So when mere months after his death Edward Snowden released his cache of internal NSA files, and we the public and the media all struggled to understand it and figure out what to do, it was hard not to miss Aaron immensely. It was a surprise of sorts seeing that I wasn’t the only one who looked to Aaron for guidance, and that I wasn’t the only one having a hard time without him. Remember when Wikipedia blacked out to protest SOPA/PIPA? A lot of people wondered why something similar didn’t happen in protest of the NSA, why something similar didn’t happen more recently in the fight for net neutrality. The answer, in large part, is because Aaron isn’t around anymore to do these things. To motivate and guide us.
In a deeply personal way Aaron lives on in me, but similarly his ideals live on in a whole crowd of organizations and people he collaborated with. Demand Progress is still running strong, with David Segal at its helm. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is still fighting for tech law reform, with Cindy Cohen as legal director and Peter Eckersley and Seth Schoen advising it on tech. The Freedom of the Press Foundation is supporting projects like SecureDrop, a tool Aaron helped develop to protect the anonymity of journalistic sources, and Fight for the Future is educating people about net neutrality.
Moving and maddening in almost equal measure, Brian Knappenberger’s “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz” is a devastating meditation on what can happen when a prescient thinker challenges corporate interests and the power of the state.
“We wanted to bring Aaron’s story to as many people as possible, so the day ‘The Internet’s Own Boy’ debuts in theaters, we are also offering the film across a variety of digital services and platforms in a model fitting with what Aaron architected and stood for” said Knappenberger…
The film explores the arrest, the prosecution’s tactics in bringing the case to trial through the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and the possible future of information access on the Internet.
For instance, in Swartz’s case, his “crime” was having a script download the journal articles rather than sitting there and downloading them one at a time himself. Yet it’s not clear that such automation even violates MIT and JSTOR’s terms of service. As computer expert Alex Stamos describes it: “[Aaron] was an intelligent young man who found a loophole that would allow him to download a lot of documents quickly. This loophole was created intentionally by MIT and JSTOR, and was codified contractually” in documents revealed during the discovery phase of the government’s case against Swartz.
This vaguely defined law with strict penalties means that an overly ambitious prosecutor can imprison someone for doing things most Internet users consider routine, allowing law enforcement to go after people for violating a contract, even when the violated party isn’t encouraging prosecution.