Decrypting Aaron Swartz’ suicide message.

Update 20/02/2013
Yesterday, Professor Lawrence Lessig gave a brilliant lecture following his appointment as Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School, titled “Aaron’s Laws: Law and Justice in a Digital Age.”
Understanding what Aaron and his fellow were trying to do. What is the value of copyright as opposed to ‘dumb copyright’ and the free access to knowledge. How justice should understand civil desobedience. and where we are going in copyright protection in the digital era were some of the points developped in this speech to be find here.

Professor Lessig is a founding board member of Creative Commons, which promotes universal access, innovation and sharing of ideas, and the creator of Rootstrikers, an organization that aims to share stories about government corruption, money and media and work towards practical reform. He also serves on the boards of MAPLight, Brave New Film Foundation, The American Academy, Berlin, AXA Research Fund and, and is on the advisory board of the Sunlight Foundation.

Update 27/01/2013 : European Commission VP Neelie Kroes Weighs in on Aaron Swartz

Bravo Madame Neelie Kroes for her post, especially to emphasize that ‘if our laws, frameworks and practices stand in the way of us getting all those benefits, then maybe they need to be changed‘ sharing ‘when information was already paid for by taxpayers, and when more openness can help new innovations and scientific discoveries‘.

You’ve probably seen the terrible news about the death of Aaron Swartz. It’s always horrifying when someone so young and so clearly talented feels they have no option but to take their own life. I know that this is something that shook the internet community deeply. And my thoughts are with his family, and what they must be going through right now.

This was a man who saw that greater openness can be good for citizens, and good for society. Hugely disruptive — but hugely beneficial.

For me, the case is particularly clear when there aren’t copyright issues, when information was already paid for by taxpayers, and when more openness can help new innovations and scientific discoveries.

I would never condone unlawful activity. But in my view, if our laws, frameworks and practices stand in the way of us getting all those benefits, then maybe they need to be changed.

Agree or disagree with his methods, Aaron could see the open direction we’re heading in, and its benefits. In the meantime, those scientists who are paying tribute by making their own work legally, openly available aren’t just showing their respects — they are also benefiting scientific progress.

Update 21/01/2013: Still more is written after Aaron Swartz’ suicide. More clarification of accusations and procedure. More tribute to who he was and what he represented.

I keep curating on my Pearltrees to share, of course free to access. Many voices are asking for a better clarification of the CFAA, <a href="“>the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. said too be too broad: the CFAA covers anyone who “knowingly causes the transmission of a program, information, code, or command, and as a result of such conduct, intentionally causes damage without authorization, to a protected computer…”

Update 16/01/2013: Two developments bring more light tothe charges against Aaron Swartz.
First document on the point of law, is the part one of Orin Kerr « Activities for Gun Appreciation Day – The Criminal Charges Against Aaron Swartz (Part 1: The Law)
The second document tries to find answer to the question of ” when and how the Federal government first got involved in the investigation of the JSTOR downloading and what role MIT had in the Feds getting involved.” ‘The December 2010 Black Hole in the Network Interface Closet‘ by Emptywheel.

Two months before his death, the high-profile Internet activist filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the US Mint and asked for copies of its 2005 survey results which claimed, “147 million adults continued to collect the 50 State Quarters … the most successful coin program in the nation’s history.”

In the same continuity, for Jason Leopold, Truthout, ‘Aaron Swartz’s FOIA Requests Shed Light on His Struggle‘.

Many areas of trouble that might never get cleared.

Interestingly, the Guardian reports that the husband of the US district attorney involved in the prosecution has publicly criticised the activist’s family for accusing his wife. ‘Aaron Swartz: husband of prosecutor criticises internet activist’s family

Reading dana boyd, Lawrence Lessig, Cory Doctorow, James GRIMMELMANN, the EFFs farwell, The statement from the family and partner of Aaron, and other tributes to Aaron Swartz, few things come to my mind. What is essential is to understand his message and how to avoid future loss like this. After all, every suicide is there to send us a message, isn’t it?
1- As I have already wrote about, there should be a hierarchy of norm and copyright defense should come after more fundamental Human Rights.
2- The Computer Act is too broad, this is real fact as well exposed by the EFF.
3- Aaron Swartz act should be judged in view of his ‘aim’ why did he accessed the computer network? Had he any personal or commercial aim? surely not. He was opening up access to research papers, publicly funded to which the public could not access.(Read: ‘The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s “Crime”‘ and ‘Aaron Swartz and the Meaning of “Public”)
4- Aaron Swartz’ act after all was nothing else that of a whistle blower act, as such he needed a protection. Accusation wanted him to be an example, he deserved to be an example of successful freedom fighter, a hacktivist. (the #PadfTribute opens up access to academic research after the suicide was known).
5- As his family said: “Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.” Lawrence Lessig qualified the act of Prosecutors as ‘bully’. 35 years is a lot. I personally have never been comfortable with the cumulative sentence system.
6- And most of all, why did he decide to commit a suicide? Why many others have done it?
He sent out a message that needs to be decoded. Would he have committed a suicide if he was supported? his acts were in a way ‘heroic’ as such, he deserved ‘solidarity’ to fight for the rights he should not be let alone to fight.
He was an activist, a fighter, like many others to whom we owe the progress of our societies.

P.s. : Just reading Jilian York’s piece reporting from Ethan Zuckerman :

Ethan says it best:

(And some of that shame should be shared by all of us who didn’t fight harder in his defense, either because we thought he was reckless or because we thought prosecutors would relent.)

Keep updated on my Pearltrees curations

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