Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Henry David Thoreau
Aaron was facing 35 years prison + $1mm fine.
Brother: Aaron learned how to learn at a very early age. He learned his ABC's backwards. "Noah, let me teach you algebra", he was always like that.
Introduced to computers at 2/3 yrs old. 1st program written in Basic language on Star Wars. He made the website, TheInfo.org, before Wikipedia, all developed by a 12 year old. Aaron wins ArsDigita award. Aaron invents RSS and tells Ben he’s working on it. He was part of the committee to draft RSS. Cory Doctorow, Author, Activist, Journalist, Friend of Aaron.
Peter Eckersley, Technical Projects Director at Electronic Frontier Foundation, former room mate of Aaron Swartz.
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web says he met Aaron Swartz on IRC chat. "Aaron was trying to fix the world".
Gabriela Coleman, Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technology Literacy, McGill University: In High School he was bored, he knew how to get the info and said he didn’t need the teacher. He read history books on the education system. Led him down the path of questioning. He was passionate about copyright, clashed with antiquated copyright system.
He then met Lawrence Lessig, Harvard professor who was challenging copyright law in the Supreme Court. Aaron flew to Washington to listen to the hearings. Lessig was making Creative Commons which equals Some Rights Reserved.
Lawrence Lessig, Director, Edmond J Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, founder Creative Commons: Aaron was charged with creating the architecture for Creative Commons which launched in 2002.
Mother is shocked these adults who regarded him as an adult. Aaron wrote candidly on his personal blog: "I work for ideas, I learn from people. Grudges aren’t productive, but I learn from experiences."
In 2004, Aaron leaves highland park for Stanford University. He was taking steroids for stomach which stunts his growth. In 2005, after 1 year offered spot at Y-Combinator led by Paul Graham. Aaron drops out of school, moves into apartment in Boston.
Y-Combinator site called Infogami, a tool to build websites. Infogami struggles to find users and merges with another Y-Combinator project in need of help, Reddit. Reddit becomes huge geeky corner of the internet. Reddit borders on chaos, Gabriela Wolfman. Conde Naste offers to buy the company Aaron is 19/20 years old. They sell Reddit and left apartment to Brother, Aaron moves to San Francisco working for Conde Naste. Saw money as no big deal.
- A big deal to Aaron is how traffic flows on the internet.
- What commands our attention
References documentary, Steal This Film II, discussing old system of broadcasting being limited by space on the airwaves. On the internet everyone can have a channel, so it becomes more about who controls the ways you find people. The gatekeepers like Google controls who gets heard.
Complains from 1st day at Conde Naste about no installing unauthorized programs on computer. Writes blog office space, grey wall, grey desk, grey noise. Aaron gets himself fired from corporate. Nasty breakup.
Brother: Programming is magic. If you have magical powers do you use for good or make mountains of cash?
Aaron admired Tim Berners-Lee who with a great invention, gave it away for free.
Lessig: Tim Berners-Lee doesn’t "cash out”.
Quinn Norton, moves in with Swartz, we were very close, in constant contact. Aaron reveals his theme song, Extraordinary Machine by Fiona Apple. Aaron optimistic about life.
Books are cultural legacy, one corporation owning is scary.
Stephen Shultze, Former Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet in Society at Harvard.
Looking for Federal court records, finds PACER, says its a confusing system. Finds Carl Malamud, Founder of Public.Resources.org. On PACER, a billion dollar a year business. Its brain dead code, can’t search, can’t bookmark. It's a poll tax to access democracy.
Tim O’Reilly, founder O’Reilly Media Inc. PACER makes $120 million a year and its illegal, according to the E-Government Act of 2002. Malamud created PACER recycling website where users upload already paid for documents so that others can use them. PACER then grants 17 libraries access to PACER. So he encourages people to download via thumb drive and upload to Pacer Recycling website calling uploads the Thumb Drive Corps. He gets a call from Stephen Shultze and Aaron saying they want to join the Thumb Drive Corps. Shultze runs into Aaron at conference and he had software to download PACER articles from the libraries. Swartz wanted to see the code, improves code, and begins testing new code with another friend at PACER libraries. 760GB come in from PACER. Massive parallel downloads bring 20 million pages of text acquired.
Feb 12, 2009: Aaron and Carl decide to go to the New York Times who publishes the article "An Effort to Upgrade a Court Archive System to Free and Easy".
They catch the attention of the FBI who stakes out his family home and drives in driveway to see if Aaron in his room. Brother recalls car in driveway, 5 years later reads the FBI file.
FBI case ID Number: 288A-WF-238943
Washington Field Office CR-17/ NRVA
Title: UNSUB (S); US Courts – Victim; Computer intrusion – Other
Aaron was terrified after FBI called him to talk at coffee shop without a lawyer. The download uncovered massive privacy violations in the court documents, and ultimately the Courts were forced to change their policies as a result. The FBI closes investigation without charges. Bothered by wealth disparity, Aaron moves on to other projects.
Matt Stoller, Democratic Congressional Aide, Friends of Aaron gets Aaron an internship learning political process; learning to hack politics. Founds the Progressive Change Committee Foundation to organize online to get progressive candidates elected. Elizabeth Warren elected.
Aaron begins to look at institutions that publish academic journals – Univ Illinois Oct 16, 2010. Scholarly journals pays huge fees to gain access. The wealth of human knowledge online and largely paid for by taxpayer money or government grants.
Worldwide students are locked out of collective legacy knowledge, which has been locked up by for profit corporations.
Christopher Soghoian, Principal Technologist, ACLU Speech Privacy and Tech Project
Explains, after the researcher does the work, the test in the lab, they turn over their research copyright to a company and its sick. It's a model built on the researchers free labor and then the Publisher sits at the top and scrapes profits for free. It’s a Publisher scam. JSTOR is a small player in that environment, but its the one Aaron decided to confront.
Alec Resnick, Director, Sprout, Friends of Aaron: Aaron was at a conference and asked JSTOR how much it would cost to open up JSTOR in perpetuity. They said $200 million, and Aaron thought that was absurd.
Being at Harvard, he knew users on the famous MIT next door, had authorized access to those journal articles. With a little shell script magic, he knew you could get them. On Sept 24, 2010: Swartz registers a new ACER laptop on the MIT network, with username Gary Host, client name: GHOST_Laptop.
Lessig: Explains Aaron doesn’t hack JSTOR in the traditional sense, as all articles were numbered in sequence.
Ben Wikler, Host, Flaming Sword of Justice, Friend of Aaron says he wrote a Python script called "Keep Grabbing That Pie”. Soon the IP address, is blocked. He reassigns a new IP and continues. JSTOR then cuts off MIT from the JSTOR database. A cat & mouse game ensues.
Ben Wikler: Eventually there was an unlocked supply closet in one of the buildings, and he plugged directly into the network and left the laptop running with an external hard drive. Authorities found the laptop and installed a surveillance camera.
Elliot Peters, Aarons Defense Attorney: Of all the options available, JSTOR decided to film it to make a case. Days later the camera catches Swartz replacing a hard drive, and leaves.
Cops follow him on his bike and go after him.
Father: it was devastating. Executing search warrants all over. Two days before the arrest, Aarons case was taken over by the Secret Service under the jurisdiction of the Patriot Act.
Lessig: No harmful damage, he wasn’t stealing or giving it away. It took a toll on him.
Brother: He was in sour mood during this time.
Time Magazine names 2011 person of the year “The Protestor”. Wikileaks had just released a trove of documents. Anonymous hackers were going on various sprees. If you compare, his stuff should have been left behind for MIT and JSTOR to deal with, in private professional matter. Not the criminal system.
Before he was indicted, Swartz, was offered a plea deal to plead guilty to a felony.
Norton, scared of going to jail, had confidential info from other work as a journalist. Says Swartz told him that he would take the deal she said “Yes". She says I almost came close to telling him to take the deal. He didn’t want to be a felon, as it could kill his political projects.
Swartz turns down plea deal. Heymann redoubles efforts with physical evidence.
Prosecutors needed evidence to prove motive. It was unclear that he would publish or sell the JSTOR files and he had a history of downloading large data sets.
Lessig: At Stanford in a project with Law Students, Aaron had downloaded the whole Westlaw legal database, and uncovered troubling finance connections between funders of legal research, and favorable results. It was an amazing analysis of for profit companies giving money to law professors who wrote law review articles which were then beneficial to companies like Exxon during the oil spill. So it was a very corrupt system of funding vanity research. Swartz never released the Westlaw documents. In theory, he could have been doing the same with JSTOR. If he was intending to create a competitor to JSTOR, and charge, obviously its criminal. Lessig authors "Aaron's Law: Violating a Site's Terms of Service Should Not Land You in Jail", published on January 16, 2013.
Then theres the middle case that says he was just trying to liberate it for all of humanity. The government was prosecuting as if it were a commercial enterprise.
I don’t know what he intended to do with the research, but a friend of his told me he was working on a paper to reveal funding of climate to influence biased results, and I totally believe that.
Norton: I was worried about my sources on my laptop and the government pursuing me. Heymann wanting to talk to me seemed reasonable. They offered Norton "A Queen for A Day Letter", or a Proffer. It allowed them to ask Norton questions about Aaron, in return for immunity from prosecution herself. I didn't like this, but my attorneys were very clear they didn’t want me to meet the prosecutor without immunity. I repeatedly tried to turn down the Proffer Letter and go in naked.
Swartz family distraught, tried to get Quinn to change attorneys. I told them this thing they were prosecuting was not a crime and that they were on the wrong side of history. They looked bored. I told them plenty of things about why people would download journals articles, and eventually, I don’t remember, I mentioned that he had done this blog post: Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto. Sharing is not immoral, its a moral imperative.
The manifesto was allegedly written by 4 people and edited by Norton, but it was Swartz who signed his name to it. After the interview was over, I tell Aaron about all I could remember and he gets very angry about it. I am still angry that you could try to do your best with these people [Feds] and they would still turn it around on you to hurt you with anything they can.
In the meantime, Swartz becomes media go to guy on internet issues: RT interview
Swartz meets Taren – excerpts from the video” Shit Online Organizers Say”.
Taren Steinbrickner-Kauffman, Executive Director, Sum of Us, Aaron's partner: Aaron does not discuss trouble but he does refers to the “Bad Thing”. She thinks he’s having an affair with Elizabeth Warren or Hillary Clinton. He calls to say the “Bad Thing” might be in the news tomorrow, tell you now or read it? Tell me now. Aaron says; I’ve been arrested for downloading too many academics journals and they want to make an example out of me. Thats it? Thats the big fuss?
On July 14, 2011, USA vs Aaron Swartz, Federal Prosecutors indict him on four felony counts:
18 USC 1030(a)(2), (c)(2)(B)(iii) Unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer
18 USC 1030(a)(5)(B), (c)(4)(A)(i)(I), (VI) Recklessly Damaging a protected Computer
18 USC 2 Aiding and Abetting
18 USC 981(a)(1)(C), 28 USC 2461(c) and 18 USC 982(a)(2)(B) Criminal Forfeiture
Brother: He gets indicted on the same day 2 people from LulzSec in London are arrested, and I mean these were real hackers. And Aaron kind of looks like a hacker to put his head on the gates.
Aaron surrendered, they strip searched and put him in solitary confinement.
Massachusetts releases a press release: Swartz faces 35 years, $1mm fines. He is released on $100,000 bail. The same day the principle victim, JSTOR, drops all charges against Swartz, and declines to pursue the case:
JSTOR and parent company Ithica, sidestepped requests to be interviewed for this documentary. But at the time, they stated it was the governments decision to prosecute, not JSTOR's.
Father: So with that we believe the case would be dropped or settled in some rational way and the government refused. Why? I think they wanted to make an example out of Aaron. They wanted to use this case as a case for deterrence, they told us that. Steve Heymann said that.
David Sirota, Columnist, Salon: The case for deterrence could be argued if the Obama government had gone after the largest financial crimes of this century with the JP Morgan Chase. When you selectively use deterrence, you have made a decision to deploy legal resources based primarily on political ideology. And thats not just undemocratic, but un-American.
Father: I then moved on MIT to put pressure on them to pressure the government to drop the case. There was no reaction from MIT at that point.
Lessig: MIT doesn’t defend Aaron, which as part of the MIT community, seems outrageous because MIT encourages hacking in the general sense of the word.
Crawling around where you are not supposed to be is part of the MIT tour. Lock picking was a winter course at MIT. MIT had the moral authority to stop it in its tracks. MIT never tried to stop it and declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this documentary.
MIT later released a statement JULY 26, 2013 stating they attempted a “remain neutral” and believed Heymann and USAO did not care what MIT thought or said about the case.
Brother: MIT behavior seemed at odds with the MIT ethos and taking a neutral stance meant taking a pro-prosecutor stance in this case.
Father: If you look at Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, they started by selling a blue box designed to defraud the phone company. Bill Gates and Paul Allen initially started their business by using computers at Harvard, which was against the rules. The difference for Aaron and the people just mentioned, Aaron wanted to make the world a better place, not just make money.
Brother: Aaron thought he could change the world by explaining the world very clearly to people.
RT Interview: Could complex Computer Virus in “Flame” Cyber Security Rhetoric?
Swartz’s political activity continues focusing on a bill moving through Congress designed to curb online piracy, called SOPA.
Many saw SOPA as an over reach, attacking the technological integrity of the internet itself. I called Aaron and asked if we could do an online campaign against this.
Aaron then went and founded DemandProgress.org
David Segal, Founder, Demand Progress, Friend of Aaron: DemandProgress is a political activism group with approximately 500,000 members, that started in the fall of 2010. Aaron was very prominent at the federal level.
Trevor Timm, Electronic Frontier Foundation Activist: SOPA took a sledgehammer to a problem that needed a scalpel. If SOPA passed companies could cut off finances to entire websites without due process and could even to force Google to delist unapproved links. All they needed was a single claim of copyright infringement. SOPA pitted the titans of traditional media against a new and far more sophisticated remix culture.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D), Congresswoman, Californias 19th District: SOPA is a catastrophe.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D), US Senator from Oregon: SOPA poses a threat to free internet speech, the domain naming system (ICAAN), all in the effort of fighting piracy. And Aaron got that right away. I haven’t seen something like SOPA and PIPA in all my time as a US Senator.
Aaron: The freedoms fought for would have been snuffed out, and I couldn’t let that happen. The strategy was to slow the bill down. Even I began to doubt if we could stop it, but using VOIP we set up, internet users called their congressmen.
The fact that SOPA and PIPA got as far as it did, without talking to any technical experts, reflects that there is a problem in Washington. There used to be a committee on Science and Technology that could help congress in these aspects, and Newt Gingrich killed that committee.
Calls to congress continued. When Godady.com supported SOPA, domain users left them, and a week later humbly reversed their stance on SOPA. When congress, supported by movie and record industries noticed the backlash, they scaled it back a bit. You could see the curve happening and our arguments against SOPA were starting to resonate.
On Jan 16,2012, the White House came out publicly stating they did not support the bill.
And then this happened: Lawmakers Withdraw Support of Anti-Piracy Bills After Online Protest
When Jimmy Whales put support behind blacking out Wikipedia, the number 5 most popular website in the world, it got attention. Reddit, Craigslist, Mozilla, all followed suit, members of congress rushed to withdraw support for SOPA. Within 24 hours, congress support shifted from 76 to 31 on January 18th to 65 to 101 on January 19th.
To see congressmen flip sides during the blackout, was incredible. We won, we did it.
SOPA is dead. It's hard to believe a bill with so much financial backing didn’t just sail through.
Aaron: We can’t let a world where big internet companies profit off of censorship of small companies happen. We just can’t let it happen.
SOPA was a major change in a major way. It was a scientific way to measure impact.
Lessig: For a guy [Aaron} who never thought he had done much it was one of the few moments where he felt he done something good.
The list Aaron Swartz co-founded or founded is huge.
Even before Snowden, Swartz was openly discussing government electronic surveillance. Secrecy serves those already in power.
The Stein Program, started with Nixon and continues through to Obama.
The prosecution of Aaron Swartz is a directly targeted to a group who the Obama administrator sees as politically threatening. Specifically, the hacker, the information and democracy community.
July 10, 2012: Interview from the film War For The Web, one of Aaron’s last know interviews. How is the fight going? Its up to you. It’s up to us which polarizing view of the internet will win.
On September 12, 2012, the government filed a superseding indictment adding nine counts and Aaron was now facing 13 counts. The fines and jail time were adding up.
Most of the prosecutions case surrounded the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act [CFAA] – 18 USC 1030 – from 1986, which was inspired by the movie War Games with Matthew Broderick.
Cindy Cohn, Legal Director and General Counsel, Electronic Frontier Foundation. The movie scared congress to pass the act. The CFAA is vague but it can, depending on jurisdiction, impart penalties based on Terms of Service (TOS).
Orin Kerr, Law Professor, George Washington University, has studied this case. I was a prosecutor at the justice department for three years. Based only on the facts, I believe the Swartz case was a fair indictment. I think the government took the Manifesto very seriously. They saw him as someone who was committed with a moral imperative against what he considered an unjust law. I think what drove the protection was that Swartz was committed to not only breaking that law, but to making sure that law was nullified. We are entering an environment of computer misuse and we are still working out the lines between legal and illegal.
The Justice Department hammer used to scare people with just gets bigger and bigger and most people decide to back down. Swartz was caught up in the gears of a brutal justice system that could not turn back. A machine that has made the US the country with the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director, The Equal Rights Initiative: We have allowed ourselves in this country to be captured by the politics of fear and anger. And anything we are fearful or angry about facilitates the intervention of the criminal justice system. Punishment and Jail are used to resolve a whole host of problems, that historically were never seen as criminal justice problems.
Swartz’s isolation from friends and family increased. The case was taking over his life.
It was weighing on him very heavily. The jail threat was terrifying to him. Swartz was faced with a difficult situation increasingly becoming tougher. Do you admin it guilt and move on with your life or fight a broken system?
He rejects the final plea deal and a trial date is set.
Lawyer: He was scared. I don’t think they would have convicted Aaron. I think we would have walked out of that courthouse, and I would have given him a big hug.
Brother: It is possible that people get depressed, but at no time during his childhood did Aaron have any severe mood swings. He was under such vicious pressure for 2 years straight. I think it was too much for him.
26 year old Aaron Swartz kills himself in his Brooklyn apartment.
Lessig: I was so frustrated, angry. I try to explain it to my kids. My three year old told me the doctors would fix it. I’ve known lots of people that have died, but I’ve never known anyone that died like this. Everybody feels there was so much more we could do. I just didn’t know this is what he was suffering.
January 11, 2013 – Sir Tim Berners-Lee: Aaron is dead. Wanderers in this cray world, we have lost a mentor, a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are down one, we have lost one of our own. Nurturers, carers, listeners, feeders, parents all, we have lost a child. Let us all weep. The net just lit up. People were visibly grieving online.
He was the internets own boy and the old world killed him. How do we fix this?
When we turn armed agents of the law on citizens trying to increase access to knowledge we’ve broken the rule of law and we’ve desecrated the temple of justice. Aaron Swartz was not a criminal. Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, it comes through continuos struggle.
Representative Zoe Lofgren and Senator Wyden have introduced legislation to reform the the CFAA its called "Aarons Law."
So theres a 14 year old kid who access to JSTOR who had been spelunking through JSTOR and found a way to do early pancreatic cancer tests. He sent hundreds of emails to the entire Oncology department at John Hopkins. Most of them ignored him. But one wrote him back, why don’t you come over to discuss your idea. This kid worked evenings and weekends with this researcher and in February I heard on the news after Aaron had died. They had done it. They were shipping an early stage test for Pancreatic cancer that would save lives.
He said this is why what Aaron did is so important. Without access, the kid who is going to develop the cure for the disease with your number on it, may never have found that answer.