The suicide of famed programmer and free access advocate Aaron Swartz shocked the world. However, the underlying story of the how the Obama Administration prosecuted — and, in the eyes of many, persecuted — Swartz for seeking to publish academic papers which were later released by MIT without charge. Nevertheless, United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz and the Obama Administration relentlessly pursued Swartz and sought an absurd 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines before he took his own life. His family blames the Justice Department and Ortiz for his suicide. Swartz opposed the Administration’s fight against public access and particularly President Obama’s “Kill List.” . . .
Swartz was one of this country’s most extraordinary individuals. At age 14, he helped create RSS, the tool allowing people to subscribe to online information. He later was a founder of a company that merged with Reddit where we get many of our daily stories . . .
Like many of us, Swartz was critical of increasingly stringent laws balkanizing information in our society from works to words to even common images. He however took that crusade to extraordinary lengths.
In 2008, he took on PACER, or Public Access to Court Electronic Records, for its charging of 10 cents a page for documents. I agreed with Swartz about this charge as being a barrier to public access to our courts and important cases. He argued correctly that there should be free access . . .
In 2011, Swartz took on JSTOR, the academic repository of papers and research. It is a subscription based service. He broke into the computer system at MIT through a utility closet using a laptop and a false identity. He downloaded 4.8 million documents. Notably, however, MIT chose not to pursue charges — to its credit. For many years, academics argued that such material should be free to the public as a matter of principle. Two days before Swartz’s death, MIT releases all documents publicly free of charge . . .
However, despite MIT’s position that it did not want to bring charges, Carmen M. Ortiz saw her chance. Ortiz is the United States Attorney for Massachusetts and a graduate of our law school who spoke recently at our commencement. Industry groups and lobbyists have long gotten what they wanted from Obama on criminalizing trademark and copyright violations. States have shown the same capture by industry groups. Swartz was a prime target as an advocate of public access and the Obama Administration threw everything that they had at him . . .
The abuse of Swartz speaks of industry capture of our government that has now claimed the life of one of the brightest of our country. He is the ultimate personification of how our copyright and trademark laws have been flipped on their head. Rather than protect creativity, they now stifle such creativity. We now have prosecutors and lawyers pursuing people like Swartz to prevent public access to information. His tragic image hanging in his apartment speaks to the dismal state of information control in this country. His was truly a beautiful mind and his death should galvanize his cause to empower citizens in their demand to breakdown the rising barriers to information in this country.It is so alarming that time and time again President Barack Obama and his administration are permitted to thumb their nose at our constitution and our laws and simply rule by executive fiat to the great harm of our citizens--something our forefathers fought and sacrificed life and limb to win our country's independence from the British. Or even worse, to sit idly by while Congress passes and the President signs into law legislation that permits the President to order the assassination of any American citizen whenever a clique of national security experts deems such killing as necessary for national security interests. People who claim to be advocates and fighters of civil liberties and rights are shamelessly silent, as if all of a sudden it is okay when it's being done by a man with whom they have a frightening cult-like affinity. One liberal, pro-gay rights blog was filled with hateful comments demonizing Swartz because he refused to identify as a gay, straight or bisexual person, believing that his sexual oriention should be irrelevant to who he was as a person. And then people wonder how leaders like Adolph Hitler can come to power and commit such horrific human atrocities before finally being brought to justice. God help us.