Aaron Swartz

[Editorial] Aaron Swartz, Uncommon Crusader for the Common Man

The end result of all the prosecutions efforts was the untimely demise of Aaron Swartz who hanged himself in his New York apartment. His parent’s chided MIT and the prosecutors in a public statement:

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.

What Now?

At the moment many people are simply stunned at the turn of events. Ortiz’ office has yet to offer an official statement, but did file a motion to dismiss charges against Swartz this past Monday which is standard practice when a defendant dies before going to trial. MIT President, Rafael Reif, released a statement which stated, “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.” He went on to appoint Professor Hal Abelson to lead an investigation into Swartz’s death and any role MIT may have played. Many feel that MIT could have defended Aaron more.

So what have we learned here? I believe the lessons are numerous. We should never take for granted the moments we have with people is the first that comes to my mind. I believe my gut reaction, as well as many others, would be to crucify Ortiz, but would that not be unfortunate in its end as well? My hope is that Ortiz and the federal government have learned a lesson here. The law is a cold and heartless beast, unless the practitioners of it use common sense and weigh the benefits of their actions against the benefits, or lack thereof, to the community at large. In the grand scheme of problems our world faces, the crime of making publicly funded information available to the common citizen for free seems to me to be the least of what we should be throwing legal resources towards. My words scarcely scratch the surface of the many facets of this situation. I wish I could better express my feelings in this situation. What I hope though is that you the reader will take a moment to learn about the causes that Swartz dedicated himself to. I am not placing him on a pedestal but I do recognize the positive contributions he made to a freer society and for that I am very appreciative.

If you would like to visit his memorial page, visit http://www.rememberaaronsw.com/.

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Darrin Jenkins

Darrin is an IT manager for a large electrical contractor in Louisville KY. He is married and has 3 kids. He loves helping people with their technology needs. He runs a blog called Say Geek!