How the Legal System Failed Aaron Swartz - and Us by Columbia Law School Prof. Tim Wu
January 19, 2013
Author and Columbia Law School Professor Tim Wu writes in The New Yorker magazine about Internet prodigy, writer and activist Aaron Swartz who took his own life at age 26 on January 11, 2013.
Friends and supporters gathered at memorial services in cities nationwide to pay tribute to Swartz, who was blazing trails as an advocate for the open exchange of information, as he faced trial by federal prosecutors on hacking charges. Swartz's trial was a month away, accused by federal prosecutors for breaking into an Massachussetts Institute of Technology computer wiring closet in 2010 to tap into the computer network to get millions of paid-access scholarly articles which he planned to make available for free.
Swartz accomplished many groundbreaking projects in his short life. As a teenager, Swartz helped create RSS, technology for gathering updates from news sites, blogs and elsewhere on the Web. Swartz also co-founded the popular social news site Reddit, and Demand Progress, a group that campaigns against online censorship.
Memorial events for Aaron Swartz are scheduled January 24 in San Francisco, January 19 in New York City. Other memorial events were held January 18 in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Swartz's funeral service was held on January 15 at Central Avenue Synagogue in Highland Park, Illinois. Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web delivered a eulogy at the service.
Excerpted from sources: Wikipedia and www.aaronsw.com
Aaron Swartz was an American computer programmer, writer, political organizer and Internet activist. He was the founder of Demand Progress which launched the campaign against the Internet censorship bills (SOPA/PIPA).
On the morning of January 11, 2013, Swartz was found dead in his Crown Heights, Brooklyn, apartment by his girlfriend. A spokeswoman for New York's Medical Examiner reported that he had hanged himself.
The family and partner of Swartz created a memorial Web site on which they issued a statement, saying, "He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place."
Swartz was eulogized by his friend and Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, Lawrence Lessig, who called Swartz's prosecution an abuse of proportionality, saying further, "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."
Author Cory Doctorow wrote: "Aaron had an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill, and intelligence about people and issues. I think he could have revolutionized American (and worldwide) politics. His legacy may still yet do so."
On January 12, Swartz's family and partner issued a statement, criticizing the prosecutors and MIT:
"Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy, it is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.
Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death.'
After Mitch Kapor posted the statement on Twiter, Carmen Ortiz's husband, Tom Dolan, replied, criticizing the Swartz family:
"Truly incredible that in their own son's obit they blame others for his death and make no mention of the 6-month offer."
This comment triggered a backlash of criticisms including one from Charles Pierce, political blogger for Esquire, “And the glibness with which her husband and her defenders toss off a 'mere' six months in federal prison, low-security or not, is a further indication that something is seriously out of whack with the way our prosecutors think these days.”