I just read the chocking news that Aaron Swartz, a brilliant young coder that, among other things, helped set the RSS standard when he was just 14 years old, have committed suicide. At the young age of 26, the same age as me, he decided that this life wasn’t worth living anymore. But what could have driven him to the edge of his life, when he had so many accomplishments done and so many more to come?
Swartz suffered from depression and this was made worse by the hard persecution he suffered from the US government after a “hacking attack” on MIT’s servers. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Heymann managed to charge him for 13 counts of wire fraud, computer intrusion and reckless damage. This is the same attorney that sent hacker Albert Gonzales to prison for 20 years for computer intrusion. With bully tactics, hard gloves and no mercy, the relentless attacks on Swartz along with his depression might have been what finally took his life.
What was it that Swartz did? He went to MIT, hooked up a laptop to their network and started to download the documents that are on MIT’s open access, documents that students are required to read, but have to pay for. Aaron Swartz was an active proponent of free information and have on several occasions downloaded otherwise pay-to-read documents and added to his cloud network, the Internet’s Archives free library of books, legally. In 2008 he downloaded over 20 million public records from the Federal Court, when they for one day removed the 8 cents per page restriction and put on his cloud server. For that he was never even charged!
MIT, however, felt that he had wronged them by doing the same thing there, even thou they had given him open access to the documents by having a subscription to the academic journal sharing system JSTOR.
I don’t put all blame on the US government, the court system or Steve Heymann, but I do say that these three components were the key to his death. By their relentless tactics to stop information sharing, they drove one of the worlds most brilliant minds to suicide. The US government, and many other governments with it, thinks that some documents, scribbles on digital paper, is worth more than human lives and that is why I think it’s fair game to liberate the information. As long as lives means less than something as trivial as some academic papers or some song or a movie, then the worth of that information must be lowered.
If a life is worth less than a movie, then I think the price of the movie is too high!