Aaron Swartz on Misogyny in Technology, by Amy S. Choi

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Re: Aaron Swartz on Misogyny in Technology, by Amy S. Choi

Postby admin » Sat May 10, 2014 1:36 am

Aaron Swartz, Coder and Activist, Dead at 26




We often say, upon the passing of a friend or loved one, that the world is a poorer place for the loss. But with the untimely death of programmer and activist Aaron Swartz, this isn’t just a sentiment; it’s literally true. Worthy, important causes will surface without a champion equal to their measure. Technological problems will go unsolved, or be solved a little less brilliantly than they might have been. And that’s just what we know. The world is robbed of a half-century of all the things we can’t even imagine Aaron would have accomplished with the remainder of his life.

Aaron Swartz committed suicide Friday in New York. He was 26 years old.

When he was 14 years old, Aaron helped develop the RSS standard; he went on to found Infogami, which became part of Reddit. But more than anything Aaron was a coder with a conscience: a tireless and talented hacker who poured his energy into issues like network neutrality, copyright reform and information freedom. Among countless causes, he worked with Larry Lessig at the launch of the Creative Commons, architected the Internet Archive’s free public catalog of books, OpenLibrary.org, and in 2010 founded Demand Progress, a non-profit group that helped drive successful grassroots opposition to SOPA last year.

“Aaron was steadfast in his dedication to building a better and open world,” writes Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle. “He is among the best spirits of the Internet generation. I am crushed by his loss, but will continue to be enlightened by his work and dedication.”

In 2006 Aaron was part of a small team that sold Reddit to Condé Nast , Wired’s parent company. For a few months he worked in our office here in San Francisco. I knew Aaron then and since, and I liked him a lot — honestly, I loved him. He was funny, smart, sweet and selfless. In the vanishingly small community of socially and politically active coders, Aaron stood out not just for his talent and passion, but for floating above infighting and reputational cannibalism. His death is a tragedy.

I don’t know why he killed himself, but Aaron has written openly about suffering from depression. It couldn’t have helped that he faced a looming federal criminal trial in Boston on hacking and fraud charges, over a headstrong stunt in which he arranged to download millions of academic articles from the JSTOR subscription database for free from September 2010 to January 2011, with plans to release them to the public.

JSTOR provides searchable, digitized copies of academic journals online. MIT had a subscription to the database, so Aaron brought a laptop onto MIT’s campus, plugged it into the student network and ran a script called keepgrabbing.py that aggressively — and at times disruptively — downloaded one article after another. When MIT tried to block the downloads, a cat-and-mouse game ensued, culminating in Swartz entering a networking closet on the campus, secretly wiring up an Acer laptop to the network, and leaving it there hidden under a box. A member of MIT’s tech staff discovered it, and Aaron was arrested by campus police when he returned to pick up the machine.

The JSTOR hack was not Aaron’s first experiment in liberating costly public documents. In 2008, the federal court system briefly allowed free access to its court records system, Pacer, which normally charged the public eight cents per page. The free access was only available from computers at 17 libraries across the country, so Aaron went to one of them and installed a small PERL script he had written that cycled sequentially through case numbers, requesting a new document from Pacer every three seconds, and uploading it to the cloud. Aaron pulled nearly 20 million pages of public court documents, which are now available for free on the Internet Archive.

The FBI investigated that hack, but in the end no charges were filed. Aaron wasn’t so lucky with the JSTOR matter. The case was picked up by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Heymann in Boston, the cybercrime prosecutor who won a record 20-year prison stretch for TJX hacker Albert Gonzalez. Heymann indicted Aaron on 13 counts of wire fraud, computer intrusion and reckless damage. The case has been wending through pre-trial motions for 18 months, and was set for jury trial on April 1.

Larry Lessig, who worked closely with Aaron for years, disapproves of Aaron’s JSTOR hack. But in the painful aftermath of Aaron’s suicide, Lessig faults the government for pursuing Aaron with such vigor. “[Aaron] is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying,” Lessig writes. “I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.”

Update: Aaron’s parents, Robert and Susan Swartz, his two brothers and his partner, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, have established a memorial website for him, and released this statement.

Our beloved brother, son, friend, and partner Aaron Swartz hanged himself on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment. We are in shock, and have not yet come to terms with his passing.

Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable—these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.

Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the scope and accessibility of human knowledge. He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across generations and continents. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.

Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.

Today, we grieve for the extraordinary and irreplaceable man that we have lost.

Update Sunday 1/13/13 16:45: MIT President L. Rafael Reif has issued a statement on Aaron’s death.

To the members of the MIT community:

Yesterday we received the shocking and terrible news that on Friday in New York, Aaron Swartz, a gifted young man well known and admired by many in the MIT community, took his own life. With this tragedy, his family and his friends suffered an inexpressible loss, and we offer our most profound condolences. Even for those of us who did not know Aaron, the trail of his brief life shines with his brilliant creativity and idealism.

Although Aaron had no formal affiliation with MIT, I am writing to you now because he was beloved by many members of our community and because MIT played a role in the legal struggles that began for him in 2011.

I want to express very clearly that I and all of us at MIT are extremely saddened by the death of this promising young man who touched the lives of so many. It pains me to think that MIT played any role in a series of events that have ended in tragedy.

I will not attempt to summarize here the complex events of the past two years. Now is a time for everyone involved to reflect on their actions, and that includes all of us at MIT. I have asked Professor Hal Abelson to lead a thorough analysis of MIT’s involvement from the time that we first perceived unusual activity on our network in fall 2010 up to the present. I have asked that this analysis describe the options MIT had and the decisions MIT made, in order to understand and to learn from the actions MIT took. I will share the report with the MIT community when I receive it.

I hope we will all reach out to those members of our community we know who may have been affected by Aaron’s death. As always, MIT Medical is available to provide expert counseling, but there is no substitute for personal understanding and support.

With sorrow and deep sympathy,

L. Rafael Reif

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Re: Aaron Swartz on Misogyny in Technology, by Amy S. Choi

Postby admin » Tue Jan 12, 2016 1:48 am

Remembering Aaron
by David Segal, DemandProgress.org <info@demandprogress.org>
January 11, 2016

"What is the most important thing you could be working on in the world right now? … And if you're not working on that, why aren't you?"

Our cofounder Aaron Swartz asked that question (of others, but foremost of himself) and it expresses a sentiment that helps guide Demand Progress's work every day.

It was three years ago today that we lost Aaron — while he was awaiting trial on unjust charges, stemming, absurdly, from downloading academic articles. But his influence on our work endures, and he remains an inspiration to countless thousands across the globe.

Aaron is often remembered as a technologist and information-access activist. These are important causes to which he was an adherent — but not just for their own sakes: Aaron was not, nor is our team at Demand Progress, fundamentally cyber-utopian.

We believe that while knowledge helps build power, knowledge alone is not power enough to confront the monopolists who seek to own the Internet, the hedge fund managers and mortgage lenders who covet control of our financial system, and of Congress, or the corrupt criminal justice complex that destroyed Aaron, and undermines the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans whose names don't make headlines and are not carried to your inbox through emails like this one.

To these ends, Demand Progress expanded our efforts in 2015 beyond our traditional work on Internet freedom, as we more generally strive to maintain some semblance of — and fight to expand — democracy and political equality in America.

As 2016 begins, we wanted to take a moment to share some of the recent work of which we are most proud — and of which you ought be too, for none of it would have been accomplished without your ongoing activism and financial support. We hope Aaron would take pleasure and pride in seeing all that we have been able to accomplish together. Please read on for the details.


Securing a Historic Win for Net Neutrality

In February, the FCC passed rules to preserve an open Internet, free from slow lanes and gatekeepers. Not since SOPA, the infamous censorship bill, has the Internet risen up in such force to defend itself. Before the vote, Demand Progress members took over four million actions — emailing lawmakers, attending rallies, and calling and meeting with members of Congress. In the wake of the vote, we have successfully fought against legislative attacks and lawsuits backed by Big Cable to destroy Net Neutrality.

Sinking the Comcast-Time Warner Merger

The Internet struck another major blow against Big Cable in April when the merger between Comcast and Time Warner — which would expand Comcast's reach to nearly two-thirds of American homes, with devastating consequences for consumer protections — was defeated. Hundreds of thousands of people, including Demand Progress members, spoke out against the merger, making it one of the most unpopular corporate consolidations in history.

Sunsetting Provisions of the PATRIOT Act

Last spring, Demand Progress organized in opposition to the renewal of expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act. This effort mobilized over a million contacts to Congress in support of aggressive surveillance reform. Our work helped shift the frame of the national debate, leading to a temporary sunset of provisions of the PATRIOT Act, blocking straight reauthorization of that law, and undermining attempts to weaken the USA FREEDOM Act.


"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root."
-Henry David Thoreau

In 2015, Demand Progress revamped its Rootstrikers project — which focuses on fighting the corrupting influence of money in politics and Wall Street’s attempts to rig the game. We are attacking the root problems that drive our country's skyrocketing economic and political inequality.

Leading the Fight Against Big Money in Politics

Rootstrikers organized a massive coalition, leading to more than 215,000 people taking action at FightBigMoney.com to demand presidential candidates adopt strong plans to counteract big money in elections. Then, we held President Obama's feet to the fire — he's told us for years he detests Citizens United, but nearly six years later hasn’t done anything about it.

We built PresidentObamasLegacy.org, and did a nifty integration with the White House's 'We the People' petition system. More than 116,000 signatures and over 8,000 phone calls later, the Obama Administration is on the hook to publicly reply to demands that he take executive action against secret money in politics.

Fighting the SEC's 'Soft-on-Wall-Street' Approach

Rootstrikers took aim at the soft-on-Wall-Street record at the SEC — which should be the cop on the beat holding big bankers accountable, but too often has fallen down on the job. When we released a blockbuster report exposing SEC Chair Mary Jo White's incompetence and conflicts of interest, the press took notice. And when the Rootstrikers site NoMoreWallStreetInsiders.com collected signatures from more than 72,000 activists and drove more than 1,600 calls to the White House and SEC, we helped scuttle the nomination of yet another Wall Street insider who wanted us to trust him to regulate his old friends.


Blocking Expansion of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act was passed in the 1980s — before the World Wide Web was invented — because Congress was spooked by the children's movie War Games. The CFAA has been wielded to quash online speech and threaten innovators and activists — including Demand Progress cofounder Aaron Swartz. This fall, Demand Progress led efforts to defeat an amendment that would have expanded the statute. We organized wide-ranging coalition efforts comprising tech experts, environmentalists, civil libertarians, and social justice activists to call attention to how the amendment could threaten activists who make use of run-of-the-mill online tactics. Key senators agreed to stand with us, and blocked the expansion.

Demanding an End to Torture

We successfully agitated for the release of the so-called "torture report," which confirmed and detailed America's use of torture around the globe during the post-9/11 era.

Defending Whistleblowers

Chelsea Manning has been sentenced to prison for more than three decades because she exposed evidence of war crimes. This tragedy has been compounded by the conditions of her confinement: This year we joined with other organizations to blow the whistle on attempts to put her in solitary for infractions like owning the wrong books and having a tube of expired toothpaste. More than 100,000 people took up the cause, and she was spared from such a sentence.


Opening Access to Informat

Because of our work, starting next year, Congress will publish information about all bills in a format that allows everyone to analyze the data, making it possible to track legislation, votes, and to figure out when special interests are trying to put their thumb on the scale.

Fixing Congress

It's no secret Congress doesn't work well — Demand Progress recommendations on how Congress should update rules, strengthen oversight, and increase access to reports have shaped reforms essential to dragging the government into the 21st century. And our work on rules reform helped prompt a major change in how members of committees are chosen — which is crucial, because personnel dictates policy.

Helping Citizens Track Secret Money in Politics

We've pushed the executive branch into making commitments that can yield real change — including getting the White House to commit to making nonprofits' tax returns available in a format enabling easier tracking of secret money entering our political system.

Thank you for having been an integral part of all of these efforts. We look forward to an inspired 2016 and continued work with all of you.

-David, Mark, Daniel, Sara, Kurt, and the whole Demand Progress team
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