The Internet changes everything. Aaron Swartz knew and embraced that at an age when most of us think that the biggest problem we are facing is this week’s home work assignment. For the first time in human history we can connect to each other independent of where or who we are. We have at our disposal the ability to collaborate on ideas globally and advance knowledge and society. Aaron lived a life committed to furthering and protecting that newfound capability.
In the process he sometimes pushed boundaries as when he retrieved about 20% of the PACER database of public information. His download of a large number of papers from JSTOR set off a super aggressive prosecution that went far beyond anything possibly appropriate for what he had done. Larry Lessig who was involved in Aaron’s defense best describes the prosecutorial overreaching and bullying. Alex Stamos, who was to be an expert witness in Aaron’s impending trial, provides a more detailed technical perspective that also makes clear that the government’s reaction was completely out of proportion.
One thing that the Internet has unfortunately not yet changed is how depression can brutally disconnect us from the love that is all around us. And there can be no doubt that there was a lot of love in Aaron’s life. Just read the incredibly moving piece by Quinn Norton or the many quotes on the Remember Aaron Swartz site. Having experienced this impenetrable disconnect first hand in the case of a close relative my heart goes out to Aaron’s friends and family.
We will best honor Aaron’s memory by renewing our own dedication to protecting the ability to connect freely. Thanks to Brewster Kahle's tribute to Aaron, I found this wonderful video which is highly worth watching.
At about 20 minutes in, Aaron provides this important call to vigilance: “Make no mistake. The enemies of the freedom to connect have not disappeared.” I look forward to many collaborations to come that will heed Aaron’s call and help protect and further this freedom.