A Millennial Martyr


Greenwald rightly seethes over the suicide of Aaron Swartz, who faced charges from federal prosecutors threatening several decades in prison and $1 million in fines – all for illegally downloading a bunch of academic files:

To say that the DOJ’s treatment of Swartz was excessive and vindictive is an extreme understatement. When I wrote about Swartz’s plight last August, I wrote that he was “being prosecuted by the DOJ with obscene over-zealousness”. Timothy Lee wrote the definitive article in 2011 explaining why, even if all the allegations in the indictment are true, the only real crime committed by Swartz was basic trespassing, for which people are punished, at most, with 30 days in jail and a $100 fine, about which Lee wrote: “That seems about right: if he’s going to serve prison time, it should be measured in days rather than years.”

My feelings entirely. The feds were almost deranged in prosecuting someone so ferociously because he dared to make more data – with no national security implications whatsoever – more accessible to more people. At some point, these federal cops need to understand that the world has passed them by. Glenn’s take on why the feds pursued Swartz so fiercely:

I believe it has more to do with what I told the New York Times’ Noam Cohen for an article he wrote on Swartz’s case. Swartz’s activism, I argued, was waged as part of one of the most vigorously contested battles – namely, the war over how the internet is used and who controls the information that flows on it – and that was his real crime in the eyes of the US government: challenging its authority and those of corporate factions to maintain a stranglehold on that information. In that above-referenced speech on SOPA, Swartz discussed the grave dangers to internet freedom and free expression and assembly posed by the government’s efforts to control the internet with expansive interpretations of copyright law and other weapons to limit access to information.

Andrea Peterson points out that “JSTOR made its peace with Swartz in June 2011 and just last week expanded its online Register & Read program, making more information available for free.” She concludes:

In death, Swartz can be a vehicle to transform the pain felt by the community into the kind of change he would have wanted. It’s unfair to diminish a life into a figurehead for an issue, and it is likely that other factors—not just the court case—contributed to Swartz’s decision to end his life. But there might be no better way to honor Aaron Swartz’s memory than continuing the dialogue about the future of freedom of access to information.

Previous coverage of the Swartz suicide, including remembrances by Lessig and Doctorow, here.

(Photo: Business partners Aaron Swartz, left, and Simon Carstensen, right, have a working lunch outside in Cambridge, Friday, August 31, 2007. By Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe via Getty Images.)