Sunday July 20, 2014
Written by: poppy
Aaron Swartz died January the 11th 2013 aged just 26. In his families words:
“Our beloved brother, son, friend, and partner Aaron Swartz hanged himself on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment. We are in shock, and have not yet come to terms with his passing.
Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable—these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.”
Why did this compassionate, intelligent, highly capable man die, and why did his death spark so much interest leading to a compelling documentary being made and released in June 2014.
There’s no doubt about it, Aaron Swartz was a wonder kid. He taught himself to read at age 3. By 12 he created Info Network, a user-generated encyclopedia, which Swartz later likened to an early version of Wikipedia.
At the age of 13, Swartz helped create an important technical standard known as RSS, and while still a teenager, he helped sell a company called Reddit after it merged with his own project, Infogami.
By 2008, Swartz founded Watchdog.net “the good government site with teeth” and in 2009, wanting to learn more about effective activism, he helped launch the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
During academic year 2010–11, Swartz conducted research studies on political corruption as a Lab Fellow in Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Research Lab on Institutional Corruption
As a congressional intern, he helped advocate for reform of the health care system and the Federal Reserve. In 2012, Swartz used the knowledge he gained to lead an unprecedented political campaign to defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a bill that would have undermined free speech on the internet.
While researching in 2011, Swartz plugged a laptop into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) network and downloaded a bulk of documents from an academic database named JSTOR (a digital library), Swartz had a history of analysing large batches of academic data and no history of breaking the law.
On the night of 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. Over the next year and a half, the government added multiple counts to the original charges, which saw him facing 35 years in jail.
The prosecutors offered him a plea deal, to spend 6 months in prison, which he refused asserting his innocence but he was left feeling more and more trapped and scared of the federal charges and the implications for him.
After several years of being threatened and deceived, and having spent his entire fortune on legal fees, he was in a depression. 2 days after the prosecution declined a counter offer by Swartz he was found dead by hanging. He left no note.
His 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 better place. Also adding “Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutor overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts US attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death”
in the year since his death Aaron Swartz has become a martyr, he is remembered for his unwavering dedication to his principles, his friends and his tireless struggle against injustice.