Aaron Swartz Suicide Spurs Friends, Allies to Fight On a Year Later


SwartzA year after Aaron Swartz — hacker, activist, SOPA killer, RSS and Reddit co-creator … a true child of the internet — committed suicide while facing a maximum of 35 years in jail, his friends and allies fight on in his name.

On Saturday, Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig took to the streets, walking his way to New Hampshire, as he put it, to "launch a campaign to bring about an end to the system of corruption that we believe infects DC."

He was talking about how political campaigns are financed. He's calling it the "New Hampshire Rebellion," (#NHRWalk), and he wrote in an article for the Atlantic that is was Swartz who had convinced him to take on this issue years ago.

"Ninety-six percent of America believe it is 'important' 'that the influence of money in politics be reduced' — 68 percent believing it 'very important,' 28 percent just 'important,'" Lessig wrote. "Yet 91 percent of America believes it is 'not likely' that the influence will be reduced," he added.

And then there's the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to a free and open internet and active on issues of free speech and privacy. They posted a memorial article to Swartz on Saturday.

"One year ago, we lost Aaron Swartz, a dear friend and a leader in the fight for a free and open Internet," Parker Higgens of EFF wrote. "It's a testament to the power of his commitments and ideals that both in life and in death he has inspired millions around the world, including all of us at EFF, to redouble our own efforts to advance the causes that he believed in, and to untangle the twisted and brutal computer crime laws that were used to persecute him."

Higgens is talking about the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the law used against Swartz after he downloaded a massive amount of files from an academic database while on MIT's network.

After Swartz hung himself, many sought to limit the range of CFAA, calling for "Aaron's law." But as the Washington Post notes, while advocacy groups had supported lawmakers in their efforts, Aaron's Law "went nowhere."

That hasn't stopped the EFF from trying, though.

And now Swartz's name is attached to another event – the "Day We Fight Back." The day, set for Feb. 11, 2014, is against what the event's website calls a threat to the internet and "the notion that any of us lives in a genuinely free society: mass surveillance."

"If Aaron were alive," the website states, "he'd be on the front lines, fighting against a world in which governments observe, collect, and analyze our every digital action."

So it seems that many of Swartz's friends and allies are carrying the torch as they see fit. And the internet, in its way, is marking Swartz's death and celebrating his life. Here's one of the best photos making the rounds on social media:

And here's a clip from the “The Internet’s Own Boy," an upcoming documentary on Swartz, with testimony from those who knew him.


  1. Chuckles says

    Sad that he was depressed enough to commit suicide, but his attach on JSTOR was absolutely criminal and based on a gross misunderstanding of how research works.

    He was facing charges, of course, that carried multi-year penalties, but was sure to get that reduced to something near nominal and a lot of community service. Sad that his friends and lawyers making a martyr of him while he lived probably helped him to become a sort of martyr to others equally ill-informed.

    Commitments and ideals? Willful ignorance is more like it.

  2. ratbastard says


    What Chuckles said. The ‘kid’ is being used a martyr by older,wiser,slicker, and well connected people who egged him on. He was of course a psychologically unstable guy and this was probably the main reason for his suicide. I think he had much deeper and more private unhappiness in his too short life.

  3. miami says

    Great Post! This kid was more than a child prodigy he was an Internet Saint, relentless in his belief in a free and open internet. Anybody who uses, works or relaxes on the internet is subject to the total and complete loss of privacy and it has to stop.
    Oh, and JSTOR. They are the crooks, just ask anybody without university affiliation who tries to access academic articles. JSTOR subscriptions cost tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars even to the universities themselves. Almost no authors are paid for writing this academic work, its published to build academic careers and spread knowledge not to be locked up behind private paywalls. Just like the pay-walls shutting of access to the decisions of the US Federal Courts, another Swartz cause.

  4. anon says

    For those wondering, I don’t think he was gay.

    The issues surrounding his protests were complex. The core of the protest around JSTOR was how even govt. funded research still requires fees to access, despite the fact that it doesn’t fall under copyright law and is taxpayer supported. There’s also the fact that MIT had very loose rules on whether someone could access the info for free or not. Also, the laws he was prosecuted under predates the Internet, so makes criminal a lot of innocent activities.

  5. says

    I hate to say it, given how BAD they are at their job, but politicians in Washington need to be paid in the tens of millions of dollars annually. EACH.
    Absent unprecedented surveillance of our representatives, it is the best way to insure against lobbyists buying their votes.

Leave A Reply