate for open access and the freedom of information online.
He was due to stand trial in April, and if convicted, could have faced decades in prison and millions of dollars in fines. Swartz had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Hal Abelson, a professor at MIT, who is also founding director of both Creative Commons and the Free Software Foundation, has been tapped to lead the school’s internal probe.
“I have asked that this analysis describe the options MIT had and the decisions MIT made, in order to understand and to learn from the actions MIT took,” Reif said.
Furor over Swartz’ death has reached the White House in the form of a petition asking for the removal of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz who pressed the case against Swartz.
The petition has been signed by nearly 12,000 people and needs 25,000 signatures by Feb. 11 to garner an official response from the White House.
Swartz’s family and supporters have laid blame for his death on an aggressive prosecution that used its powers to “hound him into a position where he was facing a ruinous trial, life in prison.”
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach,” Swartz’ family and partner said in a statement that also had harsh words for MIT.
“Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death,” the statement said.
JSTOR, which had stated it did not want to pursue charges against Swartz, posted a statement offering condolences to his family.
“He was a truly gifted person who made important contributions to the development of the internet and the web from which we all benefit,” JSTOR said in a statement. “The case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset.”
If the aftermath of his death, the justice department said it was dropping all charges against him – pro-forma, since there was no longer a defendant to prosecute – and the mysterious hackers’ group Anonymous broke onto the MIT website and posted a message in his memory.
The message, before the page was taken down, said, among other things, “We call for this tragedy to be a basis for reform of computer crime laws, and the overzealous prosecutors who use them.”
When Swartz was 14, he helped create RSS software, revolutionizing the way people subscribed to and consumed information online.
As an adult, he co-founded Reddit, a social news website, and railed against Internet censorship through the political action group Demand Progress.
His funeral is scheduled for Tuesday, in Highland Park, Ill., his family said, and they said that remembrances of Swartz and donations in his name could be made at rememberaaronsw.com.
BOSTON — Federal prosecutors in Boston have dismissed charges against Internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz, who was found dead in his New York apartment last week.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz and the lead prosecutor on the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann, filed a three-line notice of dismissal in court Monday.
The notice says the case is being dismissed because of Swartz’s death. Such filings are routine when a defendant dies before trial.
Swartz was indicted in 2011 on 13 counts, including wire fraud and computer fraud. Prosecutors alleged he illegally gained access to millions of academic articles through the academic database JSTOR. His trial was scheduled to begin in April.
Swartz’s family says his suicide was “the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.”
Fighting Back Against the ‘Intellectual Property’ RacketTony Cartalucci, Contributor
In your standard dictatorship, activists are brought out back and shot.
In the United States’ crypto-dictatorship, activists are bullied by the state until they go bankrupt, are buried under a mountain of legal woes, are publicly discredited or humiliated, or as in the case of activist and Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz, made to crack under the constant pressure, and commit suicide.
While superficially the United States may seem more progressive, a dead activist bullied to death for his political views, is a dead activist – whether it was a bullet in the back of the head by SS officers, or a mountain of litigation dumped upon someone by the US Department of Justice.
We are All Aaron Swartz.
Aaron was the director of Demand Progress, which pursued the following campaigns:
The big business lobbyists who are behind the Internet Blacklist Bill are already making the sequel. The “Ten Strikes” bill would make it a felony to stream copyrighted content — like music in the background of a YouTube video, movies and TV shows — more than ten times.
We knew that members of Congress and their business allies were gearing up to pass a revised Internet Blacklist Bill — which more than 325,000 Demand Progress members helped block last winter — but we never expected it to be this atrocious. Last year’s bill has been renamed the “PROTECT IP” Act and it is far worse than its predecessor.
The new PROTECT-IP Act retains the censorship components from COICA, but adds a new one: It bans people from having serious conversations about the blacklisted sites. Under the new bill, anyone “referring or linking” to a blacklisted site is prohibited from doing so and can be served with a blacklist order forcing them to stop.
The Patriot Act was enacted as a supposedly temporary measure in the wake of 9-11. With Bin Laden’s passing, the era of the Patriot Act, of spying on Americans who aren’t suspected of crimes, of heavy-handed abuse of our dearly held civil liberties, must come to an end.
We need to act now to make sure we win this fight. Tens of thousands of Demand Progress members have already urged Congress to fix the Patriot Act. Will you ask Congress and the President to return us to the legal norms that existed before 9-11 and start respecting our civil liberties?
A range of Facebook users, from political dissidents to technology bloggers, are reporting the sudden blocking of their pages. Facebook provided no prior warning, nor was there a clear process established to restore access to the blocked pages.
Will you fight back?
Investigators discovered that Goldman traders bragged about selling “shitty” deals to clients and the mega-bank bet against the same financial products it was selling to investors. And they’ve lied about it all the way to the bank.
Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and small-time homeowners are in jail for mortgage fraud, but no CEOs have been prosecuted for their roles in the financial crisis. It’s time to change that.
Join Senator Levin’s call for accountability by urging the Department of Justice to investigate Goldman Sachs and its CEO Lloyd Blankfein. Sign our petition and we’ll deliver this message above to the DOJ.
Americans are in more debt than ever before, and the banks are going to new extremes to squeeze us for every last penny: If you can’t pay up, they’ll try to get you locked up.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are out of control. They’ve been seizing domain names without due process: they shut down 84,000 sites by accident last month, arrested a man for linking to other websites, and government officials think ICE and DHS are claiming powers that would even threaten sites like Facebook.
Are our leaders better than Egypt’s? Across the globe, governments know that the Internet is increasingly the lifeblood of democracy — that’s why Egypt’s oppressive regime just shut down the Internet there.
But even as American politicians condemn Egypt for doing so, they’re pushing legislation to give our government the power to do the exact same thing here at home! The so-called ‘Kill Switch’ would let the president turn off our Internet — without a court even having to approve the decision.
Join over 40,000 in fighting it. Add your name!
The most noxious parts of the USA PATRIOT Act are about to expire — but Congress wants to extend them again. These provisions let the government spy on people without naming them in a warrant, and secretly access your library and bank records under a gag order prohibiting anyone from letting you know.
Join over 60,000 in opposing extension. Add your name!
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke just announced that he’s developing virtual ID cards for Internet users — and they could pose a severe threat to our privacy! The program’s called the “National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace” and the draft proposal indicates that we’d be forced to use the IDs for any online transactions with the government, and for online interactions with businesses that use them.
Over 30,000 have told Gary Locke to back off. Add your name!
Crimes committed by the big banks helped crash our economy — and WikiLeaks is saying that a whistle-blower has sent them enough evidence to take down Bank of America. So now the big banks are fighting back by trying to get the government to muzzle future whistle-blowers.
Tell the SEC not to listen to them. Add your name!
Politicians are leading the charge to outlaw WikiLeaks and undermine freedom of the press. First Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) successfully pressured Amazon.com to stop hosting the WikiLeaks website and now, as Julian Assange has been arrested in the UK, he’s introduced a new bill changing the law to make WikiLeaks illegal.
More than 30,000 have signed our petition to stop him. Add your name!
Across the country, TSA is replacing airport metal detectors with scanners that take nude photos of you — violating your rights, zapping you with X-rays that could cause cancer, and slowing down the lines. And if you opt-out, they feel up your “sensitive regions.”
Lawmakers in New Jersey and Idaho are trying to stop them. Let’s get a similar bill introduced in every state! Contact your lawmaker!
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are out of control. They’ve been seizing domain names without due process: they shut down 84,000 sites by accident last month, arrested a man for linking to other websites, and government officials think ICE and DHS are claiming powers that would even threaten sites like Facebook.
Over 300,000 signers! Add your name!
PLUS: Download our new flyer for our Stop The Internet Blacklist campaign and start a grassroots movement in your area!
Clearly, Demand Progress is not just another faux-NGO working in tandem with special interests under the guise of “human rights,” “freedom,” and “democracy” to peddle further exploitation and expansion of the powers that be – but rather identified these special interests by name, and exposed both their agenda and the means by which they attempt to achieve it. Swartz’ death is a tragic one, and compounded by the dismissive, almost celebratory atmosphere across the corporate-media of the passing of a man they labeled a suspected criminal.
Swartz was targeted b the US Department of Justice, MIT, and their corporate-financier sponsors because he was a prominent and particularly effective voice against real creeping oppression. He was a pragmatic, technical individual and proposed solutions that short-circuited the typical and ineffectual political infighting that drives most disingenuous or misguided causes.We all stand the potential of being targeted like Swartz if we allow these monopolies to continue dictating the destiny of human progress. We are all Aaron Swartz – and must realize his targeting and subsequent suicide is the manifestation of the real danger these insidious monopolies pose to us.
Sharing is Not a Crime.
Technologically empowered openness and generosity across the corporate-financier dominated Western World is no more a real offense than was being Jewish inside Nazi Germany. But like Nazi Germany, anything can be “outlawed” if it suits political and economic special interest. Are we truly “criminals” for not respecting laws born of special interests, detached from the will and best interests of the people? No, we most certainly aren’t.
Swartz allegedly downloaded scholarly files from an open and unsecured academic archive (and here).
The original files are still very much intact and at the disposal of the organization that maintains the archives. Nothing was stolen, yet Swartz was accused of “theft,” facing 30 years in prison and a 1 million dollar fine – this in a nation where rapists and murders can spend less time in prison, and elected representatives involved in willfully selling wars based on patently false pretenses walk free without even the faintest prospect of facing justice.
Swartz’ crusade against the corporate-financier interests attempting to monopolize and control communication and technology is surely why he was targeted by the federal government, academia, and their corporate-financier sponsors. It is no different than an activist being brought out back of a kangaroo court in a third-world dictatorship, and shot. The silence from so-called “human rights” advocates over the treatment, and now death of Aaron Swartz is deafening – exposing them yet again as another cog in the machine.
It is time to fight back – and time to fight back without the help of these disingenuous NGOs and their purposefully futile tactics of solely protesting and petitioning. Pragmatic, technical solutions must also be explored and deployed at the grassroots to shatter these corporate-financier monopolies at the very source of their power – that is – our daily patronage and dependence on their goods and services.
An alternative to the networks, media, services, and even hardware must be devised and deployed across our local communities. Laws born of special interests and flying in the face of the people’s best interests must be exposed, condemned, and entirely ignored. Taking away a human being’s freedom because they copied and shared a file is unconscionable – as unconscionable as imprisoning a human being because of their political, religious, or racial background. We would ignore laws imposed upon our society singling out blacks or Jews, but not laws criminalizing sharing solely for the benefit of corporate special interests?
In December 2012’s “Decentralizing Telecom,” a plan for establishing a second Internet, locally built and maintained, and connected with neighboring networks to run parallel to the existing Internet – but be free of large telecom monopolies – was proposed.
Also published in December of 2012, was “Sharing is Not a Crime: A Battle Plan to Fight Back,” which illustrated the importance of shifting entirely away from proprietary business models and instead, both using and producing open source hardware, software, news, and entertainment.
Establishing local, and eventually national and even international parallel networks is possible, but will take time. Turning toward open source software can begin today, with a visit to OSalt.com and exploring alternatives that are already being used by millions today.
A bridge between where we are now and a truly free Internet made by the people, for the people, and entirely maintained in a decentralized, local manner, is what are called “Pirate Boxes.” David Darts, an artist, designer, and coder, describes a Pirate Box as:
PirateBox is a self-contained mobile communication and file sharing device. Simply turn it on to transform any space into a free and open communications and file sharing network.
Share (and chat!) Freely Inspired by pirate radio and the free culture movements, PirateBox utilizes Free, Libre and Open Source software (FLOSS) to create mobile wireless communications and file sharing networks where users can anonymously chat and share images, video, audio, documents, and other digital content.
Private and Secure PirateBox is designed to be private and secure. No logins are required and no user data is logged. Users remain completely anonymous – the system is purposely not connected to the Internet in order to subvert tracking and preserve user privacy.
Easy to Use Using the PirateBox is easy. Simply turn it on and transform any space into a free communication and file sharing network. Users within range of the device can join the PirateBox open wireless network from any wifi-enabled device and begin chatting and sharing files immediately.
Under David’s FAQ’s regarding Pirate Boxes, a particularly useful question is answered:
Can I make my own PirateBox?
Absolutely! The PirateBox is registered under the GNU GPLv3. You can run it on an existing device or can be built as a stand-alone device for as little as US$35. For detailed instructions, visit the PirateBox DIY page.
For the media-industry to stop the spread of local hardware solutions like Pirate Boxes, they would have to literally be in every single community, inside every single person’s house, to prevent people from taking legally purchased or freely available media, and sharing it – akin to publishers policing the entire population to prevent readers from lending their friends and family their copy of a particular book.
The basic principles and experience one gets from building and using a Pirate Box can allow them to tackle larger mesh networks and eventually, decentralize telecom.
By encouraging local meetings where PirateBoxes are used, the foundation for new local organizations and institutions can be laid.
New Paradigms Require New Institutions – Join or Start a Hackerspace
Not everyone possesses the knowledge and skills necessary to create local networks or develop alternatives to the goods and services we currently depend on corporate-financier monopolies for. Even those that do, cannot, by themselves, effectively research, develop, and deploy such alternatives. By pooling our resources together in common spaces called “hackerspaces,” we can. Hackerspaces are not just for technically talented individuals, but a place where anyone with the inclination to learn can come and participate.
Hackerspaces can be organized under a wide range of templates – including clubs where dues are paid, spaces that earn income through providing courses or services to the community, and many others. It will be in hackerspaces, and local institutions like them, that a truly people-driven paradigm shift takes place – one of pragmatism and progress, not endlessly broken political promises from elected officials.
People can visit Hackerspaces.org to see the closest organization near them where they can join in. Conversely, for those who either don’t have a hackerspace nearby to join, or simply want to start their own, see, “How to Start a Hackerspace,” for more information on where to begin.
Aaron Swartz’ passing becomes even more tragic if we do not recognize what he spent his life fighting for, and realize that no matter where we think we stand on the issue of Internet freedom, the interests driving the debate from Wall Street and Washington, do not have any of our best interests in mind.
We are all Aaron Swartz – to reclaim the battle cry abused so flagrantly by the West’s faux-democratic “awakening” in the Arab World and beyond. And we must all become active opponents of this agenda to usurp our ability to determine our own destiny. Aaron Swartz was an exceptional proponent of Internet freedom and openness – but by all of us joining the ranks of this cause, we exponentially complicate the system’s ability to target and destroy any one of us. If your cause is just, and your means constructive and pragmatic, there isn’t just “safety” in numbers, there is invincibility.
He even questioned the TSA’s naked body scanners, just like I have here at Natural News.
In fact, when I look at Aaron Swartz, I see him as the next generation of American activists who we all desperately need: energized, intelligent, freedom-loving critical thinkers who spread truth and beat back tyranny and oppression at every opportunity. It’s quite clear that had Swartz not been assassinated (er, I mean “suicided”), he would have gone on to be a game changer for freedom in our world.
Click here to watch this important video in which Swartz describes the decentralization of information on a free internet. Swartz fully understood the power of setting information free, and this is exactly the opposite of what the corporate-government-industrial-complex wants, which is the monopolization and centralization of power.
Click here to watch another important video in which Swartz describes how he and his friends defeated SOPA. In this video, he openly describes the government’s proposed copyright legislation as a “tyranny.”
Like all truth-tellers, Swartz was branded an enemy by the system. For the act of downloading thousands of academic articles from MIT (yes, academic papers), he was hounded by the FBI, arrested and charged with crimes that could have earned him up to 50 years in prison.
From the charges that were leveled against him for the relatively mild offense of downloading academic papers, it’s very clear that somebody powerful was out to destroy him.
Apparently they did just that.
Who benefits? Hollywood and all its tyrannical copyright-pushing maniacs who want to criminalize anyone who downloads a movie off the internet.
The MPAA, in other words. That’s the Motion Picture Association of America. Former U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd is the key lobbyist representing the MPAA. He’s now the chairperson and CEO of the MPAA, which has a long history of operating much like a mafia organization in its use of threats and mafia-style intimidation tactics.
Would this mafia pay good money to have Aaron Swartz killed? (Are you kidding me? Do I even have to answer this question?)
The official explanation is that Swartz “hanged himself” with a rope in his own apartment. I’m certain that sooner or later additional information will come out about how he also knocked out his own teeth and beat himself badly before hanging himself, because that’s the way these “suicides” of activists usually turn out.
Swartz’s death is just one of many mysterious deaths that have recently taken place. Just a few days ago, a celebrated rifle manufacturer named John Noveske was killed in a mysterious car crash — not long after posting details of all the school shooters who were taking psychiatric drugs.
Another prominent internet technology pioneer committed “suicide” just over a year ago. Ilya Zhitomirskiy co-created Diaspora, the so-called ‘Facebook-killer’ technology that created a free, decentralized technology system that posed a severe threat to the data-mining monopoly of Facebook.
It has also been reported and confirmed that radio host Alex Jones was stalked by gun-toting goons while in New York to appear on CNN. They tried to force him into some sort of altercation, but he escaped by hailing a cab and fleeing the area.
The next day, CNN guests announced live on the air that Piers Morgan should shoot Alex Jones with an AR-15, and they even threatened Alex’s children with a thinly-veiled comment about “I hope his children don’t die.”
Furthermore, another person I know who is a powerful activist for truth and freedom was very nearly killed yesterday in what looks like a planned automobile accident. He doesn’t yet wish to release his name or any further details, but from what he described to me, he was just “inches” away from being turned into roadkill.
As these mysterious deaths start to add up, intelligent people are asking questions: Is this part of a deliberate assassination campaign to take out top activists who question the government?
It’s not an unreasonable question given our current political climate and the existence of Obama’s secret kill list. Even Ron Paul has openly asked the question of who is on Obama’s kill list.
For the record, no one has attempted to kill me in at least the last 18 months. I am not aware of any threats against me, and I haven’t noticed anyone following me or stalking me.
But just for the record, in case something happens to me, I am NOT suicidal or depressed or unhappy with life. I’m thrilled to be alive, thrilled to keep moving humanity forward, and thrilled to be part of what can only be called a mass awakening of spiritual freedom in our world.
I’m not taking any medications whatsoever (and haven’t for decades), I do not drink alcohol, I do not use ANY recreational drugs whatsoever, I don’t visit prostitutes and I’m not in any way a violent person. In fact, I can’t even stand the thought of shooting animals (which is why I don’t hunt). I actually avoid stepping on ants!
I don’t drive at fast speeds on the highway, I don’t engage in dangerous hobbies like skydiving, and I’m actually very safety-minded about everything I do.
While I take precautions to protect myself from bad people, I’m obviously not going to detail those on the internet. All I can say is that if someone comes to kill me, they’d better be ready to take some casualties in the process.
I very much doubt people like Aaron Swartz knew much about self defense. He probably didn’t even own a gun. But this is a lesson all activists need to take to heart right now: Get armed. Go get trained in basic self defense. Start moving through your environments (cities, streets, parking lots, apartment buildings, etc.) with more of a “tactical” mindset.
Be aware of your surroundings. Stop using credit cards as they instantly reveal your physical location. Turn off your cell phones and remove their batteries whenever possible.
If you don’t learn to live a lot like a fugitive, you too might soon be “suicided” as part of what appears to be a national purge of the very best humanity has to offer.
Published: 12 January, 2013, 21:16
Edited: 13 January, 2013, 22:58
The co-founder of social news website Reddit committed suicide in New York City. Aaron Swartz was facing a possible sentence to decades in jail and a $1 million fine over the alleged theft of journal articles with intent to post them online.
“The tragic and heartbreaking information you received is, regrettably, true,” Swartz’ attorney, Elliot R. Peters, said in an email to The Tech.
Swartz hanged himself on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment weeks before he was to go on trial, police reported. His body was found by his girlfriend, who called the emergency services
The 26-year-old was the co-founder of Reddit and executive director of Demand Progress, a website that focuses on policy changes for civil liberties, civil rights, and government reform in the US. He advocated making information freely available online and cooperated with Creative Commons, a non-profit organization aiming to facilitate sharing of creative works.
Swartz was also a renowned programmer. By the age of 13, he created his first web application which was essentially the same idea as Wikipedia, according to his website. He contributed to the creation of the RSS, a popular web feed format used to alert users about updates of content.
In 2011, Swartz was charged with allegedly stealing more than four million academic journals from JSTOR, an archive of scientific journals and academic papers, via an open connection at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
He faced 13 felony charges, including breaching site terms and intending to share downloaded files through peer-to-peer networks, computer fraud, wire fraud, obtaining information from a protected computer, and criminal forfeiture. He was also accused of evading MIT’s attempts to kick his laptop off the network while downloading millions of documents from JSTOR.
Many say the lawsuit is unfounded because MIT allows guests access to JSTOR – and Swartz, who was undertaking a fellowship at Harvard’s Safra Center for Ethics at the time of downloading, was a guest.
The case has also been deemed highly controversial because it wasn’t JSTOR – the alleged victim in the case – which referred Swartz to the federal government, according to the company’s vice president of Marketing and Communications, Heidi McGregor. She says JSTOR was content once it reclaimed the works from Swartz.
“We stopped this downloading activity, and the individual responsible, Mr. Swartz, was identified. We secured from Mr. Swartz the content that was taken, and received confirmation that the content was not and would not be used, copied, transferred, or distributed,” the company said in its statement on the prosecution.
The statement went on to say that the investigation was directed by the United States Attorney’s Office.
And while the US government was threatening Swartz with decades in prison and a hefty fine, some say the move was entirely unfounded.
“This makes no sense. It’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library,” Demand Progress Executive Director David Segar said in a statement, as quoted by Wired magazine.
“It’s even more strange because the alleged victim has settled any claims against Aaron, explained they’ve suffered no loss or damage, and asked the government not to prosecute,” Segal said.
His family blamed the United States Attorney’s Office for 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. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts US Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death,” they said in a statement released Sunday.
Feeling he had no other choice, Swartz surrendered himself to authorities in July 2011 and was released on bond. In September 2012, he appeared at the hearing in court and pleaded not guilty. His trial was scheduled for February 2013.
Many of the charges stemmed from Swartz allegedly breaching JSTOR’s terms of service agreement.
“JSTOR authorizes users to download a limited number of journal articles at a time,” the latest indictment said. “Before being given access to JSTOR’s digital archive, each user must agree and acknowledge that they cannot download or export content from JSTOR’s computer servers with automated programs such as web robots, spiders, and scrapers.”
The case would have tested the reach of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was created to reduce the cracking of computer systems and federal domains-related offenses. The law, which was passed in 1984, enhances the government’s ability to prosecute hackers who accessed computers to steal information or disrupt computer functionality.
But according to plaintiff attorney Max Kennerly, Swartz may not have violated the law at all.
“It is by no means clear that Swartz has actually violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Recently, the Fourth Circuit joined the Ninth Circuit in alleging that violating the terms of service does not constitute a crime under the CFAA. In contrast, the Fifth, Seventh and Eleventh Circuits have held that it can be a crime. Swartz’ case is in the First Circuit. This is the classic sort of Circuit Split that prompts Supreme Court review,” Kennerly said on his blog.
If he would have been convicted, Swartz would have faced up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
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