“Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince:
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”
(Hamlet, act 5 sc. 2)
Aaron Swartz, Internet pioneer, crusader for open access and a social justice activist, took his life last week in Brooklyn, NY. He was 26 and the victim of a malicious and vindictive prosecution by federal authorities.
In July 2011, Swartz was indicted on federal charges of gaining illegal access in 2010 to the paid subscription service JSTOR over the network of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The authorities said he illegally downloaded 4.8 million scholarly scientific and literary articles and was planning to distribute the copyrighted content for free on file-sharing web sites.
Aaron was facing the possibility of 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines.
He always maintained he was not guilty and he had recently rejected a plea deal from the office of the US Attorney. There would not have been a trial but in exchange of a guilty plea he would be put behind bars for six months.
In a public statement the Swartz family said, “Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.” They added that, while JSTOR had declined to press charges against Aaron, “Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts US attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death.”
JSTOR is a site containing scientific papers from various authors and it is possible to access it through subscription or by going through a local library.
At 14 Aaron co-authored RSS (Really Simple Syndication) that allows readers to subscribe to online news and information sources. He was also founder of Infogami that was merged into the popular social news site Reddit, which ranks member-posted items based on reader recommendations.
After leaving Reddit Aaron dedicated himself to free access to online information and opposition to Internet censorship. Soon afterward, he co-founded Demand Progress, a group that promotes online campaigns against social injustice.
In 2008, he published “The Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto,” which opposed private ownership of information and advocated the free sharing of scientific journals. Swartz’s manifesto declared, “There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.”
As part of this campaign, Aaron wrote a program for downloading the content of a database of federal judicial documents called PACER, nearly 20 million pages at a time, for free. The government shut down the free program and investigated, but did not prosecute. Authorities, however, reacted much differently in 2011 after the JSTOR downloads at MIT.
Aaron’s tragic death is the product of the repressive actions of the US Justice Department.
Over the course of the past year, it became apparent that the US Attorney was determined on making an example of Aaron. He was being prosecuted out of all proportion to the alleged crime and its impact.
Not one government official or top financial executive has been charged, much less prosecuted, for high crimes associated with the illegal wars of the past decade, with torture and the financial crash of 2008. But the Obama administration’s Justice Department wanted to punish an individual for attempting to make information accessible to the general public. They hounded him to death.
Along with his activities in the information access world, Aaron also represents those who are disgusted by the corruption, the lies and the robberies of the 1%.
Last year, he wrote of the Obama administration’s assassination program,
“Every week or so, more than 100 members of the US national security team gather via secure video teleconference run by the Pentagon and go over the biographies of people unfriendly to the administration, and ‘nominate’ those who should be killed in the drone attacks.”
Just like Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, the state judged as intolerable Aaron’s campaign for free access to information and his willingness to stand up to intimidation.
His video (link ad the end of this post) should enable you to decide who are the criminals in this instance, Aaron or the prosecutors.
Video Link http://www.democracynow.org/2013/1/14/freedom_to_connect_aaron_swartz_1986
In the play. Horatio’s comment soon after Hamlet dies.
Image site: http://www.taigress.info/culture/c_music_zszf.html
That’s horrible. How unfair that he was prosecuted so harshly when JSTOR itself (the only player who would have ‘suffered’) declined to press charges.