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January 12, 2013 1:13 AM   Subscribe

Aaron Swartz, web technologist, has committed suicide. First mentioned on Metafilter for his involvement in the standardization of RSS in 2001 as a ninth-grader, most of Swartz's 26 years were devoted to leaving a lasting impact on the web. Swartz co-founded Infogami, which merged with the internet aggregator Reddit, and also founded the Internet activist organization Demand Progress which fought against the SOPA/PIPA legislation. His framework for web servers, web.py, was first released in 2006 when Reddit switched from Lisp to Python and continues to be actively used and updated. In a 2008 attempt to make a public version of the contents of the PACER public court records database, Swartz angered government officials when they learned he had downloaded 20 million articles, which he subsequently made freely available. In 2011 he was indicted for data theft for downloading large amounts from the academic article repository JSTOR. Despite JSTOR's statement indicating "no interest in this becoming an ongoing legal matter," the US case continued with additional charges, to which Aaron pled innocent in September of 2012.

Swartz maintained an active blog which ranged over many topics, including Who Writes Wikipedia?. His introspective posts such as Raw Nerve and How To Get a Job Like Mine were common inspirations for aspiring web technologists.
posted by Llama-Lime (528 comments total) 122 users marked this as a favorite

 
The loss is ours.

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posted by infini at 1:16 AM on January 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


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posted by Mezentian at 1:18 AM on January 12, 2013


What a terrible waste. I'm sorry Aaron.

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posted by -t at 1:19 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by KMB at 1:24 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by christhelongtimelurker at 1:25 AM on January 12, 2013


god dammit

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posted by Moistener at 1:25 AM on January 12, 2013


Too young.

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posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:26 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by XMLicious at 1:30 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by cgc373 at 1:33 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by karmiolz at 1:35 AM on January 12, 2013


God dammit. That just sucks. Lawyers win, really.
posted by Michael Roberts at 1:39 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by quazichimp at 1:45 AM on January 12, 2013


I'm just in shock. What a loss to all of us. Aaron reached out to me online when I was 13 (making him, like, 15 or so at the time) and we corresponded sporadically after that, though we haven't talked in a few years. His blog posts back in the day got me thinking more at that age about educational theory and the modern US school system (and Alfie Kohn's work), Lessig, Chomsky, Zimbardo, and a host of other topics. At one point, I met a few EFF people through him, which ultimately was a factor in getting an internship there one summer when I was in high school. I owe him a lot for basically being a really smart, interesting person a bit older than me, someone with a fascinating mind that was just fun to check in on occasionally.

I've always loved this picture of a young Aaron and Lawrence Lessig at a conference. Dammit.

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posted by zachlipton at 1:46 AM on January 12, 2013 [72 favorites]


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posted by bouvin at 1:51 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by BinaryApe at 1:51 AM on January 12, 2013


Aaron was ten years younger than me, but he's been an inspiration for many years for me now. Such a loss.
posted by dhoe at 1:53 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by Chichibio at 1:55 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by ChrisR at 2:05 AM on January 12, 2013


Shit
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posted by The Potate at 2:07 AM on January 12, 2013


I met Aaron and followed or used three of the things he made. I appreciated his willingness to speak honestly even when it stirred things up. He wanted to make things better than they are, and in his quarter century or so he did.
posted by zippy at 2:11 AM on January 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


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posted by dreamyshade at 2:44 AM on January 12, 2013


That is a pretty wonderful photo zachlipton.
posted by -t at 2:47 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by grahamparks at 3:02 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by Inkslinger at 3:13 AM on January 12, 2013


I remember Aaron from his precocious early teen years when I was working at LiveJournal, coming out of nowhere with proposed modifications for RSS to make it friendly and usable for weblogs. We exchanged a few emails, comments, and the like over the years.

It's hard to even talk about the early years of RSS and web-based syndication without mentioning the fact that Dave Winer basically ruled over it like an 800-lb. gorilla. I can't tell you how influential Dave Winer was back then in the world of blogs. Around 2000 or so, he had the ear of the corporate world and of major tech reporters, while the rest of us were just trying to keep our relatively small blogging sites from crapping out. That said, I did follow the RSS development debacle pretty closely, because I really wanted LiveJournal to have syndication very early on... even though it took nearly two years to convince LJ's founder to adopt it.

Dave Winer lorded over the early days of RSS, invariably becoming a bottleneck to changes that didn't help out Userland, his blogging tool. That led to the development of RSS 1.0, which Aaron played a huge role in, which completely gored Dave's ox, and forced him to move towards open standards.

Here's a great example of how brilliant Aaron was:

So, RSS 1.0 was released and hashed out behind-the-scenes in the RSS-DEV Yahoo Group... but it was done in a kind of fait-accompli manner. All the appropriate well-connected digerati and RSS geeks were notified, but the general public? Not so much.

Well, along comes Aaron Schwarz, who was about 14 at the time, who then made the second post to the RSS-DEV community, which immediately questioned how RSS 1.0 was developed, it's level of openness, etc. ... and then he followed that up with post #3 to the community, proposing modifications to the RSS spec specifically for the syndication of weblogs, which was essentially the other shoe dropping, since Dave Winer had made the addition of powerful syndication features for competing weblog sites very hard to do.

Aaron fought for RSS openness tooth and nail, even as Dave Winer still controlled the spec, as far as most syndicated feeds were concerned. He faced down Dave on some very contentious issues about openness... and won. I seem to remember a particularly nasty online confrontation between the two of them once, where Dave was essentially reduced to saying "Who are you, anyway?"... with the implication that Aaron was just a nobody who should get his nose out of other businesses business, and just accept whatever standards he was given.

Aaron spent his life making lots of older guys with more corporate motives, fancy pedigrees, and better connections with the elite rather uncomfortable... and this was a good thing for us all.

I'm left with a profound feeling of loss and vulnerability at the idea of not having Aaron out there, watching our collective backs for us. Because, frankly, our own track record for doing the hard work involved isn't as good as Aaron's was.
posted by markkraft at 3:14 AM on January 12, 2013 [250 favorites]


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posted by Poisonous People at 3:16 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by KatlaDragon at 3:28 AM on January 12, 2013


Not personally a fan of his illegal actions during the JSTOR incident, or the way he got the book thrown at him.. but Aaron was a gifted individual that had has own particular set of demons, and he'd been dealing with them for years as observed in his past writings. I'm sad that he made the decision that he did - I hope he has finally found peace, and that his friends and family have the comfort they need in this time of loss.
posted by mrbill at 3:29 AM on January 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


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posted by alby at 3:29 AM on January 12, 2013


Well shit, i talked to him two times, he's a decade or so my junior and yet he made me rethink every concept we talked about.
:/
posted by xcasex at 3:31 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by dmd at 5:26 AM on January 12, 2013


Dreadful. Simply dreadful. RIP.
posted by tomcosgrave at 5:29 AM on January 12, 2013


What the hell.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:35 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:45 AM on January 12, 2013


This blog entry (pointed out in a Mashable obit) reveals his struggles with ongoing illness and depression. I look at his smiling photos online and feel sick that he was in that much physical and psychological pain, and wonder how much the legal battle affected all that.

RIP, Aaron.
posted by taz at 5:48 AM on January 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Remembrance from Cory Doctorow, who knew Aaron for 12 years. "I'm still digesting it -- I suspect I'll be digesting it for a long time -- but I thought it was important to put something public up so that we could talk about it. Aaron was a public guy...."

Journalist Quinn Norton, who was Aaron's friend and lover, reposted something from his blog: "not long after we moved in together in San Francisco, Aaron posted what follows. He was pressured to take it down; partly by me, out of fear. We do such stupid things out of fear...."

Academic Henry Farrell remembers Aaron: "He was one of the kindest, sweetest, and most generous people I ever knew. He made a lot of money at a very young age, which would have ruined most people (including me). It didn’t ruin Aaron...."
posted by brainwane at 5:48 AM on January 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


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posted by holgate at 6:15 AM on January 12, 2013


My partner gave me this news this morning and it was a palpable shock. I didn't know Aaron Swartz except in connection with the JSTOR incident, for which I considered him a hero. Reading about his other achievements makes me even sadder at his loss.

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posted by daisyk at 6:16 AM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


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posted by paulus andronicus at 6:21 AM on January 12, 2013


Jesus, this sucks. I was just thinking about Aaron the other day, and how I hadn't heard from him in a few weeks. I was going to tweet at him to see if he was well, but then I remembered he didn't answer me the last time I tweeted at him so I never went posted anything.

I met Aaron around the time of that photo with Lessig above, when I was working at Creative Commons. We were playing around with an invention of a RDFa spec for licenses that we could embed in web pages and have them indexed by bots and we brought Aaron in as soon as possible to get the best advice and make sure the spec and process were open.

The thing I kept forgetting was his age. We all met for a pow-wow in NYC in early 2003 (I remember the day the iTunes music store was released was our 2nd or 3rd day in NYC, we all played with the security of a purchased song file at first) to hash out some RDF spec stuff and finalize the license code. I'd been talking with him on email lists for so long I forgot that he legally needed a chaperone to even be in NYC, and his Dad had to make the trip because he was only 15. I had just turned 30 and thought of him as a peer on most levels and would only be reminded when we walked around that he looked like my kid brother or something. Of course, his technical knowledge was already beyond all my years.

He was articulate, which made it easy to forget he was supposed to be 15. He used to have a whole section of his site devoted to unschooling, since that was the path he chose for himself, bored by any conventional education he made up his own way and encouraged others to do the same. I always loved his writing and even arguing with him because he loved to argue in that way young people do, to challenge conventions and ask you to prove why you thought what you did. It wasn't the standard exhausting college student contrarian thing, it was deeper and much more interesting to be around.

I had dinner with him and Quinn a few years ago. He was in town for a conference and wanted to meet up, I wanted to hear what he was doing after leaving reddit in a blaze of glory a couple years earlier. He told me that a blog post I once wrote inspired him to create his first company, the one Y combinator picked up that eventually got him added to the reddit team. I was honored and happy to hear that, but totally confused because I couldn't even remember it. I got way into wikis for a short time in the early 2000s and wondered if someone could make a non-geek version with beautiful templates that normal people could use as small site CMSes, and that became his project for a short time.

He did so much amazing work over the course of his short life, I really hate that the JSTOR stuff is the last big memory of him. I was in NYC a couple summers ago, about to sit down to lunch at the New York Times with my journalism student intern Dom and the technology editor, my friend David who invited us there. Right before we started to eat, a guy walked across the lunch room to talk to David about his big story and I heard Aaron's name. Turned out I was hearing that Aaron was going to be arrested about 20 minutes before it hit the web. I about shit my pants and we talked out the case for the next 15min or so before the reporter had to leave and file his story.

To this day, I'm not sure how much bad Aaron actually did in the case (sorry, I don't really want to argue about that, so please don't derail this). I'm his friend and I'm defending him and I know he broke a few laws, but I'm also coming at it from the Information Must Be Free aspects and I knew he was going to do an awesome analysis of the data once he got it. It seemed like the punishment was outweighing the crime and I thought often of how on earth he was doing dealing with it. It's clear now I should have reached out more. I've been seeing a psychologist for the first time in my life recently over a bunch of mounting anxiety I'm having trouble dealing with. Overall, very small potatoes of worries that have gotten out of hand, but Aaron had a national news story and the government specifically targeting his escapades and I can't imagine what that pressure was like. I've had dark clouds hanging over me before but knowing that federal attorneys were gunning for me and eventually there was seeming like a shitty day in court coming I don't know how I could function normally and on some level I totally understand why he would take the exit path he did.

Aaron, I'm so sorry to see you go. You were an amazing person who did incredible work that helps us all out and I really wish you stayed for many more decades so you could continue making society a better place to be. I'll really miss you.
posted by mathowie at 6:22 AM on January 12, 2013 [271 favorites]


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posted by helicomatic at 6:32 AM on January 12, 2013


Stupid world. Tragic. Sad.

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posted by artlung at 6:33 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by kilo hertz at 6:34 AM on January 12, 2013


MeFi's Own.
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posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:37 AM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Aaron still won. He played an honest hand, so fuck the world that punished him for it.
posted by tripping daisy at 6:50 AM on January 12, 2013 [19 favorites]


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posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:56 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by ryanshepard at 6:56 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by cerebus19 at 6:56 AM on January 12, 2013


I am glad I decided not to post here when I heard the news, you did a much better write-up than I could have done.

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posted by DreamerFi at 6:59 AM on January 12, 2013


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Aaron Swartz and Larry Lessig in 2002 at the launch of Creative Commons. Photo by Gohsuke Takama.
posted by gen at 7:00 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hero for fighting ACTA, JSTOR, etc.   Fuck JSTOR.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:00 AM on January 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


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posted by waldo at 7:02 AM on January 12, 2013


I'm still touched by Aaron's comment on a thread about himself back when he was in the ninth grade.

We were the same age, and sometimes ran in similar circles, and from the age of 14, I always looked up to him as a hero.
posted by e1presidente at 7:02 AM on January 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Damn. Sorry to hear this.
posted by grimjeer at 7:03 AM on January 12, 2013


He wrote in that 2001 MeFi thread that was about Aaron: "To those who say that you can only be happy by being "normal", I'd like to suggest that I am evidence to the contrary...."

Was.

I cannot believe I will never see him again. Which means I'm in shock and denial, and need to face unpleasant truths. Aaron and I had agreed that we'd be honest with each other, that we wouldn't tell little white lies, that we would be straightforward with each other. We said we were in The Honesty Club and joked about evangelizing and wearing buttons, to signal to other people that when talking with us we wouldn't be offended if you honestly criticized us.

I finally met Aaron about eight years ago, after hearing about him and getting a chip on my shoulder -- jealousy, plain and simple. I envied this guy who was younger than me for being so brilliant and for having done such cool things. But then we were crowded into the back of someone's car, someone giving us a ride home, and it turned out that both Aaron and I had a soft spot for some ridiculously corny film, 13 Going On 30 I think it was, and that's when I softened.

He was maddening sometimes. Like, he wrote a piece about visiting a college and got things wrong, in a pretty dismissive way that still smarts (the comments are illuminating). But then there was that conversation we had in person, when I was feeling low and useless and he dismissed the trappings that I was confusing with success -- "yes, he is very good at being dismissive," a friend summed him up. And maybe that's a reason he killed himself, that he was too ready to write stuff off, including life.

(I don't know. I'm trying to make sense of things and he's gone and removed the most important data source about the topic; someone who understood the horror of data loss as much as he did would surely see my difficulty. Another problem I'll never get to talk about with him.)

Some pieces of his I've just reread as I try to see the trail that led to this:

On being completely offline for a month in 2009. "I don’t know how I’m going to carve a life away from the world’s constant demands and distractions. I don’t know how I’m going to balance all the things I want to do with the pressures and responsibilities they bring. But after my month off, I do know one thing: I can’t go on like this. So I’m damn well going to try."

Surrealist self-abnegation fantasy from 2006.

And there it is, the 2007 cry for help, suicidal ideation all over the place, people asking him in the comments not to kill himself. An hour ago I was saying "no no no no no no" and refusing to believe it, and now I have to face it, and watch more closely for the signs in my communities in the future, so we can do prevention better next time.
posted by brainwane at 7:06 AM on January 12, 2013 [39 favorites]


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posted by Alterscape at 7:06 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by epilnivek at 7:11 AM on January 12, 2013


Too smart and kind and depressive for our world.
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posted by pmb at 7:18 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by LobsterMitten at 7:20 AM on January 12, 2013


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I will always be jealous of his accomplishments. The confluence of events in his world and in his head that led to this are either sitting in one last essay, or with his loved ones or lost forever with him. I hope those that truly knew him can find solace in their happier memories.
posted by nutate at 7:21 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow. I guess I'll be the first to admit rather ignorantly that I never heard of this guy. So interesting and so sad. Thanks for not phoning in the post.
posted by phaedon at 7:28 AM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


He sounds like a tremendous person, and I'm so grateful to everyone both on-site and off who have shared their memories so that I could get a glimpse of this wonderful personality.

Fuck depression .
posted by Phire at 7:29 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow, this is really sad for me. I met Aaron in 2002ish at an O'Reilly conference and like Matt said you instantly forgot that he wasn't even old enough to drive. Since then I've followed his writing, programming and meanderings with interest.

Then around 2004 I took over an open source project he had started (rss2email, code at github) which has been going strong ever since.
posted by turbodog at 7:38 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


reddit links :   Aaron Shwartz Reddit Co-founder R.I.P   /r/suicidewatch
posted by jeffburdges at 7:43 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by pol at 7:49 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by bjrn at 7:49 AM on January 12, 2013


I've been using RSS in Google Reader over the last year or so - it's my main source of news. My Internet experience would be vastly poorer without it. I didn't know the story, or the people, behind RSS till today.

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posted by Currer Belfry at 7:54 AM on January 12, 2013


I didn't know Aaron well, but I met him very early on and was always impressed by his work. Weirdly, he added me on linked in a couple of weeks ago. I remember feeling flattered that I was someone he'd consider interesting in any way.

I've suffered from depression myself, so I just thought I should say something. Depression distorts your view of the world and of yourself. You don't even necessarily know you're depressed. Most of the time, you just think you're a worthless person, or that the world is unmanageably hard, or you'll feel trapped and cornered or despondent. And normally you think that stuff is just what it is to be a person and that for whatever reason you're just too weak to deal with it.

But it's not true. And those of us who have been through it know that even if you don't. Even if your friends don't. So if you're ever seriously considering suicide, find one of us and talk to us. None of us will turn you away. Because whatever you think yourself, that is not you thinking. That's a fragment of you, whose voice is out of balance, stuck on ultra high volume, out of whack. And life, while never exactly easy, really can be rewarding, beautiful and worthwhile for pretty much everyone. You have more agency and control and strength than you know, and all you have to do to get started is get some help.
posted by barbelith at 7:55 AM on January 12, 2013 [50 favorites]


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posted by JakeWalker at 8:16 AM on January 12, 2013


Always too soon. Always too young. Incredibly fucked up over this. The world is worse today.

Call your friends.

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posted by CharlesV42 at 8:16 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by kenko at 8:18 AM on January 12, 2013


Terrible news.

I met Aaron back at an early SxSW when all the RSS/Atom stuff was brewing and was shocked to find this 'kid' was actually Aaron. He liked that I wore a homemade Atom logo t-shirt. I kept looking to see who was pulling his strings and was amazed to see how driven, idealistic, and focused he was. Brilliant, sharp, intuitive, shy in person, vociferous online, and wonder to behold in action.

Watching him grow up online and #joiito, seeing him go through the first moments of hesitant attraction and love while in college was a joy. His openness applied to his his life, not just his work.

Aaron was an iconoclast who put his actions where his mouth was. We could use more like him.
posted by Argyle at 8:24 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It is so sad that someone can feel so alone and so surrounded on all sides that they feel their only escape is to choose death over facing life.

I hope that within the technology community this loss raises awareness of mental health. I think there are many people in are world who live in this kind of darkness who are currently not being helped. Maybe we can be inspired to lose fewer great people.

I hadn't realised how much of the stuff I consider great has been touched by Aaron Swartz and I wish I had read more of his stuff while he was alive. I'm only glad I got to use his creations.

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posted by ElliotH at 8:26 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is awful.



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posted by sculpin at 8:42 AM on January 12, 2013


I met him in 2000 at SXSW, back when it was a much smaller conference. He embraced the blogging scene and we embraced him. He was so young (13 or 14) that no one would rent him a hotel room so he stayed with a different blogger each night, all of us, who promised to look out for him - a young brilliant kid at tech conference all by himself.

He was a brilliant thinker whose ideas will be missed. RIP, Aaron.
posted by camworld at 8:43 AM on January 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


A comment on yCombinator, purportedly from Aaron's mother (not confirmed)
posted by to sir with millipedes at 8:45 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by brundlefly at 8:49 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:50 AM on January 12, 2013


For those who weren't aware of the ins and outs of the bitter turf war that was RSS, here's an idea of the kind of open warfare that happened between Aaron Swartz and Dave Winer, this bit from June 2003, where Aaron posts to his blog:

Yesterday: “I will recommend to UserLand that they support [the roadmap]” (cite)

Today: [Tim Bray] is “wantonly destructive” and probably will cause “control of RSS [to] go to the BigCo’s, probably Microsoft, possibly a battle between IBM, Microsoft and Google.” (cite)

Honest question: What changed?


Update: Dave Winer responds: “Now, imho, Aaron’s question is probably not very honest. He’s a young guy who likes to flame. He’s gotten a rep for being a software genius, but that’s mostly with lawyers, not software people. He’s a politician, and not a good one, and not a very nice person. He’s treated me like crap for years, and child or not, I’m tired of it, and I’m not taking it anymore. When he bites, I’m going to bite back, so watch out Aaron.”

It’s true that I got in an argument with Dave about RSS 1.0 a long time ago, but I’ve since backed down and have tried to be friendly to Dave ever since.

My question was honest. I wanted to know if something happened in between that I could fix, to regain Dave’s support. I was trying to help. Instead I got flamed.

The irony is that the thing that got Dave so upset in the first place (the thing I wanted to know about so I could fix it) was exactly this! He complains that Tim Bray said some awful stuff, and links to where he says: “I observe that there are many people and organizations who seem unable to maintain a good working relationship with Dave.”

I don’t want to flame anyone, least of all Dave. But I do feel that to keep my integrity I need to occasionally publicly question folks decisions and statements when I strongly disagree. Dave, I want to be your ally, not your enemy. Can I do that and still dissent?

[I certainly don’t condone personal attacks. I’m talking specifically about questioning ideas, as I always do on my weblog.]


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The difference, of course, is that Aaron was a young teen who made a post read initially by a few hundred hackers, raising fair questions on his blog about Winer's apparent second thoughts about adopting a plan for unified RSS standards, as he had promised... while Dave Winer posted nasty insults to his Scripting.com, which had about 100K views per day, written by someone proclaimed at the time as being one of the top technologists in the world.

As with many of Swartz' battles, it was a complete mismatch, at least on paper. But in truth, Swartz was simply smarter, a better public advocate... and he DID NOT STOP. Try to stonewall him, and he'd use code to route around your damage to the Internet.
posted by markkraft at 8:53 AM on January 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


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posted by mecran01 at 8:54 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by R343L at 8:56 AM on January 12, 2013


Aaron was one of those who always made me want to get off the couch and do something. So in his memory I'm now away to dust off one of those half-finished projects I have sitting around and get it done. What a kid he was, and what a man he became.
posted by fightorflight at 8:59 AM on January 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


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posted by skye.dancer at 9:03 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:07 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by bluefly at 9:08 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by adventureloop at 9:10 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by Skygazer at 9:11 AM on January 12, 2013


This is bullshit. I hope those bastards are happy.

R.I.P. Aaron.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:17 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by deusx at 9:17 AM on January 12, 2013


As a former sysadmin at MIT, I was very curious about this case and eager for the facts to come out, and I guess they can, but not like this. Definitely not like this. I also had the job of chasing intruders out of a segment of MIT's network (fairly light duty, actually), and having been there I will state the following publicly, because I am pissed off today. Seriously pissed off.

These over the top prosecution of nuisance intrusions makes sysadmins like me highly reluctant to initiate communication with the feds. The threat of criminal prosecution was enough to make Mr. Swartz back off from his actions. That's why MIT and JSTOR backed off. Someone at DOJ decided to keep going, and he just made life harder for federal investigators in countless other cases, who will not be getting that first phone call from a sysadmin.

When an intruder is on my network, before I call the authorities, I want to know that the authorities will exercise judgement and prosecute accordingly. If he's a criminal trying to use my resources for crimes, that's one thing. If he's a kid or a kook being a nuisance, then the authorities have a duty to exercise precisely enough muscle to scare him off my network and call it a day. If I have reason to think that the authorities will throw the book at a someone who is a mild nuisance, then I won't make the phone call. I will investigate the intrusiion myself, kick him off myself, and keep my fucking mouth shut. These prosecutions are a waste of money, and today one of them became a waste of a life.

All you DOJ prosecutors who care more about burnishing your resume than about doing your duty as the People's Lawyer to represent The People's interests: fuck you. Get cancer and die. You get no love from me.
posted by ocschwar at 9:18 AM on January 12, 2013 [142 favorites]


I had never heard of Aaron Swartz before this, and after reading about him, I'm (again) pretty pissed off at this world for crushing its best and brightest. My condolences to his loved ones. What a horrible loss.
posted by xenophile at 9:18 AM on January 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


You know how when somebody dies of cancer, somebody else will say "Fuck cancer." That's the way I feel when I see somebody who's depressed commit suicide. Fuck depression.

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posted by jonp72 at 9:24 AM on January 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


:( :(

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posted by Marquis at 9:27 AM on January 12, 2013


Brewster Kahle of The Internet Archive: Aaron Swartz, hero of the open world, RIP. Moving.
posted by artlung at 9:27 AM on January 12, 2013


Amongst the theories for the JSTOR prosecution not being dropped, the first one Cory Doctorow singles out is "the feds who'd tried unsuccessfully to nail him for the PACER/RECAP stunt had a serious hate-on for him." So yeah fuck the FBI too.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:30 AM on January 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


.
I never met Aaron but had heard of him very early on (circa 2001). It was wonderful to see him at such a precocious age getting taken under the wing by some pretty high-powered web technologists (in the W3C orbit) as a peer.
posted by Numenius at 9:31 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was on a committee with him for a while. I remember at the committee's first face-to-face meet-up he came with his dad -- he was young enough he needed a ride and a chaperone. Being a decade older, I saw him as doing what I might have done if I had been born into the Internet age.
posted by stp123 at 9:32 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by ZeusHumms at 9:33 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by cobra libre at 9:34 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by chapps at 9:36 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by xqwzts at 9:37 AM on January 12, 2013


dammit. Yeah, fuck depression.
posted by Zed at 9:42 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


His last Wikipedia edit, January 10. Swarz was not a fan of the Chamber of Commerce.
posted by stbalbach at 9:44 AM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was friends with Aaron when he was building Infogami in Boston (pre-Reddit acquisition). Aaron was brilliant, arrogant in the best way, and passionate about changing the world. He was also one of the most gentle people I've known. It makes me sad to know he was in so much pain.
posted by eisenkr at 9:44 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


What a shame. Such a young guy.

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posted by chunking express at 9:45 AM on January 12, 2013


:(

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posted by slater at 9:46 AM on January 12, 2013


I first met Aaron around 2002, probably at an O'Reilly conference. Very bright young man, thoughtful, demanding. A true force for good, and I admire the hell out of his various efforts to protect the public domain. I'm sad but mostly angry about his death.

Larry Lessig has posted about Aaron's suicide on his blog, Prosecuter as Bully. It's a very strongly worded piece focussing on the ongoing federal prosection. Doubly meaningful given Lessig's long personal relationship with Aaron and his deep knowledge of the JSTOR incident.
posted by Nelson at 9:56 AM on January 12, 2013 [17 favorites]


"Some will say this is not the time. I disagree. This is the time when every mixed emotion needs to find voice." Lessig writes about Prosecutor as Bully
posted by donovan at 9:57 AM on January 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


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posted by motty at 9:59 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by JoeXIII007 at 10:00 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by cosmologinaut at 10:01 AM on January 12, 2013


What a tragedy. I had heard of his PACER and JSTOR fights but knew little about him. I had no idea he was so young. His description of depression is as accurate an account as I have ever read:
Surely there have been times when you’ve been sad. Perhaps a loved one has abandoned you or a plan has gone horribly awry. Your face falls. Perhaps you cry. You feel worthless. You wonder whether it’s worth going on. Everything you think about seems bleak — the things you’ve done, the things you hope to do, the people around you. You want to lie in bed and keep the lights off. Depressed mood is like that, only it doesn’t come for any reason and it doesn’t go for any either. Go outside and get some fresh air or cuddle with a loved one and you don’t feel any better, only more upset at being unable to feel the joy that everyone else seems to feel. Everything gets colored by the sadness.
Depression is terrible because it can endow kindness with sadness. If you know someone who is depressed, and you try to help them, and they withdraw, please hold on to your compassion. That person is far more likely to have withdrawn because they recognize your kindness, not because they are oblivious to it.

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posted by compartment at 10:01 AM on January 12, 2013 [23 favorites]


From his Wikipedia edit history, he was an avid fan of David Foster Wallace, some of his last edits were to Wallace articles. I hope he didn't have Wallace-worship or something.
posted by stbalbach at 10:02 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by jessian at 10:02 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by lambdaphage at 10:03 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by Tiet Peret at 10:04 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by jeffkramer at 10:08 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by Phyllis Harmonic at 10:12 AM on January 12, 2013


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I remember the RSS wars, did not realize the JSTOR kid was the same guy. Too sad.
posted by mwhybark at 10:12 AM on January 12, 2013


fyi Bloggingheads has a snippet of a dialog with Swartz (and Will Wilkinson) as it's front page today. Here is a direct link to the whole discussion.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 10:22 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Goodbye, Aaron. It's hard to believe you're gone.
posted by grimmelm at 10:23 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by get off of my cloud at 10:33 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by ntk at 10:37 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by mangasm at 10:38 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by toadflax at 10:40 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by MikeWarot at 10:44 AM on January 12, 2013


Way, way too young.

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posted by /\/\/\/ at 10:47 AM on January 12, 2013


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Well, along comes Aaron Schwarz… proposing modifications to the RSS spec specifically for the syndication of weblogs, which was essentially the other shoe dropping, since Dave Winer had made the addition of powerful syndication features for competing weblog sites very hard to do.

I don't understand this or the linked proposal. What was necessary to add specifically for weblogs?
posted by grouse at 10:51 AM on January 12, 2013


I read his blog regularly and through writing it's easy to forget how young he was. He came across as much older than his actual age because he was so cogent and insightful. It's very sad that his intelligence came with depression.

Aaron probably felt pretty overwhelmed by the legal challenges he was facing but for anyone out there, suicide isn't the answer. Problems may be huge but life is long. Please reach out for help if you feel hopeless. In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
posted by GuyZero at 10:52 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by beryllium at 11:00 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by ninthart at 11:03 AM on January 12, 2013


I'm with xenophile, for some reason I've never heard of Aaron Swartz, or at least to the degree that I could pick the name out of a conversation and track it.

He sounds awesome. Now mind you, I don't believe that a person can be a prodigy in any field from ninth grade without a substantial amount of luck... but it remains, if fate puts you in that position, what do you do? It sounds like Aaron Swartz did what was needed and the world was better for it. He had the right ideas and went about forwarding them the right way, and really, isn't that what it's about?

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posted by JHarris at 11:03 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by anadem at 11:03 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by danhon at 11:04 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by sillygwailo at 11:05 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by zittrain at 11:05 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by dhartung at 11:08 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by mrflip at 11:10 AM on January 12, 2013


Fuck.

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posted by brennen at 11:11 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by tingley at 11:16 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by PueExMachina at 11:20 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by jquinby at 11:23 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by Morvran Avagddu at 11:26 AM on January 12, 2013


<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>
<rss version="2.0">
<channel>

        <title>.</title>
        <description>.</description>
        <link>.</link>
        <lastBuildDate>.</lastBuildDate>
        <pubDate>.</pubDate>
        <ttl>.</ttl>
 
        <item>
                <title>.</title>
                <description>.</description>
                <link>.</link>
                <guid>.</guid>
                <pubDate>.</pubDate>
        </item>
 
</channel>
</rss>

posted by Brian Puccio at 11:27 AM on January 12, 2013 [35 favorites]


Christ, no. 26.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:28 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd heard of the JSTOR incident, but didn't really know anything about Aaron Swartz as an individual.

Hard to know if the legal case against him was in fact a proximate motivator for his suicide, but it still seems like a stupid misuse of prosecutorial time and resources.

Whatever Swartz' thought process was, it's a terrible shame it had to come to this, such a waste of a young life still filled with much promise. My sympathies are with his family and friends.

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posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 11:42 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I never had the pleasure of making his acquaintance, but have followed his case with interest. I am so glad to see that Lawrence Lessig has taken a stand on this. I realize it's too simplistic to blame the ongoing federal prosecution here, but I'm pleased to see Lessig attempting to demand accountability from that US attorney's office for its heavy handed tactics and failure to exercise appropriate discretion by offering him plea opportunities more measured and proportionate to the crime alleged. There is a gross imbalance of power in the federal criminal system, partly due to federal sentencing guidelines, which, as currently implemented, in many cases have the effect of penalizing individuals who put the government to its burden of proof. Prosecutorial discretion is cruel; if a US Attorney decides to make an example of a defendant by refusing to plead down a charge to a misdemeanor, a defendant's only other option to avoid the punitive effects of being labelled a felon (e.g., loss of other rights such as gun ownership, voting, etc.) is to go to trial and take his case before a jury, which is extremely expensive. If there's a conviction, the sentencing result is totally dependent on the discretion of the federal judge reviewing the motion for downward departure, and the assigned judge is completely dependent on the luck of the draw when the case is filed. I've been through plea negotiations where an AUSA has refused to plea down to a misdemeanor because "there is no lesser included charge," while there were five other appropriate misdemeanors they could have appropriately charged instead of the charged felony, which would have offered the defendant with an appropriate charge and proportionate punishment that would have been more than adequate to serve the needs of justice. Unfortunately, a misdemeanor doesn't look as good in a DOJ press release. To someone suffering from depression (which the USA's office would have known about from the presentence report if it was reported in the presentencing interview), the strain of a pending federal prosecution must have seemed and felt insurmountable. It didn't have to be that way; there was hope which he couldn't see, but that hope is difficult to see for the healthiest defendant, because it's clouded by a fog of uncertainty of one's fate and the prospect of loss of liberty and prison time. It is unbelievably unfair that the world has been deprived of a talented human being as a result of depression. It is even more unfair that his battle against depression was unnecessarily exacerbated by what appears to be a greedy federal prosecutor who probably wanted to add this high profile case as a notch to the belt of that USA's office.
My heart goes out to him and his family.
posted by Dr. Zira at 11:43 AM on January 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


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posted by pernoctalian at 11:46 AM on January 12, 2013


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posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:47 AM on January 12, 2013


Right now the entire front page of Hacker News is nothing but Aaron Swartz related links.
posted by Lanark at 11:48 AM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Prosecutor As Bully: Larry Lessig weighs in.
posted by Malor at 11:49 AM on January 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


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posted by wanderingstan at 11:52 AM on January 12, 2013


I find it odd that any news of Arron's death is pretty deeply buried on Reddit. How times have changed.
posted by GuyZero at 11:55 AM on January 12, 2013


I find it odd that any news of Arron's death is pretty deeply buried on Reddit. How times have changed.


Reddit is a case of Aaron casting pearls before swine.
posted by ocschwar at 11:58 AM on January 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


I want to reiterate Lessig's plea here: please do not pathologize this story. This isn't about untreated depression, this is about the government destroying an activist's life.

Fucking fuck.

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posted by mek at 11:59 AM on January 12, 2013 [21 favorites]


I know that aaronsw was a huge DFW fan. He devoured Infinite Jest and wrote a brilliant essay that grapples with the most crucial questions in the book. He also hosted some George Saunders stories and could discuss the finest details of literature with the best of them.

What a terrible, terrible loss.

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posted by mattbucher at 12:01 PM on January 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Quinn Norton: "My Aaron Swartz, whom I loved."
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:04 PM on January 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


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posted by Arbac at 12:05 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by antonymous at 12:06 PM on January 12, 2013


I don't understand this or the linked proposal. What was necessary to add specifically for weblogs?

I think the proposal there was to add an extra element for the full content of a blog post. The existing spec only had <description> which was intended only for short summaries. He was trying to do something a bit nicer than the bodges in RSS 0.9x/2.0.

Somewhat lost in the bombast of the obits is that RSS 1.0 didn't really go anywhere, with Dave Winer's RSS 0.9x/2.0 winning out by a large margin. The kudos Aaron deserves is for picking a fight with Dave Winer and the W3C and making their lives much harder.
posted by grahamparks at 12:08 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by sp dinsmoor at 12:11 PM on January 12, 2013


I never met Aaron Swartz. I knew of him, but did not know him. As I have read this thread, read these links and learned a lot more about him, I cannot help but think about his parents. I am a parent if three teens. I wish I could say that I would have supported any of them if they were like Aaron, wanting to do things his own way including learning. As Matt pointed out, because of his age, his father had to chaperon him to NY for a meeting.

I cannot imagine what Aaron's parents are going through right now. As we all mourn a man who brought so much to the world in general, I keep thinking about his mom and his dad. I don't know any details of his personal life, but it seems as if his parents did things right. They respected and trusted him from an early age. They encouraged him to pursue knowledge for knowledge's sake. While no parent ever wants or expects to bury a child, Aaron's parents face that difficult task.

Thank you Aaron for fighting for my benefit even when I did not even know or appreciate it. Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Swartz for Aaron.

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posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:12 PM on January 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


.

nthing Lessig's Prosecutor as Bully.

Also, the prosecutor in question, Carmen Ortiz, has been discussed as a possible candidate for Massachusetts governor or senator, but I think she's shown such poor judgment in this case that she should never be. I'm generally a proponent of our adversarial legal system, and support attorneys who defend vile people for that reason, but the prosecution in this case, trying to drum up all these charges, just seems hamfisted and mean.
posted by losvedir at 12:13 PM on January 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


It looks like it's being deliberately suppressed from the front page of Reddit, from what I can see. It's got way more than enough upvotes, but it doesn't register in top posts at all.

Why the fuck would they do that?
posted by Malor at 12:13 PM on January 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


As someone who also knew Aaron going back to the days when he was a 14-year-old kid working on RSS, I'm crushed at the loss and greatly disappointed in myself for never writing about the malicious and devastating federal prosecution he was enduring. He was facing 50 years in prison for the crime of bulk downloading academic journal articles.

If so many of us cared about Aaron, why didn't we raise more hell about his federal prosecution?

He was brilliant, altruistic and exceptionally public-minded -- a hacker in the best sense of the word. My condolences to the many people who knew and loved him.
posted by rcade at 12:17 PM on January 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


I AM FURIOUS.

I HAVE NO WORDS FOR WHAT I FEEL RIGHT NOW.

AND AM EMBARRASSED THAT THE PoS FED WHO WENT AFTER AARON IS A PUERTO RICAN WOMAN.

there are no words for what she did to him. and after reading Quinn's obituary, am just in tears.

all to say, i will be there when the internet gets together and goes after this monster. especially if it is true she wants to be Massachusetts next governor.

i just wish for his family much solace & peace.








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posted by liza at 12:21 PM on January 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Somewhat lost in the bombast of the obits is that RSS 1.0 didn't really go anywhere, with Dave Winer's RSS 0.9x/2.0 winning out by a large margin.

RSS 1.0 was being adopted for a while as a rival to RSS 2.0, but Dave Winer became such an enormous pain in the ass to anyone working in that space it inspired the creation of Atom. Atom is exceptionally well-specified and respectful of Internet standards, so the impetus to fight for RSS itself against Winer was lost.

I think RSS 1.0 also suffered because it was wrongly perceived as an older version of RSS 2.0.

In 2006 I corresponded in email with Aaron about the possibility of renaming RSS 1.0 as RSS-RDF. He joked in response, "I'll rename it to RSS-RDF if you rename RSS 2.0 to Atom-Legacy."
posted by rcade at 12:24 PM on January 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


if I get hit by a truck
posted by helion at 12:25 PM on January 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


@Malor,

there's a huge Reddit thread at Co-founder of Reddit, Aaron Swartz, commits suicide. RIP.... it's at the top of my top tab. and there's other posts about him as well.
posted by liza at 12:25 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by andy_t at 12:27 PM on January 12, 2013


"There is a moment, immediately before life becomes no longer worth living, when the world appears to slow down and all its myriad details suddenly become brightly, achingly apparent,"

I remember my late 20's were pretty rough. If you feel the same way, trust me, things get a lot better.

I'm glad his passing is getting a lot of coverage. The internet needs more activists like Aaron. The corporate road things are taking, I think we're all going to be truly fucked in a decade's time.
posted by phaedon at 12:28 PM on January 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


all to say, i will be there when the internet gets together and goes after this monster. especially if it is true she wants to be Massachusetts next governor.


Boston area MeFites: I am calling to order the founding meeting of Citizens Against the Ambitions of Carmen Ortiz.

PM me.
posted by ocschwar at 12:30 PM on January 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


.

I also didn't realize he was THAT young. What a terrible loss.
posted by desuetude at 12:33 PM on January 12, 2013


@phaedon
I don't know. Even when living a happy and full life, you may find yourself at 48 completely agreeing with this glimpse of a then 20-year-old.
Depression's greatest trick is that it presents itself as a revelation.
posted by helion at 12:34 PM on January 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I also didn't realize he was THAT young.

He packed so many accomplishments in 26 years his age was exceptionally implausible.
posted by rcade at 12:41 PM on January 12, 2013


Quinn Norton just retweeted this: "FWIW, Carmen Ortiz just runs the US Attorney's office in MA. Stephen Heymann is the Assistant US Attorney going hard after Aaron Swartz."
posted by rcade at 12:43 PM on January 12, 2013 [14 favorites]


[This is not an appropriate place to have a debate about the justice system. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 12:52 PM on January 12, 2013


thanks @rcade. i RTed as well. btw, seeing you here makes me feel so internet old *sigh*
posted by liza at 12:52 PM on January 12, 2013


[This is not an appropriate place to have a debate about the justice system. Thanks. ]

I'm not looking to pick a fight, but I really like what Lessig had to say. "Some will say this is not the time. I disagree. This is the time when every mixed emotion needs to find voice."
posted by phaedon at 12:55 PM on January 12, 2013 [24 favorites]


I'm completely down the the Citizens Against the Ambitions of Carmen Ortiz and Stephen Heymann idea because she aided the Feds' pursuing revenge for his downloading PACER files using RECAP.

I'm curious if the revenge effort truly came from Heymann's office though, probably that originated with the cowboys in the FBI or similar, no? Anyone know the names of federal agents who investigated either his PACER or JSTOR stunts?
posted by jeffburdges at 12:57 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


No words.
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posted by stormpooper at 12:58 PM on January 12, 2013


phaedon, I think what Lessig meant was for his own blog, he felt it was time. This is a rememberance thread about a departed programmer. I think it's best to talk about Aaron here and save the other stuff for Twitter, personal blogs, or future threads on the subject.
posted by mathowie at 1:00 PM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


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posted by tonycpsu at 1:03 PM on January 12, 2013


[This thread is not about Puerto Rico, and metacommentary can go to email, the contact form, or MetaTalk as always.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:05 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by Mitheral at 1:09 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by drklahn at 1:10 PM on January 12, 2013


mek: "please do not pathologize this story. This isn't about untreated depression, this is about the government destroying an activist's life."

I disagree. Why can't it be about both? I've seen depression cause people to attempt suicide over the most trivial things, such as weight gain, or even over no identifiable stressor. That's why it's so dangerous, and unpredictable. It's no respector of age, or intelligence, or social class.

But when you have the entire resources of a superstate casually targetting you, well, that becomes a pathological stressor.
posted by meehawl at 1:18 PM on January 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


An ex was good friends with Aaron, and I met him at an event in Chicago last spring...what a sweet soul, and what a treasure for this world. My heart aches for his family and friends - 26 is just too fucking soon to go.
posted by deliciae at 1:23 PM on January 12, 2013


The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s “Crime.”

On a personal note, I am really struck by the analogy to Prometheus. A mythological hero whose unselfish transgressions to improve the human condition, and his theft of "fire," led to a sentence of eternal torment.
posted by phaedon at 1:32 PM on January 12, 2013 [17 favorites]


This is a rememberance thread about a departed programmer. I think it's best to talk about Aaron here and save the other stuff for Twitter, personal blogs, or future threads on the subject..

I think some people deal with loss and rememberance through action. I think there's room for these people here.

Lessig's post is poignant, and I recommend that anyone interested in Swartz's life, or the crushing power the state can bear against people acting with the best motives (but suboptimal methods), read it.

Aaron was a protestor and an activist, and part of remembering him for some may be to further the things he cared about.
posted by zippy at 1:35 PM on January 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


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posted by mayurasana at 1:36 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by learnsome at 1:44 PM on January 12, 2013


I disagree. Why can't it be about both?

Because Aaron Swartz had access to all the professional help he was willing to receive.

It's one of the horrible things about depression, which nothing can be done about.
posted by ocschwar at 1:47 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by vendaval at 1:50 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by gingerbeer at 1:54 PM on January 12, 2013


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I never knew Aaron Swartz, but I have the feeling I might have in a different life.
posted by RakDaddy at 1:58 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by nobody at 2:21 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by postcommunism at 2:23 PM on January 12, 2013


Was anyone following Aaron's blog when he first went to Stanford? He revealed so much about himself during some awkward attempts at dating that I had to stop reading him for a while. It made me glad to have gone through that phase of life before the web was around.
posted by rcade at 2:28 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Tim Berners-Lee posted the following this morning. TimBL also tweeted an abridged version of this; I think both he and Aaron would have wry things to say about how difficult it is to directly link to a tweet.
posted by Numenius at 2:45 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by bigZLiLk at 2:59 PM on January 12, 2013


81 others committed suicide today. 82 more will commit suicide tomorrow. 82 more will commit suicide on Monday. And so on. And so on...

Let's not focus on a single, shining soul, when so many others continue to suffer due to un-treated and under-treated depression.

Nobody seems to care unless it's a celebrity who dies. Please, let's stop mourning those we don't know, and reach out to those we do.

I bet, right now, in many people's lives, there's someone who's hurting as much as Aaron. Reach out to them. Save someone else's life today.
posted by docjohn at 3:03 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


So profoundly sad.

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posted by dbiedny at 3:06 PM on January 12, 2013


rcade: Yes, I remember reading that and feeling strange about seeing it. Kinda of good he had a place to share feelings, but kinda bad that he was struggling with them.
posted by Argyle at 3:08 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think both he and Aaron would have wry things to say about how difficult it is to directly link to a tweet.

It's not difficult at all, although it relies on a convention that is not universally understood. The timestamp also functions as a permalink to an individual Tweet, much as the timestamp on a MetaFilter comment is a permalink to that comment.

It makes me sad that comments seeking an activist response to the death of an activist are being suppressed. It's hard to imagine that is what he would have wanted or that he would have found this more respectful.
posted by grouse at 3:10 PM on January 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Docjohn, I know you mean well, but some of us on this thread did know Aaron personally, and for us, this news was a real gutpunch. One of the reasons so many people are pouring out their grief over this "single, shining soul" is that Aaron touched so many lives directly. Not through his work, but through the simple, gentle, daily rituals of being the inquisitive, caring, passionate person he was.
posted by grimmelm at 3:11 PM on January 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


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posted by ioerror at 3:23 PM on January 12, 2013


Let's not focus on a single, shining soul, when so many others continue to suffer due to un-treated and under-treated depression.

C'mon this is an obit thread, it's not a soapbox. If you don't want to talk about the deceased, go elsewhere.
posted by mek at 3:24 PM on January 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


I checked Dave Winer's site (no link) and he seems to be gloating. Confirms everything I knew about him.
posted by tommasz at 3:26 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


fine....

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posted by docjohn at 3:26 PM on January 12, 2013


Here is a video of Aaron's keynote on "How we stopped SOPA" at the F2C: Freedom to Connect 2012 conference last year.
posted by Numenius at 3:30 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by rtha at 3:32 PM on January 12, 2013


For those looking for points of action, I'd suggest a read of the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto:

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.

There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.

“I agree,” many say, “but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal — there’s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back.

Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.

Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.

But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.

Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies.

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.

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that's out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.

With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?

Aaron Swartz
July 2008, Eremo, Italy


I was moved the first time I read it and I'm even more moved re-reading it after Aaron's death.

Let us all work to liberate and open data for humanity to freely access. Together, even working independently under the cover of anonymity, we can ensure that Aaron's dream is the death of the very machine that oppressed him into suicide.
posted by ioerror at 3:37 PM on January 12, 2013 [41 favorites]


Luckily Feynman came along too early for this brand of justice. Once again we've all been diminished.
posted by Twang at 3:39 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It looks like it's being deliberately suppressed from the front page of Reddit, from what I can see. It's got way more than enough upvotes, but it doesn't register in top posts at all.

Why the fuck would they do that?


There are two open threads with large numbers of upvotes in /r/news and /r/truereddit

Neither /r/news or /r/truereddit are default subreddits, they will not show up on the front page by default. I see them on my front page because I'm subscribed to them.

There are 46 other open threads in everything from /r/trees to /r/geek

Subreddit moderators have been deleting posts in /r/pics and /r/wtf all day as there has been hundreds of posts.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:40 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Statement from Aaron's family and partner.
posted by rcade at 3:40 PM on January 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


"RSS 1.0 was being adopted for a while as a rival to RSS 2.0, but Dave Winer became such an enormous pain in the ass to anyone working in that space it inspired the creation of Atom. Atom is exceptionally well-specified and respectful of Internet standards, so the impetus to fight for RSS itself against Winer was lost."

I think this kind of misses the point. The work that Aaron Swartz did behind the scenes helped move RSS 2.0 in the direction of being a pretty respectable standard, not lorded over exclusively by Winer. In 2003, Dave Winer gave in to pressure and backed the transfer of the RSS 2.0 specification to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. The specification, which was previously copyrighted, is now licensed under terms that allow it to be customized, excerpted and republished, using the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike license.

The essential part of syndication from a blog standpoint was the ability to syndicate entire posts, so that the barriers between blogging services could be overcome. That was the essential core of the fight that Aaron fought for, and it was one he won... which was part of the reason why there were many smart people who were rather "meh" about Atom, because it was yet another division, less than fully necessary, and rather late to the fight, at that.
posted by markkraft at 3:51 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


In the statement that rcade just posted above it says "unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles." Does anyone know what JSTOR action or statement this refers to?
posted by mediated self at 3:53 PM on January 12, 2013


Shit, he was from my hometown. He would have been in high school a year or two behind my little sister. That's kind of mindblowing, and not in a good way.

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posted by restless_nomad at 3:54 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by absolutelynot at 3:58 PM on January 12, 2013


Does anyone know what JSTOR action or statement this refers to?

JSTOR asked the feds not to go after Aaron criminally, but MIT did not oppose the prosecution. This blog post by a forensic computer expert goes into more details.
posted by rcade at 3:58 PM on January 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


JSTOR's statement on the matter from July 2011. JSTOR basically said it had no interest or involvement in the prosecution.
posted by mek at 3:59 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by Deoridhe at 4:00 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by Didymium at 4:02 PM on January 12, 2013


I met Aaron briefly a few years ago, when he was hanging out with a group of people I worked with. We chatted about Chicago and Highland Park and he was incredibly friendly and charming. I didn't know who he was at the time and when my co-worker told me afterward, I was especially impressed because Aaron really seemed to be listening to and interested in the people around him, a quality I don't necessarily expect in well-known people.

What a terrible loss. My thoughts are with his friends and family.

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posted by milkweed at 4:03 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by deathpanels at 4:07 PM on January 12, 2013


The work that Aaron Swartz did behind the scenes helped move RSS 2.0 in the direction of being a pretty respectable standard, not lorded over exclusively by Winer.

As a long participant in RSS development, I think you're wrong on the history.

Aaron and the rest of the RSS-DEV Working Group formed in 2000 and created RSS 1.0 (also known as RDF Site Summary). It was an open, inclusive process that produced its specification in December 2000.

During that year, Dave Winer took over RSS 0.9x/2.0 by fiat. It was not transferred to Harvard until 2003, and that move did not make its ongoing development an open, inclusive process. RSS 2.0 has always been lorded over by Winer. Harvard did not change that. The RSS Advisory Board did not change that.
posted by rcade at 4:12 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Aaron was one of those rare breed of prolific revolutionary hackers. And I use that term in the classic sense, even though I know that is no longer the public meaning of it.

Aaron Swartz, Justin Frankel and Linus Torvalds are some examples of the hackers I'm thinking of. It's not just that they're constantly building (and making available) new things, but underlying most of their projects are subtle but important social elements of unification, community, sharing and decentralization.

Whether it's the PACER/RECAP method of crowdsourcing access to public documents for citizens, git's distributed model, or gnutella's decentralized p2p setup. They all incorporate a deep philosophical belief in the idea of community and cooperation.

That link above If I got hit by a truck shows that the nature of his software reflected his inner self:

I ask that the contents of all my hard drives be made publicly available from aaronsw.com.

To relate a personal story, I lost my sister to suicide a few years ago, my startup co-founder last year, and my best friend growing up just a few months ago. It wasn't until the last death that I stopped avoiding it with alcohol and pouring myself into my professional work.

My friend was a huge influence on my life, introducing me to Douglas Adams, Monty Python, electronic music and so many other things that helped define and shape me. He was a positive influence to everyone around him. I only hope I can leave that same kind of legacy.

So I quite my 70-hour a week corporate software engineering job. I took a chance and joined a local environmental non-profit doing amazing work to connect people. This choice was deeply personal, and it's not the only path for good. But my own life is better because of it, and I think I can help more people.

Aaron's death is having a similar impact on me. Like fightorflight, I want to pick up some of my half-finished social software projects. And connect with some old friends, if only to say thank you and you're important.

The number of organizations, groups and projects that are springing up around social entrepreneurship, open governance, and social reform is amazing. Aaron's death is truly tragic and a loss to those around him and everyone he touched, but it's not a win for those against openness and change. He was and is an inspiration.
posted by formless at 4:14 PM on January 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


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posted by Kinbote at 4:17 PM on January 12, 2013


People like Aaron are the reason I continue in this cruel world we call the software industry. As long as there are open standards and passionate people who want to collaborate on them, this whole thing we call the web might work out to be a benefit for the human race instead of just another place to slap up advertising.
posted by deathpanels at 4:19 PM on January 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Looking at the outpouring of remembrances from across the web today, it's amazing to me just how much he put himself out there and reached out to so many people. Personally, Aaron always came across somewhat shy and distant; I remember meeting him for coffee back in 2006 or so and seeing him obsessively checking his Danger Hiptop (Sidekick), much as Rick Perlstein remembered him from around the same time. And yet, he was someone who, at 13-ish, was totally comfortable taking on Dave Winer, working with Rael Dornfest, and forging a relationship with Professor Lawrence Lessig.

I don't know whether it was difficult for him to do or not, but he seemed to have no shame in saying "I don't care who you are or how important the world thinks you are. What I think matters, and I can contribute too." He didn't care that 13-year-olds "aren't supposed to" be emailing Stanford law professors, as though that's some kind of inevitable law of the universe. At his best, he wasn't content to leave things to "the experts" and he didn't let the internal filters and self-doubts we all feel keep him from believing that he wasn't good enough to be a part of something. That arrogance—and let's face it, it was often pretty extreme arrogance—wasn't malicious or self-promoting, it was pure chutzpah, born of kindness and a genuine desire to help, which he had in droves. He was someone who would say, as the prophet Sorkin once put it, "I want to be a part of this," and would throw himself out there to contribute with whatever skills he could. That attitude could, and did, get him into trouble, but it also took him to some pretty amazing places.

Indeed, I just looked up something he wrote to me in a blog comment way back in 2001, and he expressed pretty much the same idea about himself:
Sadly, this is just another result of society's prejudice against children. Children have so few freedoms in most of the world that discrimination like this is fairly commonplace.

Thankfully, in the hacker community, things are much different. It's wonderful to know that online (in many communities, at least) folks can ignore so many of those things which stop us in the physical world. And this kindness carries over into the real-world as well.

As a fourteen-year-old Linux user, programmer, and Semantic Web hacker, I've had first-hand experience in the openness and acceptance of the computer world, in comparison to other portions of society.
I found the same thing to be true back then too, and his kindness was certainly a part of that. I think the most important lesson I did and will take from Aaron is not to let self-doubt, hierarchy, and expectations stand in the way of putting myself out there or getting involved in something. That's how he managed to touch and inspire so many of us across this wide web in such a short time.
posted by zachlipton at 4:22 PM on January 12, 2013 [18 favorites]


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posted by laurel at 4:29 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by en forme de poire at 4:38 PM on January 12, 2013


The more I read about Aaron, the more troubling his death becomes. Not just because of the enormous waste of brilliant courageous person, but something else seems off here.

Why did the DOJ come down on him so hard, and why did MIT not protect him? I mean, just for trying to open up access to scientific literature?? And what's up with the refrain that keeps popping up that perhaps his death wasn't by his own hand? Is that just conspiracy nonsense?

posted by Skygazer at 4:40 PM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


God, this is terrible.

An old friend of mine chose the same way out of life exactly a month ago; it's so hard, so devastating to be angry and grieving at the same time. And Aaron was the same age as my son.

RIP Aaron, RIP John.

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posted by jokeefe at 4:44 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by luckynerd at 4:45 PM on January 12, 2013


"Let us all work to liberate and open data for humanity to freely access. Together, even working independently under the cover of anonymity, we can ensure that Aaron's dream is the death of the very machine that oppressed him into suicide."

Out of everyone out there on MeFi, I am very glad to hear your thoughts, Jacob.

In many ways, you remind me of Aaron, in that there are painfully few others with such dedication to the fight. That's something to be proud of, but also to be somewhat wary of, perhaps... Part of fighting the good fight is living to fight another day. During the worst of the Wikileaks debacle, I feared that you might be crushed by the government as well. Not that they aren't still trying, perhaps.

In an information society, information -- and who controls it -- is the key. We should all be immensely grateful that there are fiercely dedicated individuals willing to fight that fight... and we need to do a better job of backing them up.

Calling them criminals misses the larger point: if we do something which liberates public information, or empowers the public to have control over their own information or exchange thereof... we are all, by definition, potential criminals. If we fight against a profoundly unjust status quo, that profoundly unjust status quo *WILL* fight back.

What Aaron did was a crime, by definition... and I fully, absolutely support his actions. The government should not be in the business of sanctioning those who profit by lording over other people's thoughts and information, while crushing those who would oppose them.

I don't support the creation of more martyrs to the cause. We should try, to paraphrase Patton, to make the other side die for their ideas. But I do think it's time people realize that in an information society, fighting for the public's right to control their information is essential... worth fighting for... worth risking jail time for... and even potentially worth dying for. Ideas are and always will be worth that risk.

If the powers-that-be choose to stonewall the public, we need to be prepared to route around them, to create a future worth living in.
posted by markkraft at 4:46 PM on January 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


The more I read about this, the sadder I get. JSTOR has linked their condolences on their home page. I had always assumed this case was settled a while ago. Had no idea it was ongoing. Potential sentence of 30-50 years in prison?!?!? What a horrible threat to give to a bright young man. For (allegedly illegally) downloading research articles -- probably taxpayer funded research articles -- that he wanted to share with everybody.
posted by bluefly at 5:01 PM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tim Berners-Lee
posted by maggieb at 5:09 PM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


If information is indeed power, its access that is empowering.
posted by infini at 5:18 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by safetyfork at 5:19 PM on January 12, 2013


Thy Godlike crime was to be kind,
To render with thy precepts less
The sum of human wretchedness,
And strengthen Man with his own mind;

But baffled as thou wert from high,
Still in thy patient energy,
In the endurance, and repulse
Of thine impenetrable Spirit,

Which Earth and Heaven could not convulse,
A mighty lesson we inherit:
Thou art a symbol and a sign
To Mortals of their fate and force;

Like thee, Man is in part divine,
A troubled stream from a pure source;
And Man in portions can foresee
His own funereal destiny;

His wretchedness, and his resistance,
And his sad unallied existence:
To which his Spirit may oppose
Itself --- and equal to all woes,

And a firm will, and a deep sense,
Which even in torture can decry
Its own concenter'd recompense,
Triumphant where it dares defy,

And making Death a Victory.

- Prometheus
Lord Byron
July, 1816
posted by markkraft at 5:32 PM on January 12, 2013 [14 favorites]


Why did the DOJ come down on him so hard, and why did MIT not protect him? I mean, just for trying to open up access to scientific literature??

There are suggestions that his work to publish data from PACER (I don't wish to recount it here, but effectively: he took documents that were supposed to be public anyway and republished them in easier-to-access ways) earned him enmity within the FBI and perhaps other places in authority. As to why MIT didn't more clearly back down from supporting his prosecution, I do not know.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 5:34 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lessig:
For remember, we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House — and where even those brought to “justice” never even have to admit any wrongdoing, let alone be labeled “felons.

In that world, the question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a “felon.” For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept, and so that was the reason he was facing a million dollar trial in April — his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge. And so as wrong and misguided and fucking sad as this is, I get how the prospect of this fight, defenseless, made it make sense to this brilliant but troubled boy to end it.

Fifty years in jail, charges our government. Somehow, we need to get beyond the “I’m right so I’m right to nuke you” ethics that dominates our time. That begins with one word: Shame.

One word, and endless tears.
posted by Skygazer at 5:35 PM on January 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


What a horrible threat to give to a bright young man. For (allegedly illegally) downloading research articles -- probably taxpayer funded research articles -- that he wanted to share with everybody.

Just to be clear, that was an allegation made by the prosecution. Swartz's own statements were that he was acquiring the articles to do data analysis, and had no intention of distributing them online.
posted by mek at 5:36 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


The games no straight


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posted by sgt.serenity at 5:55 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by waitingtoderail at 5:56 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by oulipian at 6:04 PM on January 12, 2013


Aaron Swartz' Guerilla Open Access Manifesto, quoted by ioerror upthread, but url form here.

We've never seen results from petitions.whitehouse.gov, but hey :
Remove United States District Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz

Quinn Norton noted that "Stephen Heymann was the Assistant US Attorney going hard after Aaron Swartz," but Carmen Ortiz looks like his boss, so maybe going after her maybe does the most good.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:12 PM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


New York Times obit and blog.
posted by bukvich at 6:18 PM on January 12, 2013


The light that shines twice as bright often only shines half as long.

Aaron was the Che Guevara of internet rights, an uncompromising soul in a world too full of compromise.

Rest in peace, Aaron, and thank you so much for everyone you've done for the internet in your too-short time online.
posted by TNLNYC at 6:24 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by johnabbe at 6:31 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by shenderson at 6:37 PM on January 12, 2013


.

Thanks for helping us, Aaron.
posted by dragonplayer at 6:42 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


An incredibly talented and friendly young man; dead in his prime due to insanely over zealous copyright law and prosecution for what should be in the public domain in the first place.

Depression is a terrible disease, and it claims far, far too many lives. Merely living with it is a struggle, I can testify to that. It's a grey blanket that suffocates you, saps all colour and happiness from you. It's your own brain whispering in your ear, preying on all your fears, asking you if you wouldn't just prefer it to to all just end. A weight on your chest that you just can't move, and you just feel so. alone, even if in reality, you're not.

But most people with depression are so for a reason.

50 years in jail. 50 YEARS. For breaking into a network cabinet and committing copyright infringement. We SHOULD be outraged and demand justice for Aaron. For what he was put through, for what he faced and ultimately proved too big a burden to bear. His depression wasn't what killed him. It was the Justice system and the unjust laws that they went after him with. What public good was served by this?

Fifty years in jail. THAT's the real crime.

I'm sorry that he's gone. I'm sorry that we failed him. I'm sorry Aaron.

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posted by ArkhanJG at 6:53 PM on January 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Just to clarify, while the FBI was the principal investigating agency in the PACER case, in the JSTOR case that was the New England Electronic Crimes Task Force of the Secret Service.
posted by nicwolff at 6:58 PM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


A post from a colleague.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:01 PM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


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posted by shackpalace at 7:01 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by Tevin at 7:03 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by PROD_TPSL at 7:09 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by bz at 7:26 PM on January 12, 2013


He came to a conference at our school. He's two years older to me. I really looked up to him.

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posted by yaymukund at 7:28 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by domnit at 7:36 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by liquorice at 7:36 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:42 PM on January 12, 2013


I am truly sorry to read this news.

Reading the accounts and remembrances here and elsewhere on the Internet, it seems to me Aaron Swartz may have been several evolutionary rungs higher than most of the people he left behind. I certainly find myself looking up at his heels.

Such a beautiful young man. Thank you for doing all that you did, Mr. Aaron Swartz. May you rest in peace.

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posted by mistersquid at 8:06 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is just devastating.

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posted by raf at 8:25 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by humanfont at 8:26 PM on January 12, 2013


When I was 26, I had just barely settled down and kept the same job for more than a year.

A genius and an idealist. All great changes come from people bumping up against boundaries.


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posted by Artful Codger at 8:29 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by silentbicycle at 8:39 PM on January 12, 2013


I didn't know him, but so many of my friends did. And what's amazing to me is how many different circles those friends occupy; I'd have never thought one person could bridge so many communities so thoroughly in such a short time.

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posted by ocherdraco at 8:44 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 8:52 PM on January 12, 2013


This news affected me in funny way. I had to tell someone in IRL about a guy I didn't really know but who was one of my 'mascots'; people who made me feel hopeful for the future. I just feel sad today. My heart goes out to his family and friends.
posted by vicx at 8:55 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by jeffmilner at 8:55 PM on January 12, 2013


A post from a colleague.

WTF? The linked article says:

I didn't know Aaron.

Look, just because you love reddit and hate Dave Winer, that doesn't automatically make you a colleague of Aaron's. The constant stream of people attempting to use his tragic death to further their political and social causes is sickening. Even the people campaigning against suicide are stunningly misguided, they are basically saying that oops we missed one, if only we could have been his friend, we would have saved him. Hey, if your cause, if your life has so little meaning that you don't even pause to think it might be wrong to suck the marrow from his not-yet-cold bones, then you need to reconsider your cause, your life, might be on the same dead end road as Aaron's, and you are making the same fatal misjudgments he did.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:56 PM on January 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Alex Stamos, who was going to be an Expert Witness at his trial, speaks up about Aaron's "Crime" (HIS quotemarks)
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:01 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


A memorial site for Aaron, including "Official Statement from the family and partner of Aaron Swartz", and a request to send them your memories of Aaron. His funeral will be in Highland Park, Illinois on Tuesday, and there will be "memorial services to be held in other cities in coming weeks."
posted by brainwane at 9:06 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


WTF? The linked article says:

I'm assuming gingerbeer means the post is from one of her colleagues, not one of Aaron's colleagues, since the actual post makes that pretty clear. That blog post does rub me slightly the wrong way, but I don't see what's worth getting so bent out of shape over here.
posted by zachlipton at 9:08 PM on January 12, 2013


A post from a colleague of mine, not Aaron's.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:09 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by jann at 9:29 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by parudox at 9:45 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:50 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by mike3k at 9:53 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by juv3nal at 9:57 PM on January 12, 2013


> The constant stream of people attempting to use his tragic death to further their political and social causes is sickening.

He was an activist. "Don't mourn, organize."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:00 PM on January 12, 2013 [19 favorites]


.

And now we have to work all the harder because if we don't, who will?
posted by chance at 10:01 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even if he did everything they said he did, it was not worth a death sentence. There needs to be some practical awareness of appropriateness in the law and, especially, in the prosecution of it.

Bless all who love him with comfort and all the best memories of him living on for all time.

May those who take up his banner succeed and honour his commitment.

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posted by batmonkey at 10:15 PM on January 12, 2013


He was an activist. "Don't mourn, organize."

He was an activist, not a martyr for your causes.

This sort of shit really bothers me:

Even if he did everything they said he did, it was not worth a death sentence.

Who imposed and executed that sentence?

Stop trying to make sense out of a senseless tragedy by using it to validate your political ideology. It dishonors the victim and does your ideology no credit.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:35 PM on January 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


But most people with depression are so for a reason.

Cite?
posted by jacalata at 10:53 PM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by Schmucko at 10:53 PM on January 12, 2013


charlie don't surf, I really think you need to read the family's statement before you make such pronouncements.
posted by dhartung at 11:05 PM on January 12, 2013 [18 favorites]


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posted by rogueepicurean at 11:49 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by 168 at 11:55 PM on January 12, 2013


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posted by squ1rr3l at 12:01 AM on January 13, 2013


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posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 12:04 AM on January 13, 2013


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posted by novalis_dt at 12:15 AM on January 13, 2013


"I would never change the state of my calamitous fate for your servitude; hear well, I would never change. Better it is to be the slave of this rock than to serve Father Zeus as a messenger-boy." -Aeschylus

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posted by phaedon at 12:17 AM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by pjmoy at 12:21 AM on January 13, 2013


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posted by ianso at 2:27 AM on January 13, 2013


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posted by jpf at 3:25 AM on January 13, 2013


charlie don't surf, I really think you need to read the family's statement before you make such pronouncements.

Yes, I did, and I can understand they are in pain and lashing out at everything, in an attempt to place the blame on everyone except the one who is no longer here to blame for his one unrecoverable mistake. I don't find this very different from some of the astonishingly meanspirited rubbish I've seen, like Dave Winer using this tragic death as an occasion for a passive-aggressive attempt to rewrite the history of RSS with Swartz omitted completely.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:33 AM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I honestly don't see how using a person's death to further the person's agenda is disrespectful.

Rewriting history without them them, yes, disrespectful--with them dead or no.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:45 AM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


But you just highlighted the difference yourself: some people are in pain because of this loss; others are just meanspirited. Why not give the people in pain a little slack?

I wish I'd known about him sooner. So many people I respect have a huge amount of respect for him. Time to dust off my own side project and get to work.
posted by harriet vane at 3:50 AM on January 13, 2013


[Charlie don't surf, this is an obit post, and not about you and your opinions of how people should or shouldn't mourn. You need to back off now.]
posted by taz at 3:55 AM on January 13, 2013 [13 favorites]


I honestly don't see how using a person's death to further the person's agenda is disrespectful.


Honestly a good thing the webz weren't invented a couple of thousand or so years ago. No hamburger here.
posted by infini at 3:56 AM on January 13, 2013


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An Anti-Zuckerberg. For all of the right reasons.
posted by lslelel at 5:17 AM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


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posted by wheek wheek wheek at 5:21 AM on January 13, 2013


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posted by schyler523 at 5:22 AM on January 13, 2013


People like this, who are unwilling, or unable, to make all of the little compromises with bullshit that the rest of us make every day to make our lives go a little easier—I'm glad they exist, but my god, what a hard way to live.

Aaron Swartz had that unwillingness or inability, along with a belief in the liberatory potential of information, in common with a couple other young people who came to mind yesterday when I read about his suicide and the pressure he was facing in the JSTOR case: Jeremy Hammond* (only 27) who has spent the last year in prison awaiting trial for his alleged involvement in the Stratfor email leak and who is facing the real possibility of a life sentence, and Bradley/Breanna Manning (only 25).

I can't imagine what it is like to be in the situation in which all three found themselves, facing decades in prison with the federal government gunning for you.

*Full disclosure: I met Jeremy once and I know a couple of the people quoted in that article.
posted by enn at 6:10 AM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


falkvinge.net : You have friends by Travis Mccrea
posted by jeffburdges at 6:17 AM on January 13, 2013


Researchers begin posting article PDFs to Twitter in #pdftribute to Aaron Swartz.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:56 AM on January 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


... if your life has so little meaning that you don't even pause to think it might be wrong to suck the marrow from his not-yet-cold bones, then you need to reconsider your cause, your life, might be on the same dead end road as Aaron's, and you are making the same fatal misjudgments he did.

This seems like an exceptionally awful thing to say about Aaron, and it couldn't be further off the mark. He did not steamroll people with the causes he believed in. Even in RSS, which was a massively contentious topic among us syndication nerds for a long time, he was gracious and good-humored.
posted by rcade at 7:26 AM on January 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


How very, very sad.
I am 62 and not a technosavvy person and had never heard of Aaron Swartz before. Reddit hardly appears on my radar.
What a devastating waste of a supurb mind and a brave person who fought for what he believed in.
Quinn´s goodbye is heartbreaking and has tears rolling down my cheeks.
Thank you Matt and thank you to everyone else who shared memories of this brilliant young man.
Lessig frighteningly points out that ...Early on, and to its great credit, JSTOR figured “appropriate” out: They declined to pursue their own action against Aaron, and they asked the government to drop its [case]. But the mind police and the politically motivated little jobsworth people hounded this genius. I for one would really like these public officials to be named and shamed.
Jstor which I intensely dislike has raised itself in my eyes.

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posted by adamvasco at 7:33 AM on January 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Danny O'Brien's remembrance: "When he left ... he left an obligation on the rest of us to keep what each of us have of him, and put it to good use. Between us, I believe we still have a massively parallel, distributed version of Aaron, one unique part of his life shared with each of us alone."
posted by rcade at 7:47 AM on January 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


Lessig frighteningly points out that ...Early on, and to its great credit, JSTOR figured “appropriate” out: They declined to pursue their own action against Aaron, and they asked the government to drop its [case]. But the mind police and the politically motivated little jobsworth people hounded this genius. I for one would really like these public officials to be named and shamed.
Lessig points out that MIT didn't drop its case ( a point made more strongly by the Swartz family's statement) , the implication bein that the public officials had a legitimizing rationale to go forward with their prosecution
posted by Bwithh at 8:53 AM on January 13, 2013


The post Remembering Aaron Swartz, by Dan Brickley, is an interesting read.
posted by Wordshore at 8:57 AM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


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"What would Aaron think?"

That was part of Lawrence Lessig's reaction to Aaron's death. I read a lot about Aaron’s suicide yesterday (and the news on my usual morning websites to visit is still filled with discussion of his death). What struct me by Lessig’s reaction: I had that same reaction to the suicide of my friend Steve. I see many parallels between how people talk of Aaron and Steve. The shock. The loss. The lamenting what this world will be missing now that it is without them. Later will come the hole left by Aaron’s presence, as I and others experienced from Steve’s passing.

When I read Lessig’s words I recalled how it was. Before and after Steve’s death, I though many times each day "what would Steve think?" Steve was part older brother, mentor, adored friend. I only remember looking up to someone like this one other time in my life, when I was fourteen. The subject of my fourteen-year-old feelings was not at all worthy of them. Steve, on the other hand, was. He was an amazing person. His intelligence, even to this day, is a wonder. It wasn’t that I had an emotional crush on Steve and sought his approval. It was that Steve had an uncanny moral center to go along with his great intelligence and I could always count on him to surprise me by showing me what I knew deep down, but some how couldn’t quite realize consciously. Arguments with Steve would often start with me sure that I would be able to sway him to my point of view. These weren’t serious arguments, just discussions of events of the day, whether far (in the public eye) or near (having to do with our lives). It almost always turned out, though, that by the end of the discussion my point of view had been shown to be naive and uninformed. Strangely, I rarely, if ever, thought Steve was wrong and I was right, after all was said and done. I never felt a bruised ego. I never had anything but appreciation for him being what he was.

Sadly, I must report, that the question "what would Steve think?" doesn’t occur to be any longer. Too much time has passed. Too many brain cells have been reused for other purposes. I have trouble remembering the details of my conversations with Steve. Such is memory and life. It’s been almost 12 years since he passed from this world and made it just a little bit less interesting, less hopeful, less caring, and less just. So, I feel for the family and friends of Aaron Swartz, because some day they too might stop asking "what would Aaron think?"
posted by e40 at 8:59 AM on January 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


ocschwar: "Because Aaron Swartz had access to all the professional help he was willing to receive. It's one of the horrible things about depression, which nothing can be done about."

I'm guessing that's where we differ, because I believe that some things can be done for depression, even when a person states they are unwilling to accept them. Just as delirium can cause a person to be unable to consent to receive, or to refuse, medical treatment, I believe that severe depression can cause a person to be at risk for death from suicide without any of the mitigating factors (such as profound physical pain or terminal life expectancy) within which treatment refusal or euthanasia is often culturally relativised. In this context, if Mr Swartz had become my patient, and I'd thought he was at severe risk for suicide, I would have considered legally applying for any and all interventions available to me to do something about his acute depressive symptoms, up to and including all the distressing unpleasantness of involuntary incarceration, forcible medication administration and passing electric current through his temporal lobes.

Frequently, for the more introverted and isolative depressives, it's family members and significant others that alert police and medical teams about the depth and potential lethality of a person's depression. Sometimes there are false positives, but too often there are sadly false negatives. But saying "nothing can be done about" severe depression? That's incorrect. Young men and women full of potential and just beginning to engage more fully with the complexities of post-adolescent adulthood do not have to die in the numbers they currently do from suicide.
posted by meehawl at 9:08 AM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


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posted by notbuddha at 9:36 AM on January 13, 2013


Oh, god damn it.

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posted by dogheart at 10:16 AM on January 13, 2013


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And life, while never exactly easy, really can be rewarding, beautiful and worthwhile for pretty much everyone.

Fuck depression. For those I know who have dodged the bullet and those who haven't. For those I don't or didn't know.
posted by halonine at 11:38 AM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by empty vessel at 11:51 AM on January 13, 2013


Let us all weep.

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posted by ndfine at 12:11 PM on January 13, 2013


Two small actions: . .
posted by double block and bleed at 1:59 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm guessing that's where we differ, because I believe that some things can be done for depression, even when a person states they are unwilling to accept them.

As a depressive who has gone through periods of incipient suicidal ideation (note for friends: years ago), I agree that things can be done, but I'll also note that one of the telling things about depression is how one to some extent isolates oneself, with various rationalizations at work. The family and friends who could have helped the most could have been people that Aaron worked hardest to put on a brave face for, and people from whom he hid the worst of his symptoms.

I think there is a severe need in this country for something akin to Al-Anon, a support group for family and friends of depressives, so that they understand the illness better and know how to support their loved one and when to step in and take these severe steps to forestall the worst possible outcome. A quick look finds Families for Depression Awareness and the Depression Alliance. We actually have a local "start-up" called YES that held an awareness/fundraising walk last fall. It's still under the radar of many people who need this, though.

If someone as articulate and obdurate as Aaron was known to be were speaking with his family and social support network, I expect he was telling them that he was not in danger and that he could handle whatever it was. We have a tendency to believe people when they tell us these things. (Even professionals can get it wrong, of course.) Sometimes people come from a culture that makes it at least a private matter, at worst a failure and embarrassment, and they themselves are unwilling to seek help for those reasons. It's a complicated and fraught emotional minefield.
posted by dhartung at 2:14 PM on January 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


MIT Responds to Death of Activist Aaron Swartz, Begins Internal Investigation.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:16 PM on January 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


Hal Abelson is in charge of the MIT investigation; he's a singularly good choice for that and is well loved and respected by the hacker community who's particularly upset about MIT's role.

I just had a particularly sad moment looking back at my old email for conversations with Aaron. I stumbled into an email I wrote to some of our mutual friends in November 2006 after Aaron had written a couple of particularly unhappy sounding posts ("The Aftermath", "The Afterparty"). I was worried enough to ask his friends how he was doing. Inquiries were made and he was doing better, so I stopped worrying.

All this prompted me to just check in on another acquaintance who's had various issues in his life and has sort of disappeared. I'm relieved to hear he's OK, at least for now. All this is a terrible reminder that it's important to be good to each other; everyone has struggles in their soul.
posted by Nelson at 2:36 PM on January 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


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posted by nertzy at 3:33 PM on January 13, 2013


AARON SWARTZ (1986-2012) made choices that rendered the Internet more visible, liberating, and beautiful.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:48 PM on January 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


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posted by kandinski at 4:08 PM on January 13, 2013


Processing the loss of Aaron Swartz by Danah Boyd

For better or worse, I’ve known a lot of people over the years who have committed suicide. I’ve watched people struggle through serious depression and then make that choice. Having battled my own demons, I understood. Part of why Aaron’s death hit me like a rock is because this time it was different. ..

What made me so overwhelmingly angry yesterday was the same thing that has been boiling in my gut for the last two years. When the federal government went after him – and MIT sheepishly played along – they weren’t treating him as a person who may or may not have done something stupid. He was an example. And the reason they threw the book at him wasn’t to teach him a lesson, but to make a point to the entire Cambridge hacker community that they were p0wned.

It was a threat that had nothing to do with justice and everything to do with a broader battle over systemic power. In recent years, hackers have challenged the status quo and called into question the legitimacy of countless political actions. Their means may have been questionable, but their intentions have been valiant.

posted by jeffburdges at 4:49 PM on January 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


I caught this news this afternoon as was unplugged for much of yesterday and this morning. My son heard my gasp and saw my head slump. We had long discussions that followed.

Aaron was a special one and we as a society lost someone fighting for a reality that the future that is the near past few years should have embraced. I met Aaron about 2001 or 2002 and it was after he had a lore about him due to his youth and great contributions already. I followed his work, blog posts, and his interactions with friends. I was always amazed and greatly looking forward to how our world would and was changing for the better because of Aaron. The few (likely 3) brief hellos if not much more interactions were a thread of what one could say met, but I enjoyed following what he did from the outside. He was also an inspiration to do more and do things for the good of all.

A bit feels like selfish sadness, which is the not having somebody fighting for a better world with a system that works much better than the current one for all. But, I feel deeply for his family and friends, to whom this loss is deeply personal.

Peace.
posted by vanderwal at 4:56 PM on January 13, 2013


Wow, what a tragic situation - people shouldn't underestimate how much pressure prosecutors can put on people. I don't really think you can really just say it was depression alone, and obviously his friends and family don't think so. The vast majority of depressed people don't commit suicide. Prosecutors, especially federal prosecutors can do a lot to make a person's life miserable long before conviction.
As to why MIT didn't more clearly back down from supporting his prosecution, I do not know.
Here is what MIT has said Apparently they are going to look into their decisions regarding the case and publish a report. (main link seems to be down - the pastbin is from hackernews)
posted by delmoi at 5:04 PM on January 13, 2013


Oh, also Chris Hayes apparently knew him and talked about him a bit on his MSNBC show this morning
posted by delmoi at 5:06 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]




Hal Abelson is in charge of the MIT investigation; he's a singularly good choice for that and is well loved and respected by the hacker community who's particularly upset about MIT's role.


He also has in the past taken public stances against witch hunts of this sort.
posted by ocschwar at 5:33 PM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


main link seems to be down

MIT, DoJ, W3 websites and networks all under hacker attack at the moment, apparently
posted by Bwithh at 6:04 PM on January 13, 2013


Blogger Patterico apparently interviewed Swartz's lawyer here.
He described Swartz as a “very sensitive and very smart person” who had been “very scared” by the Government prosecution. Peters told me that, in his opinion, the Government had been “awfully unreasonable” in their approach to the case. He said that they insisted that Swartz plead to all 13 felonies. They said that even if Swartz pled guilty, they were going to seek a prison sentence. They told Peters that if the case went to trial and Swartz were convicted, they would seek a prison sentence of 7 to 8 years. They told Peters that they thought the judge would impose that sentence. (Peters told me he didn’t agree; he thought the case was defensible and that even if Swartz lost, Peters didn’t think the judge would have sentenced him to custody time.)
posted by dsfan at 6:12 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


MIT, DoJ, W3 websites and networks all under hacker attack at the moment, apparently

I get the idea behind DDoSing MIT and the DoJ, but why the W3C?
posted by zachlipton at 6:19 PM on January 13, 2013


It's hosted by MIT apparently, at least for US users
posted by delmoi at 6:22 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hear that at MIT, the library network, the course management system and some web access via Google is working but pretty much everything else is down, including email system and the online application system (some grad program application deadlines are in a couple of days)
posted by Bwithh at 6:33 PM on January 13, 2013


MIT Responds to Death of Activist Aaron Swartz, Begins Internal Investigation.

Whoop de fucking doo.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:04 PM on January 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


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Most people who use the internet will likely never know or understand what Aaron did, and how hard he fought to help build, evolve and protect this thing they use and love so much.

But those who do; we'll remember. He was a genius, and a prodigy, and white hat of the highest order.

We'll remember.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:28 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


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posted by facetious at 7:57 PM on January 13, 2013


Huge loss.


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posted by blurker at 7:59 PM on January 13, 2013


Anonymous just took down MIT and DOJ's sites for a while, in tribute.

That's a lovely middle finger at the man, but ultimately not particularly impactful.

Now if anybody reading this was an MIT grad or knew MIT grads, and could coordinate a one-year boycott on alumni donations to MIT, that might actually get their attention and make them think twice next time about participating in a travesty like this.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 8:10 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anonymous just took down MIT and DOJ's sites for a while, in tribute.

That's a lovely middle finger at the man, but ultimately not particularly impactful.


It's not just the MIT public website but most of the university's Internet work systems are under attack. Also, taking down MIT's servers here has meant that the @alum.mit.edu email forwarding service is offline, so this is a direct personal communication issue already for MIT alumni
posted by Bwithh at 8:29 PM on January 13, 2013


That's a lovely middle finger at the man, but ultimately not particularly impactful.


Well, if the Feds bust someone for it, MIT can publicly say that this inconvenienced them for all of a few hours, and that the Feds should chill the fuck out.

Always trying to suss out the silver lining, I am.
posted by ocschwar at 8:39 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Looks like the main MIT site is back up.
But a message from Anonymous is still on more than one page on the MIT site e.g.
In Memoriam, Aaron Swartz, November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013, Requiescat in pace.

A brief message from Anonymous.



They seem to be keen to associate Swartz with Manning & Assange ( and the AntiSec movement? Which seems to be sort of anti-free information according to the Wikipedia article on it which is confusing me? ) . Anyone know what Swartz thought about these other affairs?
posted by Bwithh at 8:39 PM on January 13, 2013


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posted by RedOrGreen at 8:53 PM on January 13, 2013


*
posted by skepticbill at 9:06 PM on January 13, 2013


WSJ interviews (should be free of paywall, link is working for me at time of posting) Aaron's girlfriend , Taren
posted by Bwithh at 9:08 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


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posted by homunculus at 12:22 AM on January 14, 2013


Most people who use the internet will likely never know or understand what Aaron did, and how hard he fought to help build, evolve and protect this thing they use and love so much.

I don't have to tell you about how the internet is, and will continue to be, part of our existences. The young ones who grew up with it, and were able to envision it's geographies, will continue to astound us. That doesn't mean we have to make it difficult for future generations to have esoteric role models.

I think Aaron's death should be elaborated upon, maybe in the guise of a non-fiction book, explaining his life, as well as extrapolating on the details of the subjects he was rallying against.

In lieu of that, I always wanted RSS feeds to be something more than they were. To this day I can't tell if they failed because of the technology or, maybe, the content just wasn't there.
posted by coolxcool=rad at 12:40 AM on January 14, 2013


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posted by dougzilla at 1:05 AM on January 14, 2013


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posted by ruelle at 1:16 AM on January 14, 2013


Falkvinge is taking this rather hard : Deyr fé, deyia frændur. Apparently the pirate party folks had to deal with the suicide of the founder of the Austrian Pirate Party Florian Hufsky at 23 a few years ago.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:48 AM on January 14, 2013


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posted by Purposeful Grimace at 3:00 AM on January 14, 2013


How kind of MIT to launch an "investigation", now that a young genius is dead. I think under the circumstances, a resignation would be more appropriate. Or maybe we can all just move on, and recognize that MIT is just an another branch office of Engulf & Devour, all pretensions to the contrary cast aside to reveal Truth.

I seem to recall there used to be another University, of similar reputation, one used to hear about all the time. I wonder what happened to them? Some crazy place in an unlikely location, known mostly for little-old-ladies that drive fast.
posted by Goofyy at 4:45 AM on January 14, 2013


US Attorney Carmen Ortiz chided Swartz the same day he committed suicide
posted by jeffburdges at 4:53 AM on January 14, 2013


Danah Boyd says, "I was too scared to speak publicly for fear of how my words might be used against him." Was there a perception among Aaron's friends and supporters that if they spoke out against this brutal prosecution, the prosecutor and judge would be even harder on him?
posted by rcade at 5:44 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Internet Archive has opened The Aaron Swartz Collection. People can upload "...any digital materials you think appropriate in a memorial collection: emails with him, code archives, photos."
posted by Wordshore at 6:10 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jeralyn Merritt points out that the prosecution compelled his ex Quinn Norton to testify to the grand jury against Aaron.

As she asks, why was it necessary to for the prosecution to do this?
posted by rcade at 6:48 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]



Danah Boyd says, "I was too scared to speak publicly for fear of how my words might be used against him." Was there a perception among Aaron's friends and supporters that if they spoke out against this brutal prosecution, the prosecutor and judge would be even harder on him?


Not so much that it would provoke more thuggery, so much as they'd see their words twisted around to make this thuggery even easier.

That's why I kept quiet.
posted by ocschwar at 6:51 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


How kind of MIT to launch an "investigation", now that a young genius is dead.

Kindly dismount. Your horse is oversized for you.

When you report trespassing to the police, and they catch the guy, they don't promise anything about keeping you apprised of the coming criminal proceedings. And in the meantime, you have your own work to do.
posted by ocschwar at 7:02 AM on January 14, 2013


oschwar: that isn't what happened at all. MIT didn't "report trespassing to the police." Its own police force, the MIT police, accountable to the MIT administration, participated in the arrest and then logged the laptop as evidence and cooperated wholeheartedly with both the Secret Service and the US Attorney in Stephen Heymann's bullying prosecution. MIT seems very clearly to have seen getting Swartz locked up for many years as part and parcel of its "own work to do," any backtracking that it is doing now notwithstanding.

So fuck MIT and fuck its ass-covering too-little-too-late "investigation," and I hope Abelson thinks better of going along with this self-serving charade because he seems like a decent guy.
posted by enn at 8:04 AM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


enn: From what I've read, Abelson seems like a good guy. On DemocracyNow this morning, Lessig called Abelson "the best possible person in the world" to report on what MIT did wrong:
But what MIT has done on Sunday, I think, is extraordinarily important. By appointing Hal Abelson, who I think is the best possible person in the world to look at what MIT did and to report back about whether it was right or wrong, I think MIT has taken an important step to acknowledge—to acknowledge the wrong in what happened here. And we’ll see what Hal Abelson says when he looks at it and reports back.
That said, any investigation after Aaron's suicide is going to be too little too late.
posted by compartment at 8:53 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by BibiRose at 9:11 AM on January 14, 2013


Also on Democracy Now: Aaron Swartz (1986-2013) on Victory To Save Open Internet, Fight Online Censors
posted by homunculus at 9:15 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Compartment, that is what I've heard about Abelson as well. And I have a soft spot for him because he wrote such a great book. But there is only one reason that institutions perform this kind of "investigation" where the investigator has no power to do anything other than write a report is clear: to provide the appearance of change without the substance.

Abelson can't fire or discipline anyone. He can't change any university policy. There is not even a single word about making recommendations in Reif's announcement, let alone any suggestion that Reif would feel bound by any recommendations in the report. Indeed, Abelson's remit is to "describe the options MIT had and the decisions MIT made"—in other words, Reif wants this to be a descriptive exercise, not a prescriptive one. Then he will be able to accept the report, make some noises about "what we've learned," and dispense with the matter with no consequences for anyone and no changes to anything. It doesn't matter how well-intentioned Abelson may be. He is participating in a process that has institutional ass-covering built into its structure.
posted by enn at 9:17 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


What Kind of Fishing Trip Did the Government Conduct into Aaron Swartz’ Amazon Data?
posted by homunculus at 9:26 AM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


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posted by Golden Eternity at 9:45 AM on January 14, 2013


We've linked it twice upthread, once in the 29C3 thread, and Democracy Now repeated it, but Aaron Swartz''s keynote "How we stopped SOPA" from the F2C conference is really spectacular.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:51 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have two trains of thought on all this: On the first, I think back to being in high school and coming up against systems that just carried on, not bothering to question their relationship to their underlying purpose. Like an 'American literature' class which involved almost no actual reading, instead focusing entirely on grammar exercises. Or an 'independent study' art class which led, by a strange run of events, to a suspension from school after the Columbine shooting, as the school administration cast about to get rid of any student who reminded them too much of the tragedy in Colorado. The thing I had been working on was a comic book about the incredible tedium and irrational boundaries of life in an American suburb. Through my time in school I developed this sense that the vision of the people running the show was too narrow to understand what was possible: the admins were so interested in maintaining a status quo that there was no possibility of examining underlying assumptions, or addressing the contradictions in a school that treats its students like prisoners.

And then I moved on, and life got better.

Aaron Swartz was constantly running up against the contradictions between the old world and the new digital society, and taking concrete actions that exposed those contradictions and forced the conversation forward.

With the PACER/RECAP project, the question was, 'Why is the body of law governing our society locked behind a pay-wall?' With the JSTOR case the question was, 'Why are the results of all of this publicly-funded academic research locked behind a pay-wall?' (And a particularly onerous, one at that.)

Which brings me to my second train of thought. There's no reason for all of this research to be locked away in these for-profit journal systems; as has been repeatedly pointed out, the content in the journals is produced entirely by academics without recompense. Thus, the journals are making pure gravy, supporting a mainly unnecessary system, charging ever escalating rates for dubious value-additions. The faster we can move academic publishing away from this model the better.

I'm lucky to be in mathematics, where we at least have the Arxiv, a massive database of freely-submitted 'pre-prints,' generally updated to reflect exactly what eventually shows up in the journals. And in my particular specialty, we have the Electronic Journal of Combinatorics, which has really a model of what academic publishing could be since 1994. There's some significant work to be done to overcome the inertia of the status quo, and some reasonable technical solutions still waiting to be hacked together. The dominant open access model has its own serious flaws, and there should be a better way forward. In memory of Aaron, we should continue to seek that better, more open, tomorrow.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:53 AM on January 14, 2013 [21 favorites]


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posted by papafrita at 12:10 PM on January 14, 2013


This case would seem to prove the UK ruling not to extradite Gary McKinnon on human rights grounds to the US very correct, despite huge pressure by those arguing for extradition on e.g. national security grounds.
posted by Bwithh at 2:42 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


For those looking for points of action, I'd suggest a read of the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto:

...

Anonymous just took down MIT and DOJ's sites for a while, in tribute.

That's a lovely middle finger at the man, but ultimately not particularly impactful.


I've long felt that anonymous are the perfect people to accomplish Swartz's vision. Call it Project: Endselvier. They've been straying a little far into chaotic evil of late.
posted by nathan v at 3:28 PM on January 14, 2013


Anonymous requires fairly automated tools like Low Orbit Ion Cannon for their projects, nathan. If you give them a collaborative download tool for JSTOR, like the scripted RECAP tool Aaron used for PACER, then you'll find university students launching it all over the U.S. and E.U.   You'd need the collaborative storage architecture first however. RECAP works because the U.S. government cannot legally shut down their servers. I suppose each instance could download all of one issue, repackage that issue as a single book, and submit it to gigapedia, not sure how that works. I'm frankly surprised this doesn't exist already with servers located in eastern Europe or anonymously rented elsewhere.

We've passed 19k out of 25k signatures in Remove United States District Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz. woot!
posted by jeffburdges at 3:49 PM on January 14, 2013


.
posted by tarheelcoxn at 8:57 PM on January 14, 2013


We've passed 19k out of 25k signatures in Remove United States District Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz. woot!

Done! But does anyone really expect a satisfying response from the White House on this?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:19 PM on January 14, 2013


Not in the least, but I doubt it can do any harm to make them think about it.
posted by brennen at 10:38 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anonymous could for example use the Aaron Swartz Memorial JSTOR Liberator, nathan.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:35 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


We petition the Obama administration to : Fire Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Heymann
Stephen Heymann was all over the push to increase Aaron's jail sentence and fines.

I'm unsure if the administration has ever been swayed by a petition, but at least it communicates what you want. A protest sends a much stronger message obviously, not sure if any are planned over Aaron Swartz.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:57 AM on January 15, 2013


Interesting article with additional info about the court case:

Aaron Swartz’s Unbending Prosecutors Insisted on Prison Time
After hearing more of the same from Heymann on Wednesday, Peters was coming to the conclusion that Swartz likely would have no real choice but to go to trial.

“We weren’t talking the same language at all,” Peters says. “They certainly weren’t going to offer us anything we were interested in taking. I said, ‘I think I could lose this case and do better than you’re offering me.’”
posted by Malor at 2:30 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Marty Weinberg, who took the case over from Good, said he nearly negotiated a plea bargain in which Swartz would not serve any time. He said JSTOR signed off on it, but MIT would not.

“There were subsets of the MIT community who were profoundly in support of Aaron,” Weinberg said. That support did not override institutional interests.
[paywalled link]
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:42 AM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


“The thing that galls me is that I told (the prosecutor) the kid was a suicide risk.” . . . He said, ‘Fine, we’ll lock him up.’"
posted by markkraft at 8:47 AM on January 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


.
posted by infini at 8:52 AM on January 15, 2013


We haven't made so much progress on the Steve Heymann petition yet, chop chop people. It's at least a nice black mark on his career.

Heymann was definitely using Aaron's to further his own career. In particular, it's Heymann who said "Fine, we'll lock him up" in response to the suicide risk report. I've only just heard about Scott Garland.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:06 AM on January 15, 2013


A really nice piece from MetaFilter's own bfister: "As If Lives Depended On It".
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:17 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Everybody I consider to be a position to know has pointed to Heymann, specifically, as the "prosecutor as bully". Those people were apparently afraid to talk openly for fear that it would affect the trial. They're not afraid any more.
posted by holgate at 10:25 AM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yes true. Heymann made many visible decisions such as ignoring the suicide warning. Ortiz name was all over that filing Aaron received on the day he killed himself too though.

We should stymy both Heymann and Ortiz careers' in any way possible. If we succeed memorably, it might discourage the most excessive abuses of power inside by the DOJ in future, might.

care2.com : Aaron Swartz Faced a More Severe Prison Term Than Killers, Slave Dealers and Bank Robbers

alternet.org : Federal Prosecutor Stephen Heymann Wanted 'Juicy' Case for Publicity--And Found it in Aaron Swartz, Says Lawyer
posted by jeffburdges at 10:49 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fuck prosecutors, all of em, especially hypocrites like Carmen Ortiz and this Stephan Heymann bastard, they are fuckin' guard dogs and bitches, for the power and money elites, even if they pretend to be working for "the people."

Really to think of the POS that are walking around scottfree at the big banks, big lending Co.s and hedge funds and at Wall Street entities, with their big bonuses intact, feeling self-righteous and calling themselves "job-creators," after the systemic egregious deplorable misbehavior and orgy of greed, that led to the Big Recession, and all the suffering it engendered, and that's still ongoing...

It's enough to make you wish for the day comes soon that Anonymous does more than just simple DDoS attacks and takes down the whole shitpile of corruption and neanderthalism that underlies all of this disgusting latter-day plutocratic hyper-capitalism.

This is the point where my apologizing for the Obama administration's connection to these people ends. It needs to finally and truly, step up...
posted by Skygazer at 10:50 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


dailykos : Firing Swartz Prosecutors : Why It's Not Easy
  Two hackers have committed suicide on their watch

Yesterday, it became public that Stephen Heyman oversaw TWO excessive prosecutions of hacker-defendants who committed suicide, Aaron Swartz and Jonathan James.

Jonathan James was the first juvenile incarcerated under U.S. cybercrime legislation.  Jesus fuck, this Stephan Heymann is pure evil and well practiced.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:45 AM on January 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Back in 2008, another young hacker, Jonathan James, killed himself after being named a suspect in another Heymann case,”.
posted by adamvasco at 11:48 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Terrible Logic Behind The Government's Case Against Aaron Swartz, Michael Phillips, Buzzfeed, 14 January 2013
In Aaron Swartz's case, and as our world goes increasingly digital, this legal aphorism, that "stealing is stealing," is tragically wrong.

Who Prosecuted Aaron Swartz?, Justine Sharrock, Buzzfeed, 15 January 2013
[U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen] Ortiz's statement in a July 2011 news release has a rallying point for critics of the government's handling of the case. "Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars. It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away," she said.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:16 PM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


JSTOR has already dropped any charges though, meaning that "stealing is stealing" is incorrect even if you bought into their insane intelectual property theories. Intrusion at MIT perhaps, but MIT's open internet isn't what they highlighted. It's seems clear that revenge for PACER entered into their internal logic, whatever they fed the press.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:31 PM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ms Ortiz seems to have trouble identifying that you cannot steal something that belongs to everybody by releasing it from its unjust confines . Therein lies the problem. JSTOR seems to have accepted this.
I do so hope that the MIT investigation names names and that those who sought Aaron´s prosecution have their careers suitably terminated.
posted by adamvasco at 3:35 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Aaron Swartz: husband of prosecutor criticises internet activist's family
posted by homunculus at 5:09 PM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


For those who suggest that "now is not the time for"...

All I can say is, use your sense of reason. The President has just been elected to his last term. Elections are also over for the House and Senate.

Now isn't just a good time to express anger and demand accountability. It is THE BEST TIME IMAGINABLE.
posted by markkraft at 5:31 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Aaron Swartz: husband of prosecutor criticises internet activist's family

Fucking scumbag.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:45 PM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars.

When I read this statement, I want to ask her if by "stealing is stealing" she means to say that the law really makes no distinctions of any kind regarding the range of activities that might be judged as violating property rights.

And which of the charges against Swartz she would be likely to use in a case against someone who utilized a crowbar to take money.

husband of prosecutor criticises internet activist's family

Apparently what he said was "Truly incredible that in their own son's obit they blame others for his death and make no mention of the 6 month offer."

If it's true that instead of being single-minded and inflexible, the prosecution was actually quite accommodating, that'd be an important side of the story to tell right now, particularly given how rapidly points that paint a different picture seem to be emerging.

I'd think that story would deserve more than a later-retracted tweet, though.
posted by weston at 6:12 PM on January 15, 2013


I really don't understand what a prosecutor is supposed to do with the information that a defendant is considering suicide.
posted by jacalata at 6:36 PM on January 15, 2013


Towards learning from losing Aaron Swartz: Jennifer Granick outlines prosecutorial misconduct in Aaron's case, and how it reflects a systemic failure of justice in America.

Relevant to silliness above: Lest we mistake plea bargaining for justice, ask yourself, why is a seven-year sentence just for a person who goes to trial, while one who pleads guilty should only be incarcerated for six months? Why should Aaron have received two additional months of incarceration in order to argue to the judge that his sentence should be lower? This is not justice, this is horse trading. It is typical, it happens every day, but it is also wrong.

It's also important to note that judges are not bound by the sentencing deals made by the prosecution, they are only recommendations.
posted by mek at 6:38 PM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


jacalata: "I really don't understand what a prosecutor is supposed to do with the information that a defendant is considering suicide."

This, a hundred times this. Part of the risk that a criminal defense attorney and his client runs in raising this at or prior to arriagnment is that it would hand the parole officer doing the presentencing interview an excuse to recommend pretrial confinement to the judge, rather than a recommendation of release OR. If there are any crim defense attorneys who've practiced in fed districts who take a more enlightened approach to facilitate and encourage disclosure of depression and mental illness (e.g., requiring counseling during pretrial as a condition of an OR bond) please speak up because I'd love to hear about it.

weston: "Apparently what he said was "Truly incredible that in their own son's obit they blame others for his death and make no mention of the 6 month offer."

If it's true that instead of being single-minded and inflexible, the prosecution was actually quite accommodating, that'd be an important side of the story to tell right now, particularly given how rapidly points that paint a different picture seem to be emerging.
"

I'm struggling to articulate the many layers of why that Tweet was so offensive, so I'll start here: Six months in federal prison is still ridiculous in this situation, especially when you consider that in the federal system, sentences < 1 year aren't eligible for "good time" release credit. That's why you'll see sentences of one year and one day; that extra day can actually reduce the amount of time served below 365 days.

The other thing about the federal system is that despite federal sentencing guidelines, sentences still vary from judge to judge. This is because some judges will adhere closely to the guidelines and grant significant downward departures upon a strong motion and brief; others won't because they don't want to be seen as soft on crime or risk being reversed on appeal. I've seen politicians in my jurisdiction convicted of bribery and other fraud offenses in fed court - in jury trials even - who've got sentences of probation and no prison time, or no prison time and restitution, while another no-name first time offender convicted on a "white collar" crime does time because the sentencing judges have different views of how closely they want to abide by the Guidelines. It's complete bullshit when you realize that there are some "victimless" offenses in the federal system, e.g., obstruction, perjury, etc., that carry a base level offense under the guidelines that would trigger prison time even for a first time offender with no prior record.

The role of the Guidelines cannot be understated, because they are used as the stick to beat out a plea deal. The AUSA will sit down at a plea negotiation and present a defendant with a deal that makes it sound like a few months and a felony is a gift from the Baby Jesus Himself compared to the twenty charges carrying years of mandatory jail time under the Guidelines for which a defendant will stand trial. Overcharging is the main weapon in their arsenal. Put the government to it's burden and take the case to trial, and a defendant will be putting two to three points in the Guidelines scale at risk, which can mean the difference between prison time and no prison time. It's a cruel game and a horrifying prospect for a first time offender whose willingness to accept responsibility for the crime and accept a proportionate punishment is met with a blank stare from a prosecutor with zero appreciation for the punitive effects being labelled a felon.

People also need to fully appreciate the fact that the label of being a convicted felon is a sentence in and of itself that continues after the prison time is served. I'm not talking about just the shame factor, I'm talking about a loss of rights and privileges. Gun ownership and voting rights are the first that come to mind, but there are also the burdens of long supervised probation sentences that are frequently tacked on to short jail sentences that limit an offenders mobility and job opportunities. There are also sorts of other conditions that can be tacked on to release that can make it very difficult to work, hold down a job, and God forbid your profession relies upon professional licensing, because major professional licenses such as law, accounting, education, etc. are subject to revocation upon conviction of a felony.

It's a messed up system, and part of the problem is that the system is made worse by a cadre of federal prosecutors, many of whom go into the job with very perverse motivations, namely, they see the job as a stepping stone to make the political contacts necessary to secure federal judicial appointments and elected office. Prosecutors are supposed to represent the people; they are supposed to maintain independence, so they can fairly evaluate bias in reports brought to them by investigators to make fair and proportionate charging and plea decisions. There are many excellent career federal prosecutors who can and do behave fairly and appropriately and maintain an appropriate sense of human decency and compassion in performing their duties. But there are also many others, in many districts, for whom the power and ambition is unchecked by compassion. The DOJ needs serious reform. The Guidelines need serious reform. Judges need to start holding prosecutors' feet to the fire on these motions to suppress, when prosecutors come in and argue that the evidence they "overlooked" wasn't really material to the defense. I salute all of you criminal defense attorneys out there who have to battle with this system on a daily basis to get a fair deal for your clients.
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:42 PM on January 15, 2013 [14 favorites]


"Forgive me for laughing, but there's a huge irony in all of this. Aaron hated PDF. It is a commercial proprietary format that cannot be easily parsed by bots. If your goal is to honor Aaron, don't just make your work human readable; make it machine readable by using a text-based markup language. Think: HMTL." — danah boyd
Snippet from the message she posted on the Association of Internet Researchers listserv (AIR-L)
posted by iamkimiam at 10:36 PM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Or, as Danny O'Brien put it: "did plaintext DIE WITH ME?" And Danny's tweets tonight are worth reading.

There are lots of technical things about the US criminal justice system that pain me. The felony/misdemeanor distinction is one, a medieval holdover that got tossed as an archaism from most English-based legal systems but retained in the US (because Freedom! etc.); the brokenness of jury selection is another. Plea bargain blackmail, invoking the upper limit of sentencing guidelines to try and prevent a case going to trial, has now moved to the top of that list, and I'm pretty certain that it's one way the prison-industrial complex stays in business.
posted by holgate at 11:01 PM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


And Danny's tweets tonight are worth reading.

I saw these a couple of hours ago. The thought that's been running through my head since is basically: I want us to be better.
posted by brennen at 1:00 AM on January 16, 2013


How The Legal System Failed Aaron Swartz - And Us
It’s one thing to stretch the law to stop a criminal syndicate or terrorist organization. It’s quite another when prosecuting a reckless young man. The prosecutors forgot that, as public officials, their job isn’t to try and win at all costs but to use the awesome power of criminal law to protect the public from actual harm. Ortiz has not commented on the case. But, had she been in charge when Jobs and Wozniak were breaking the laws, we might never have had Apple computers. It was at this moment that our legal system and our society utterly failed.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:34 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I thought his name sounded familiar. Didn't know much about him, but I think I was aware of his exploits on the peripheral.

.
posted by aroweofshale at 2:06 AM on January 16, 2013


I really don't understand what a prosecutor is supposed to do with the information that a defendant is considering suicide."
This, a hundred times this. Part of the risk that a criminal defense attorney and his client runs in raising this at or prior to arriagnment is that it would hand the parole officer doing the presentencing interview an excuse to recommend pretrial confinement to the judge
Can someone explain this to me please? Am I right in understanding that an innocent person, who has not yet stood trial, who is accused of a victimless crime, can be incarcerated for contemplating suicide. Not steered towards a mental health facility but banged up so that the probability of suicide is greatly increased. That is some seriously fucked up shit and that so called public servants encourage this is fucking awful.
posted by adamvasco at 4:13 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Last summer there was an FPP about a 2007 CBC news program called Spin Cycles. I just now got around to listening to it. Episode 4 contains a segment on David Kelly, the British weapons expert who committed suicide two days after testifying before the House of Commons. Kelly's story reminded me of Aaron Swartz. Kelly wasn't being prosecuted, but the process was obviously incredibly stressful on him -- during his testimony, the air conditioning had to be turned off so he could be heard.

The political machine has a design flaw: It confuses people for ideas. When the machine decides an idea is unworthy of respect, it treats people without respect.
posted by compartment at 8:42 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


adamvasco, you are right in that understanding. The interests of the individial are said to be subordinate to those of the law. see compartment's comments re. institutional/governmental 'machines.'

I have very mixed feelings about suicide. but it does seem clear to me that aaron was doing a lot of good in the world, and i'm sorry he's gone.
posted by lodurr at 2:49 PM on January 16, 2013


Congresswoman proposes computer fraud law amendment to honor Aaron Swartz
A draft bill to exclude terms of service violations from the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) is to be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.
...
If convicted, he could have faced up to 35 years in prison and a fine of US$1 million.
posted by XMLicious at 7:53 PM on January 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


You know, I am not a professional PR person, but I can't help but feel that "don't describe the behavior of grieving parents as 'truly incredible'" would be pretty high on the list of things on the wallet-sized laminated card I would hand out to people if I were...
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:29 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was just listening to Passion Pit — Where We Belong and the ending really tugged my heartstrings:
All things you can't control should never destroy the love one holds
I've found a place
I've found a place
I've found a place where we belong

Never did I think that I'd be lifted to the whitest cloud
Never did I ever think that I'd find out all things I've found
It's hard to keep on living when your heart weighs about a million pounds
All I've ever wanted was to be happy and make you proud
These outliers (there was one just this week) challenging the status quo / taking on those in power / opposing unfair laws and fighting to make a difference—who knows what kind of weight they're under. They need all the support we can give them.
 
posted by querty at 7:45 AM on January 17, 2013


Aaron Swartz’s Partner, Expert Witness Say Prosecutors Unfairly Targeted Dead Activist
posted by homunculus at 9:24 AM on January 17, 2013


I was at the funeral and wrote an article about it. Here's the text

"Why are you destroying my son?"

These words have haunted me for the last 20 hours since they were spoken (as are all the quotes in this article) by Aaron Swartz's father, Robert Swartz, yesterday morning at his funeral. He originally said the above words to the MIT chancellor trying to get them to support his son. I keep hearing Mr. Swartz soft voice over and over in my head. He spoke quietly, purposefully, at times fumbling through his notes and apologizing for not being more prepared. He could not have prepared for this. He spoke fiercely with a tangible love and dedication to his son.

"I promised Aaron that I would use every resource in my power, every synapse in my brain and my body to help him defeat the government ... I failed."

Aaron had one of the best white collar criminal defense attorneys in the nation, Elliot R. Peters, defending him. He was free on a $100,000 bond awaiting trial. Aaron was 26 years old.

"We tried and tried to get MIT to help get the government to stop. Dealing with them was one frustration after another."

Aaron crime amounted to him "stealing" almost five million journal articles that he had permission to access anyway. His crime has been compared to checking out too many library books.

"Aaron is not the molecules in the box in the foyer."

Aaron taught himself to read at age three, won the ArsDigita Prize at age 13. He left high school after his freshman year and was home schooled while taking classes at Lake Forest College. He attended Stanford for a year.

"Aaron was hounded by the government and MIT."

He was facing up to 30 years in prison and possibly a one million dollar fine. He was charged with 13 felonies for accessing articles he had every right to download.

"The hole he left in our lives will never be repaired."

As a father of three sons, I could feel his pain in my bones and my teary eyes. One mourner at Aaron's funeral cried loudly and uncontrollably to the right of the podium. The tough looking grandfather down the aisle from me was crying softly. Almost everyone in the synagogue was wiping their eyes with tissue.

"There is no way to explain this."

Aaron's partner of 20 months, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, was gone for the day last Friday and returned home to find that Aaron had killed himself.

"Aaron did not commit suicide, Aaron was killed by the United States government and MIT."

While I watched Mr. Swartz, I felt his enormous frustration and his overwhelming distress. Fathers fix things, they protect you, they help you. I am a father. Aaron had a wonderful father, mother and two brothers. He grew up in in a very nice suburb of Chicago. He was a very successful computer programer, Internet innovator and inventor who did not care about money or fame.

He cared about working. He cared about doing the work.

He wanted to change the world, to improve it.

He challenged himself, his family, and his friends to improve anything and everything around them.

With his final act, Aaron is challenging all of us to make this a better place.

A place where he could have survived and thrived and worked.

Mr. Swartz, you have not failed. Our society failed Aaron. You raised a wonderful genius who changed the world.
posted by lee at 7:59 PM on January 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


I applaud the Aaron's law proposal to fix the EULA stupidity of course, but it doesn't fix the problem nor does it prevent even the CFAA from growing worse in future. The CFAA was passed under Reagan, but every subsequent administration made it tougher. We're drowning in laws that admit insane over reach, ala the PATRIOT Act, etc.

There is an underlying problem with the plea bargain system that it reduces the legal process to horse trading, depriving the accused of a trial. I believe most civilized countries forbid plea bargains for exactly this reason, although some permit plea deals for minor crimes. All these insane laws arise here because American prosecutors view themselves not as prosecuting a case but as negotiating with the accused. Insane threats make their stronger in plea negotiations.

Aaron's case has certainly created a stir but mostly the politicians have only expressed interest in the most minor reforms, such as Aaron's law. We'll make progress on the underlying problems by demonstrating to prosecutors, law enforcement, etc. that abusing their power can negatively impact their careers.

In fact, any ex-prosecutor running for office requires serious scrutiny. Did the ACLU, EPIC, EFF, etc. ever oppose them? etc.

See Greenwald's Carmen Ortiz and Stephen Heymann: Accountability for prosecutorial abuse (earlier) and McCullagh's Prosecutor in Aaron Swartz 'hacking' case comes under fire
posted by jeffburdges at 3:38 AM on January 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


"I feel comfortable and I support the process that was done here..." - Carmen Ortiz, commenting on the aftermath to the Swartz case.

She knew a year and a half ago about the depression that Swartz suffered from, and that it was something that she claimed was previously dealt with at his arraignment.
posted by markkraft at 5:32 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


This so much, from Lessig.

Ortiz’s statement is a template for all that is awful in what we as a political culture have become. And it pushes me — me, the most conventional, wanting-to-believe-in-all-things-patriotic, former teenage Republican from the home of Little League baseball — to a place far more radical than I ever want to be.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:12 AM on January 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's interesting what she did and didnt say in that interview. She doesn't seem willing to even consider the possibility that her office erred and abused its prosecutorial discretion. Her comments that his depression was addressed at arraignment are telling. Let's hope that the DOJ doesn't try to reframe this whole debate as an excuse for the DOJ to recommend seeking pretrial detention under 18 USC 3142 for those who report depression. For those in the DOJ seeking to avoid accountability for abuse of prosecutorial discretion and protect their careers, I wouldn't put that argument past them. Fundamentally, it's not just a legal problem, it's a moral and ethical problem, namely, a result of prosecutors who forget that (1) defendants are human beings; who (2) may actually innocent of the crimes alleged despite what their cops tell them.
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:54 AM on January 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Some highlights from the excellent Glenn Greenwald article that jeffburdges links:
This immunity for people with power needs to stop. The power of prosecutors is particularly potent, and abuse of that power is consequently devastating. Prosecutorial abuse is widespread in the US, and it's vital that a strong message be sent that it is not acceptable. Swartz's family strongly believes - with convincing rationale - that the abuse of this power by Ortiz and Heymann played a key role in the death of their 26-year-old son. It would be unconscionable to decide that this should be simply forgotten.

But the abuses here extend far beyond the statutes in question. There is, as I wrote about on Saturday when news of Swartz's suicide spread, a general effort to punish with particular harshness anyone who challenges the authority of government and corporations to maintain strict control over the internet and the information that flows on it. Swartz's persecution was clearly waged by the government as a battle in the broader war for control over the internet.

The grotesque abuse of Bradley Manning. The dangerous efforts to criminalize WikiLeaks' journalism. The severe overkill that drives the effort to apprehend and punish minor protests by Anonymous teenagers while ignoring far more serious cyber-threats aimed at government critics. The Obama administration's unprecedented persecution of whistleblowers. And now the obscene abuse of power applied to Swartz.

This is not just prosecutorial abuse. It's broader than that. It's all part and parcel of the exploitation of law and the justice system to entrench those in power and shield themselves from meaningful dissent and challenge by making everyone petrified of the consequences of doing anything other than meekly submitting to the status quo.
posted by Phire at 10:19 AM on January 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


We've no evidence that Ortiz and Heymann needed any push from "cops" in trumping up these charges, Dr Zira. It's all political strategizing for them : We've got this kid who embarrassed us by republishing the PACER archive. All the copyright lobbyists hate him for helping to organize the SOPA protests. JSTOR dropped any charges, and MIT's network is intentionally open, but MIT gave us enough leeway to try to break him. If we break him, then we'll send a message to these hackers who embarrass us and score some points with the copyright lobbyists will like us.

I scrounged up an interesting tidbit about Ortiz's husband Thomas Dolan, who is presently a "Business Development Executive" at IBM. He joined IBM during their acquisition of Cognos, where he was "Director of Finance and Administration". Apparently, Cognos is now part of IBM's Infosphere. There was however an interesting federal investigation of Cognos for defrauding the state of Massachusetts before IBM bought them. Any chance their financial director was involved? Any chance of unearthing conflict of interest by Carmen Ortiz?
posted by jeffburdges at 10:53 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


.
St. Lewis City Museum
posted by growabrain at 11:24 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Swartz's girlfriend, Taren, has apparently given the Daily Mail Online (?!?!?!??!?!?!!?!?!?!??!???!) an exclusive with her last photos of Aaron.
posted by Bwithh at 11:25 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


jeffburdges: My comment about the cops was referring to more general issues I have with the system. Prosecutors rely on fed agents to gather the evidence forming the foundation of their cases, and my experience doing crim defense work has made me rather skeptical about the ability of law enforcement to conduct fair and impartial investigations. I believe that one of the roles of a prosecutor should be to serve as a point of check and balance on criminal investigations. The cops, after all, are supposed to be finding and gathering evidence that exonerates the target of the investigation in addition to evidence that can be used to form the case against him. That's part of the point of giving prosecutors discretion as to whether or not to file, so that if a cop hands them a crap investigation to prosecute, they can decline to waste the limited resources of their offices on an investigation that, in their opinion has questionable legal merit. At the state level, where the caseloads are so much heavier, prosecutors can't file everything that's thrown at them so the discretion is crucial to resource management. At the fed level though, when there's a high profile career-make-or-breaker opportunity thrown on a prosecutor's desk, there is a disincentive to question the integrity of an investigation, especially when you've got a high profile entity that is the alleged "victim" and is demanding someone be held accountable for the criminal act alleged.
posted by Dr. Zira at 12:04 PM on January 18, 2013


Wasn't it Swartz who, in part, showed us how to defeat SOPA? Can't we get something similar together to fix these systems?
posted by JHarris at 12:20 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm uncomfortable with the emphasis that's being placed on knowing Aaron was depressed or believing he was a suicide risk, because they entail the risk of (to borrow Lessig's term) pathologizing his death.

The prosecution was a hideous action that should not have been pursued, enforcing laws that are badly formed, by people who had the prosecutorial latitude to act on their own judgement. AFAIAC, that's what we need to focus on in this case: They were wrong regardless of what happened to Aaron.

I didn't know Aaron and wish I'd known more about him while he was still alive -- he seems to have been an amazing person -- but if this case is pathologized into his depression, I feel like we're letting the establishment off the hook in a big way.
posted by lodurr at 12:57 PM on January 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


A two-part article from Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy about the Swartz case: The Law and Prosecutorial Discretion. Executive summary of these articles: the charges were for the most part justified given the current law, the prosecutors did what federal prosecutors often do under the current system, and both the system and the law need to be changed. From the second article:
But the broader point is that if we think agressive prosecution tactics such as this are improper, we shouldn’t be focused just on the Aaron Swartz case. Rather, we should be shining a light on the federal criminal system in its entirety. These sorts of tactics have been going on for years, without many people paying attention. If we don’t want a world in which prosecutors have these powers, we shouldn’t just object when the defendant in the crosshairs is a genius who went to Stanford, hangs out with Larry Lessig, and is represented by the extremely expensive lawyers at Keker & Van Nest. We should object just as much — or even more — when the defendant is poor, unknown, and unconnected to the powerful. To do otherwise sends an extremely troubling message to prosecutors that they need to be extra sensitive when considering charges against defendants with connections. We have too much of a two-tiered justice system already, I think. So blame the system and aim to reform the system; don’t think that this was just two or three prosecutors that were doing something unusual. It wasn’t.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:33 PM on January 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'm uncomfortable with the emphasis that's being placed on knowing Aaron was depressed or believing he was a suicide risk, because they entail the risk of (to borrow Lessig's term) pathologizing his death.
[...]
I didn't know Aaron and wish I'd known more about him while he was still alive -- he seems to have been an amazing person -- but if this case is pathologized into his depression, I feel like we're letting the establishment off the hook in a big way.


As a mental health professional, I feel exactly the opposite way. As much as I'm disgusted by the prosecutorial conduct in this case, I know that suicide is not a rational response to a situation like this. Aaron Swartz didn't commit suicide because he was hounded by the DA, he committed suicide because he was depressed. The two things are intertwined, but the talk about how the DA caused his death normalizes suicide in a way that I find highly problematic. There are people who go to jail for years and years, far longer than Aaron was risking, who are wrongly convicted, and they do not commit suicide.

Blaming this on the prosecutor obscures the role of mental illness in suicide. We can both hold the prosecutor accountable and recognize the mental illness for what it is.
posted by OmieWise at 5:36 PM on January 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


Zarkonnen and I are matching donations to the EFF, in memory of Aaron, up to a total of $200. There are details on my blog for those interested.
posted by daisyk at 12:44 AM on January 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


OmieWise, I'm not sure we do feel the opposite way. I'm saying, what was done was very wrong, quite apart from any suicide risk, and that talking about the suicide risk can be repurposed to normalise the prosecution. (Not that it would be right to do so -- IMO it would be very wrong to do so -- but I think it is happening even now.)

When I refer to the "case" being pathologized, I'm talking about the whole occurrence. I'm not talking about whether he was pathological -- it sounds like he was, but I don't want prosecutors or policy-makers getting off the hook for that.
posted by lodurr at 11:41 AM on January 19, 2013


.
posted by theora55 at 12:26 PM on January 19, 2013


A few thoughts in no particular order.

The local news segment that markkraft posted above bothers me. The only time you see Aaron's face is at the very beginning of the broadcast, where his picture is aside a picture of Ortiz -- except Aaron's face is grayed out.

The clip is titled "Terribly upset prosecutor defends MIT hacking case", but it's far from obvious that Ortiz is terribly upset. Those are her words, not an objective judgment, and the phrase "terribly upset" should be in quotes to indicate its origins.

And at the 25 second mark, the reporter says that Aaron is accused of posting the JSTOR documents online -- This can't be true, can it? JSTOR issued a statement saying that "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 closing line in Lessig's blog post from yesterday hurts to read: "I will always love you, sweet boy. Please find the peace you were seeking. And if you do, please find a way to share that too."

I just read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and am reminded of how adults described her as a "tender-hearted" child. But tender-heartedness wasn't seen as a good thing, it was regarded as a disability. That was a pragmatic perspective. Being tender-hearted in the segregated South -- I don't know how to write about this.

I would prefer to live in a world where tender-heartedness can be a good thing. I suspect that it was frequently a good thing for Aaron, and was part of why he accomplished as much as he did. But under the wrong circumstances, that tender-heartedness can be a tremendous disability.

Aaron's story has been on my mind all week. I thought of it again when I heard that a former mine superintendent named Gary May was sentenced to 21 months in prison. He falsified safety records and informed workers of upcoming inspections. The mine's safety violations resulted in a coal-dust explosion that killed 29 people. The consequences of his actions were very real, and very severe. In contrast, the consequences of Aaron's actions were ... what exactly?

When you compare the severity of May's sentence to the best plea deal that Aaron was offered, it's hard not to see Aaron's prosecution as being politically motivated.
posted by compartment at 12:52 PM on January 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'd lean towards believing that suicide always involves an element of mental illness, OmieWise, except I know that statement is false.

Aaron had his life completely together by all accounts, definitely way beyond any measure of "high functioning" you'd device. There are hundreds of millions of depressed people in the world, many survive plea bargaining or fighting charges of which they're guilty. Aaron's charges were transparently politically motivated and fully exploited laws designed not to convict the guilty but break the innocent during plea negotiations.

Yes, Aaron should obviously have required asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy rather than killing himself, but not everyone reacts the same to such extreme psychological pressures.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:51 PM on January 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Report from his memorial service.

I'm still trying hard to ignore the whole Givewell thing.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:51 AM on January 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


A two-part article from Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy about the Swartz case: The Law and Prosecutorial Discretion. Executive summary of these articles: the charges were for the most part justified given the current law, the prosecutors did what federal prosecutors often do under the current system, and both the system and the law need to be changed.

I am amused by how these articles are being cherry picked by people claiming it supports their position, while ignoring the broader perspective. I didn't see any specific call for the system and the law to be changed, it seemed to me that the main thrust of the article was that the law is basically sound and so was the prosecution.

To me, this seemed to be the most significant point:

The great tradition of civil disobedience is to intentionally violate the law and proudly bear the consequences in order to change public opinion and eventually change the law, not to violate the law in secret and try to render the law you oppose unenforceable while avoiding punishment. So I think some kind of criminal punishment is appropriate...

To my mind, this is one of the puzzles about Swartz. On one hand, he was deeply committed to civil disobedience and to the moral imperative of breaking unjust laws. On the other hand, he seems to have had his soul crushed by the prospect that he would spend time in jail. This is an unusual combination. Usually the decision to engage in civil disobedience comes along with a willingness to take the punishment that the law imposes. But despite Swartz’s apparent interest in legal questions, he seems to have made his decision with a blind spot to the penalties that would actually follow.


It seems to me, there are only two ways to view this: extreme hubris in the belief he was immune from the consequences of his acts, or else cowardice in the face of an extremely light sentence of 6 months in minimum security at Club Fed. Or maybe it is both.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:52 PM on January 20, 2013


Six months? Club Fed? Did I miss something? It sounds like the prosecutors were piling on the years to make some kind of point. And who's to say it would be a minimum security prison he'd get sent to? Most U.S. prisons are horrible places, absolutely on purpose.
posted by JHarris at 2:11 PM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Federal prisons aren't as bad as a lot of state prisons, which can be horrible. Most of the people who end up in prison are pretty elite prisoners - guys like Bernie Madoff, high level drug dealers, etc. You're much better off in a federal prison then a state prison, supposedly.

Also this video specifically says the plea deal was for 6 months in a low-security prison.
posted by delmoi at 3:41 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Edward Tufte spoke about Aaron Swartz and the “marvelously different”, including his own hacking exploits, at Aaron's memorial. See Democracy Now's video (part one, part two)
posted by jeffburdges at 4:31 PM on January 20, 2013


Six months? Club Fed? Did I miss something?

Yes.

..prosecutors told Swartz's legal team they would recommend to the judge a sentence of six months in a low-security setting, she said. At the same time, Swartz's defense was free to suggest to the judge that probation would be more appropriate, [US Attorney and prosecutor] Ortiz said, and the final call would lay with the judge. "At no time did this office ever seek -- or ever tell Mr. Swartz's attorneys that it intended to seek -- maximum penalties under the law," she concluded.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:23 PM on January 20, 2013


"At no time did this office ever seek -- or ever tell Mr. Swartz's attorneys that it intended to seek -- maximum penalties under the law," she concluded.

Ortiz clearly doesn't read her own press releases, or Steve Haymann's court filings that piled on the charges. There's been plenty of discussion of the sentencing guidelines upthread and elsewhere but if we're going to play Pedant Olympics, maximum minus one day is a technical get-out clause.

The axe-grinding shop's over that way, not far from your weasel apologist's booth.
posted by holgate at 9:52 PM on January 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just for the record, as long as we're talking about articles being cherry-picked, that CNN article confirms that
If convicted on the federal computer fraud charges he faced, Swartz could have been sentenced to 35 years in prison or a hefty fine.
but quotes Ortiz saying that
At no time did this office ever seek -- or ever tell Mr. Swartz's attorneys that it intended to seek -- maximum penalties under the law,
So it doesn't seem impossible to me, even if one formal recommendation was for six months and they never sought the maximum, that he was threatened with years or decades in prison. I would be curious to know whether the six-month recommendation was contingent upon him pleading guilty to all charges and if he wanted to fight and try to vindicate himself, well, who knows what might happen...

Either way, of course, he would still end up as a felon unable to vote and with the other consequences Dr. Zira points out.
posted by XMLicious at 9:59 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Six months! Maximum minus one day! Minimum security! Federal prison! It's nothing! But he'll still be a felon! BLEAH.

I'm remaining on the side that Swartz was boned for now. I don't think he'd have killed himself over nothing.
posted by JHarris at 10:58 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ortiz clearly doesn't read her own press releases, or Steve Haymann's court filings that piled on the charges. There's been plenty of discussion of the sentencing guidelines upthread and elsewhere but if we're going to play Pedant Olympics, maximum minus one day is a technical get-out clause.
Well, technically the maximum would have been 35 years. And her office wanted him to do 5 or 6 years if he didn't plea.

I wonder if what actually drove him to suicide was the tension of trying to decide whether or not to take the deal. Since his lawyer was saying he thought they actually had a good chance of winning, or at least keeping him out of jail - it would be very difficult to chose to take the deal. He would have felt he was letting down everyone who believed in him.

On the other hand, the outcome of a trial is never certain. Theoretically it's supposed to be perfectly logical and correct - but Judges and juries do make mistakes all the time.

I think if had been looking at certain failure in court, the decision to go to minimum security jail for six months would have been easy to make. A felony conviction can certainly screw up a normal person's life, but I think as a practical matter Swartz was wealthy, famous, and well connected enough to get through it. Look at Martha Stewart. She's fine.

So yeah, my theory is the fear of the possibility of the longer sentence, which really would have been devastating - vs taking a plea deal and not fighting for what he believed and that he stood a good chance of winning could have been what drove him to kill himself and thereby avoid making the decision.
posted by delmoi at 2:30 AM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


O'Reilly has released their book Open Government for free as a tribute for Aaron Swartz.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:51 AM on January 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


Ham Sandwich Nation: Due Process When Everything is a Crime - "Though extensive due process protections apply to the investigation of crimes, and to criminal trials, perhaps the most important part of the criminal process -- the decision whether to charge a defendant, and with what -- is almost entirely discretionary. Given the plethora of criminal laws and regulations in today's society, this due process gap allows prosecutors to charge almost anyone they take a deep interest in. This Essay discusses the problem in the context of recent prosecutorial controversies involving the cases of Aaron Swartz and David Gregory, and offers some suggested remedies, along with a call for further discussion. "
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:38 PM on January 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


Thanks, o man otat
posted by infini at 11:54 PM on January 21, 2013


We've learned that JSTOR wasn't quite so innocent as the claimed, certainly what they said publicly was true, but their pressure influenced MIT's behavior.

I'm disappointed the fire Stephen Heymann petition hasn't quite reached 10k signatures yet given that :
(a) Heymann was exploiting the case for personal gain, and
(b) he also brought the first CFAA indictment against a juvenile, who also killed himself.

We should probably start another petition against Heymann specifically that (a) provides more background on his abuse in Aaron Swartz' case and mentioned Jonathan James, and (b) suggests barring him from future hacking related cases if they cannot legally fire him.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:20 AM on January 23, 2013


Stephen Watt talks about Stephen Heymann (businessinsider)
Goes well with the Heymann Wanted 'Juicy' Case For Publicity link (huffingtonpost)
posted by jeffburdges at 6:32 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


This piece by Tim Carmody is a must-read: "Memory to Myth: Tracing Aaron Swartz Through the 21st Century."
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:54 AM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Andrew Auernheimer Case Uncomfortably Similar To Aaron Swartz Case (via)

"FBI agents tried to frame me for terrorism in 2008. Twice. They ruined my career, my relationship, my life. Nobody believed that I could be a terrorist so now they try to libel me as an identity thief."
posted by jeffburdges at 4:15 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the updates jeffburdges (BTW, has anyone seen homunculus around lately?)
posted by JHarris at 5:01 PM on January 23, 2013


The Baffler: Aaron Swartz, 1986–2013
To us, he was a friend, colleague, and inspiration. He loved The Baffler, instantly saw the point of reviving it, and played an indispensible role in making that happen. He began working with us in 2010, just weeks after our headquarters moved to Cambridge, and continued steadily through the rebuilding in 2011 and the publication of three new issues in 2012. His sudden death cuts short our discussions of a greater and more permanent role for him, a prospect he appeared to relish—“Yeah, definitely interested,” he wrote on December 29. “I’ve been swamped with holiday stuff, but should have more time starting the 7th.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:30 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


From EFF:

EFF's Initial Improvements to Aaron's Law for Computer Crime Reform

Part 2: EFF's Additional Improvements to Aaron's Law, which is being discussed at Reddit

Memorial for Aaron Swartz at the Internet Archive tonight, Jan 24 at 8PM Pacific time (livestream link)

For what it's worth, for those who may want to donate in Aaron's memory and who may feel uncomfortable with the idea of donating to Givewell (MeFi backstory), I would suggest that you consider donating to EFF, which is doing important concrete, relevant work to address some of the root problems behind this tragedy.
posted by KatlaDragon at 5:39 AM on January 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


I hate the feeling that the best thing I can do for the world is to earn a lot of money so I can give it to people who will be more effective at making change happen than I would.

Because it really drives home the point that there are a whole shit pile of people with diametrically opposed opinions who have a lot more money than I do. Yes, yes, tilting at windmills? That is jolly fun! Jolly! thud.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:44 AM on January 24, 2013


Carl Malamud remarks at Internet Archive memorial, Aaron's Army

Also, Anonymous defaced ussc.gov tonight...
posted by maggieb at 11:03 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Any torrents for Warhead-US-DOJ-LEA-2013.aes256 yet? Almost all their mirrors died already.

slashdot.org : Have Questions For MIT's Aaron Swartz Review?
posted by jeffburdges at 2:22 AM on January 26, 2013


Swartz didn't face prison until feds took over case, report says: The late Internet activist was facing a stern warning from local prosecutors. But then the U.S. Attorney's office, run by Carmen Ortiz, chose to make an example of Aaron Swartz, a new report says.
posted by mek at 9:32 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


In Swartz protest, Anon hacks U.S. site, threatens leaks: Saying "a line was crossed" with the treatment of tech activist Aaron Swartz, the group hacks a government site related to the justice system and distributes encrypted files it says it will decrypt unless demands are met.
posted by homunculus at 1:11 PM on January 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


How many times has Anonymous made claims like that, only for us to find out later that there are no encrypted files or they are fake?
posted by grouse at 2:30 PM on January 26, 2013


Considering that Anonymous is largely leaderless, a good number of times I'd think.
posted by JHarris at 7:01 PM on January 26, 2013


Anonymous has never taken any action itself. Anonymous is simply a label to reminds people that freedom should be inspirational. I personally grant the announcement weight only because it came from a seemingly hacked ussc.gov site, but conversely I wonder if distributing files by http rather than torrents suggests nothing substancial. In truth, all that matters is : Does their release prove wrongdoing in the Justice Department?
posted by jeffburdges at 7:18 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rolling Stone : Why Did the Justice System Target Aaron Swartz?

Also, homunculus's fishing trip link gives an interesting perspective of what federal prosecutors do when they want you found guilty of something.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:55 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Aaron Swartz case is deja vu for MIT

"What, if anything, did MIT learn from its involvement in the federal prosecution of its student David LaMacchia back in 1994?"
posted by jeffburdges at 6:42 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd forgotten about the LaMacchia case. He seems to be doing OK these days, hacking code and playing music. He's @_dml on Twitter and has had a bit to say about MIT and Swartz. "No surprise, this is exactly how they've behaved for years (and what happened to me). Will they learn from this?".
posted by Nelson at 8:13 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another update from Lawrence Lessig. He'll be giving a lecture about Aaron on February 19; it will be webast.
posted by compartment at 5:14 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Prosecution of Swartz Typical for the "Sick Culture" Pervading the DOJ by Harvey A. Silverglate

"It seems never to have occurred to Ortiz, nor to the career prosecutors in her office in charge of the prosecution, Stephen Heymann and Scott Garland, that there is something wrong with overcharging, and then raising the ante, merely to wring a guilty plea to a dubious statute. Nor does it occur generally to federal prosecutors that there’s something wrong with bringing prosecutions so complex that they are guaranteed to bankrupt all but the wealthiest. These tactics have become so normal within the Department of Justice that few who operate within the bowels of this increasingly corrupt system can even see why it is corrupt. Even most journalists, who are supposedly there to tell truth to power, no longer see what’s wrong and even play cheerleader."
posted by jeffburdges at 3:19 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Congressmen want answers from Aaron Swartz prosecutors (from ars technica)

Issa and Cummings, chairman and ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, requested a briefing by Feb. 4 to answer the following questions:

* What factors influenced the decision to prosecute Mr. Swartz for the crimes alleged in the indictment, including the decisions regarding what crimes to charge and the filing of the superseding indictment?
* Was Mr. Swartz's opposition to SOPA or his association with any advocacy groups considered?
* What specific plea offers were made to Mr. Swartz, and what factors influenced the decisions by prosecutors regarding plea offers made to Mr. Swartz?
* How did the criminal charges, penalties sought, and plea offers in this case compare to those of other cases that have been prosecuted or considered for prosecution under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act?
* Did the federal investigation of Mr. Swartz reveal evidence that he had committed other hacking violations?
* What factors influenced the Department's decisions regarding sentencing proposals?
* Why was a superseding indictment necessary?


And more from EFF:
Critical Fixes for the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

We've written a series of posts outlining our ideas as they've developed, but that analysis has built on the foundation of the intricacies of the law. Here are the three areas of the CFAA that we've zeroed in on. We believe it's critical to fix them immediately.

* No Criminal Exposure for Violating Private Agreements or Duties
* If You're Allowed to Access Information, Doing it in an Innovative Way Shouldn't Be a Crime (EFF public discussion draft.)
* Make Penalties Proportionate to Offenses


posted by KatlaDragon at 3:39 AM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


* No Criminal Exposure for Violating Private Agreements or Duties

This is what the Ninth Circuit held in US v. Nosal, at least as far as the "violation of restrictions on the use of information" rather than the "hacking" (more accurately, "cracking") the CFAA really means to target, which is the "violation of restrictions on access to information."

From Judge Kozinski's opinion [PDF] (as excerpted and discussed by Volokh:)

[W]e hold that the phrase “exceeds authorized access” in the CFAA does not extend to violations of use restrictions. If Congress wants to incorporate misappropriation liability into the CFAA, it must speak more clearly. The rule of lenity requires “penal laws . . . to be construed strictly.” United States v. Wiltberger, 18 U.S. (5 Wheat.) 76, 95 (1820). “[W]hen choice has to be made between two readings of what conduct Congress has made a crime, it is appropriate, before we choose the harsher alternative, to require that Congress should have spoken in language that is clear and definite.” Jones, 529 U.S. at 858 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

The rule of lenity not only ensures that citizens will have fair notice of the criminal laws, but also that Congress will have fair notice of what conduct its laws criminalize. We construe criminal statutes narrowly so that Congress will not unintentionally turn ordinary citizens into criminals. “[B]ecause of the seriousness of criminal penalties, and because criminal punishment usually represents the moral condemnation of the community, legislatures and not courts should define criminal activity.” United States v. Bass, 404 U.S. 336, 348 (1971). “If there is any doubt about whether Congress intended [the CFAA] to prohibit the conduct in which [Nosal] engaged, then ‘we must choose the interpretation least likely to impose penalties unintended by Congress.’” United States v. Cabaccang, 332 F.3d 622, 635 n.22 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting United States v. Arzate-Nunez, 18 F.3d 730, 736 (9th Cir. 1994)).

This narrower interpretation is also a more sensible reading of the text and legislative history of a statute whose general purpose is to punish hacking—the circumvention of technological access barriers—not misappropriation of trade secrets—a subject Congress has dealt with elsewhere. Therefore, we hold that “exceeds authorized access” in the CFAA is limited to violations of restrictions on access to information, and not restrictions on its use.


There's also the Lori Drew case, US v. Drew, at the end of which Lori Drew's criminal cyberbullying conviction, based on the application of the CFAA to violations of MySpace ToS, was set aside. Briefly (from the first link):

The Government claimed that Drew violated MySpace’s ToS when she created a profile under a fictitious persona, contrary to terms that required her to submit only truthful and accurate information. As a result, the jury found her guilty of “accessing a computer involved in interstate or foreign communication without authorization or in excess of authorization to obtain information in violation of Title 18.”

In overturning the misdemeanor conviction, Judge Wu found the CFAA unconstitutionally vague as applied to the facts presented. Judge Wu conducted a thorough analysis of the statutory language, policy implications, and constitutional requirements in reaching his decision. First, Judge Wu examined the language of the CFAA and found that Drew’s actions had potentially violated the CFAA. He found no legislative history indicating that the words of the statute were to be given special meaning to exclude ToS violations, and indeed found that website owners had legitimate reasons to exclude certain activity on their websites through contractual agreements.

However, Judge Wu found that these violations could not be criminal, as to do so would be unconstitutionally vague. He examined the CFAA as applied to determine whether it provided sufficient notice, and whether it set guidelines for law enforcement, as required to render a law not unconstitutionally vague. He found that the law as applied violated both of these tenets.


posted by snuffleupagus at 7:24 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


A last minute appeal by Aaron Swarz' girlfriend has succeeded.

As of Saturday evening, a petition to fire Boston Assistant US Attorney Stephen Heymann has passed 25,000 signatures, crossing the threshold required to elicit a White House response.

...meanwhile, we are still waiting on a White House response to a similar petition to fire Carmen Ortiz.
posted by markkraft at 12:58 AM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aaron Swartz and Bradley Manning: How the US Government Contains Those Who Would Free Information
posted by homunculus at 11:53 AM on February 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


We've mentioned Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman speech upthread, but her "Aaron's death should radicalize us" speech at Aaron Swartz Memorial is worth watching, ditto many other talks from his memorial.

"First, Stephen Heymann and Carmen Ortiz must be held accountable. Second, MIT has lost its way and it must find it again ..  Third, all academic research .. should remain openly accessible.  Fourth, Amend the CFAA to prevent prosecutors from these over reaches.  Fifth, reform the criminal a justice system where prosecutors throw the book at someone like Aaron but not a single banker has gone to prison since the financial crisses."

We should note anytime any former federal prosecutors seeks higher office to explore their past case histories looking for any suspiciously unjust cases, such as where the ACLU or EFF represented the defendant. If we find such cases, we should attempt to support any primary challengers. As an example, if you hear about an unjust case, check if the prosecutor has a wikipedia entry, if so briefly mention the case.

Also, do check out Aaron's keynote on "How we stopped SOPA" at the Freedom to Connect 2012 conference.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:48 PM on February 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


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