As I was browsing the internet, I came across an article announcing Aaron Swartz's passing. The mainstream news labels him as merely the co-founder of Reddit. What they forget is that he was a fiery young man spearheading the internet freedom movement.
Aaron Swartz got his start in the computer world with a bang. At age 13, he won the ArsDigita prize, given to young people who created "useful, educational, and collaborative" non-commercial Web sites.
After attending Stanford, he took his success to new heights by being involved in the formation of Reddit, developing RSS feeds, and creating the web.py Web application framework.
Like many patriots however, all was not roses and trophies. In 2009, he was involved in liberating nearly 20% of the documents on PACER, a federal court document database, to the general public. In doing this, Aaron made a strong, albeit risky, statement of his belief that all public documents should be free to access. The FBI disagreed at first, but eventually dropped their case.
He made an even bolder statement when he did much the same thing with documents from JSTOR, an academic research database. For the federal government, this statement went too far. The U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts charged him with wire fraud, computer fraud, obtaining information from a protected computer and criminal forfeiture.
Under extreme pressure, some of us break, while the rest us get stronger. The latter was definitely true for Aaron, as he then founded Demand Progress. His organization quickly took off, reaching millions of people by the time of his death.
Demand Progress, whether one likes them or not, was responsible for almost singlehandedly defeating the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the Protect-IP Act (PIPA), and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA).
Without the internet Aaron tried to protect, political activism would be severely crippled. Without a free and open internet, you wouldn't be reading this. Without a free internet, the organization that I founded in January wouldn't exist. If not for Aaron and Demand Progress, SOPA, PIPA and CISPA would have probably killed both it and the internet. I have never personally met him, but that does not diminish the gratitude I have for his work. In maintaining the freedom of the World Wide Web, he helped to preserve, for now, what is possibly the greatest tool for preserving our great Republic.
Aaron Swartz was responsible for the situation he placed himself in, but the question must still be asked, "where is justice?" Aaron was facing a million-dollar trial, and potentially 50 years in prison, but for what? Liberating academic documents?
Convicted serial killers receive 25 years in prison, yet for daring to challenge the machine Aaron was facing 50. The prosecutor was on the hunt, and it is impossible to ignore the effect this had on an activist with a bright future.
26 is too young for anyone to pass from this earth. Yet, the best way to respect his efforts is to preserve them. That is why I, along with many others, will carry the flag of the internet freedom movement he inspired.
If, and when, another SOPA is introduced by our government, the United Nations, or a private company, we will combat it with a renewed vigor ... because our battle will not be for us ... but to preserve what Aaron died fighting for.
Rest In Peace, Aaron Swartz. Be assured that your life was not in vain.