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Free Speech – First Amendment – Federal Reserve & Taxes


Greetings Citizens of the world, We are Anonymous.

Its no secret the definition of ‘freedom’ in America has changed a great deal in recent decades. While 9 11 was a major turning point, setting in motion a slew of changes to the American mindset and to the legal framework which governs the contract between the State and the people, our natural rights have been under assault for generations.

Couple this with the dumbing down of the American citizenry, and We the People’ simply no longer know or understand our rights. The fallout of this being we no longer protest or even notice when evermore egregious violations occur.

Where has all the freedom gone?

The United States is one of only two countries in the world which taxes nonresident citizens for income earned elsewhere. If you reside in another country, as millions of U.S. citizens do, you’ll have to pay income taxes to two nations, or face prosecution by the IRS.

This means that if you happen to have been born in the U.S. but lived your entire life elsewhere, you still owe Uncle Sam the full burden of income taxes, for your entire life. This rule is so insane that only two nations out of 196 nation states in the world do it. The other is the African nation of Eritrea.

The Federal Reserve is not Federal and there is no reserve. The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 gave authority to a private organization to print currency. The result has been continually rising inflation and continually rising debt which is mathematically impossible to pay off.

A group of secret shareholders in the Federal Reserve make a profit for every dollar printed and used by anyone. This is the most sophisticated form of financial slavery ever devised, and many future generations of people are already indebted to this cabal.

There is actually no law requiring U.S. citizens to file income tax returns, and the income tax itself is unconstitutional. This complex and controversial issue is broken down in detail in the documentary America: Freedom to Fascism by the late Aaron Russo.

The IRS follows Americans around the world and harasses foreign banks to control the finances of U.S. citizens.

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act of 2010 makes it extremely difficult for Americans to function financially in other countries. Originally part of the Patriot Act, this type of global financial surveillance monitors bank accounts and deposits around the world. A result of this has been that many international banks will no longer do business with U.S. citizens, making it extremely difficult to live abroad.

American churches are required to register with the federal government and are not allowed to engage in political speech.

Historically, churches were the centers of communal and societal change, as pastors and leaders would speak to their congregations on matters of social injustice and government tyranny. The American Revolution would not have taken place if not for the churches, but in 1954 the federal government passed the ‘Law of Charities,’ requiring churches to files as 501(c)(3) organizations, which comes with heavy restrictions on freedom of speech. Churches today are sanitized profit centers of social complacency not social change.

Free speech permits and free speech zones severely restrict our First Amendment rights.

This policy began in 1988 during the Democratic National Convention as ‘designated protest zones, but grew in prominence during the G.W. Bush administration. Upheld and strengthened during the Obama years, this policy of severely restricting freedom of speech and of assembly has been extended to college campuses around the nation. We won’t see antiwar protests like what we saw during the Vietnam war because this behavior is now illegal.

Approximately two-thirds of Americans liv in official Constitution Free Zones, where U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been given jurisdiction over the travel right of Americans.

Within 100 miles of the U.S. border anyone can subjected to the policies of border patrol, which is allowed to interdict, search and seize persons and property without the due process required for other areas of law enforcement. Couple this with the rise in sobriety checkpoints and other police state measures and you realize we’ve lost the right to freely travel.

Many ordinary and historically common rights, behaviors, practices and occupations have now become privileges regulated and taxed by the State.

Building a home, fishing, hunting, going off the grid, gardening, selling lemonade, mowing yards, driving a car, getting married, starting a business, cutting hair, and so, so much more are all activities that now require permission from the government. And for all of these activities, you’ll have to pay a fee for the privilege. Failure to do so can result in violent arrest, heavy fines, and prison time.

Policing in the U.S. has become a for-profit branch of the government, and police brutality and violence is reaching epidemic levels.

Law enforcement agencies around the U.S. have seized billions of dollars from law-abiding citizens in recent years. Traffic enforcement and local code enforcement works to generate revenue for local governments rather than for public safety. And the violence of police against Americans is everywhere.

America has the highest rate of incarcerated people the world has ever seen.

Prison in the United States has become big business, and thanks to the war on drugs, the government has found it acceptable to imprison millions of Americans, breaking up families, destroying lives and wasting taxpayer money. Although America has only 4.4 percent of the worlds population, it houses about 22 percent of the worlds prisoners.

While America is truly filled with incredible, ingenious and productive people, we are living in a time when government has extended its reach into our lives in ever more serious ways, while going unchecked. In order to solve the problem, you have to see the problem; and as we look around, it’s easy to recognize that our freedom is being stolen from us.

We are Anonymous.
We are Legion.
We do not forgive.
We do not forget.
Expect us.

Zero day vulnerability, Wannacry


Greetings Citizens of the world, we are Anonymous.

A zero-day vulnerability tool, covertly exploited by US intelligence agencies and exposed by the Shadow Brokers hacking group has been blamed for the massive spread of malware that infected tens of thousands of computer systems globally.

The ransomware virus which extorts Windows users by blocking their personal files and demanding payment to restore access, allegedly exploits a vulnerability that was discovered and concealed for future use by the National Security Agency, according to a range of security experts.

“Our analysis indicates the attack, dubbed “WannaCry”, is initiated through an SMBv2 remote code execution in Microsoft Windows. This exploit (codenamed “EternalBlue”) has been made available on the internet through the Shadowbrokers dump on April 14th, 2017. Russian cybersecurity firm, Kaspersky Lab, wrote in a blog post about the attack.

Although Microsoft had already patched the backdoor roughly a month before it became public, many users who did not install the latest security updates seem to have become the primary victims of the attack.

The worm has reportedly hit universities, a major Spanish telecom, FedEx, and the Russian Interior Ministry.

The NHS services across England and Scotland were also one of the major companies to have been hit by the large-scale cyber-attack and this has disrupted hospital and GP appointments.

Some hospitals and GPs have been unable to access patient data, after their computers were locked by a ransomware program demanding a payment worth £230. But there is no evidence patient data has been compromised, NHS Digital said.

Roughly 40 NHS organisations and some GP practices have been hit. The NHS in Wales and Northern Ireland has not been affected though.

There is no indication of who is behind the attack yet, but the hackers demanded their payment in the virtual currency Bitcoin, which is harder to trace.

Prime Minister Theresa May said: This is not targeted at the NHS, it’s an international attack and a number of countries and organisations have been affected.

Still though, it shows that these hackers have little disregard for their actions and will put other lives at risk in order to blackmail people out of their money.

In the video description, you can find a list of all NHS services that are known by the BBC to have been affected.

Now we’re going to show you a demonstration of how WannaCry ransomware works for research and security purposes.


We do not exploit massive spread of malware on the 99 percent. We also strongly condemn the criminal activities against innocent people.

We are Anonymous.
We are Legion.
We do not forgive.
We do not forget.
Expect us.

In seven days, AntiSec created the Internet.


In seven days AntiSec created the Internet.

Don’t ever let somebody tell you…you can’t do something.
Not even me. Alright?
You got a dream..you gotta protect it.
People can’t do something themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it.
You want something go get it.

I believe there’s a hero in all of us…that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble…and finally allows us to die with pride, even though sometimes we have to be steady and give up the thing we want the most.

You all known me for a while and for a long time now you been hearing me talk about being perfect.
Well I want you to understand something…to me, being perfect, is not about winning…it’s about you and your relationship to yourself, and your family and your friends.
Being perfect…is about being able to look your friends in the eye, and know that you didn’t let them down, because you told them the truth. And that truth is that you did everything that you could, there wasn’t one more thing that you could have done.
Can you live in that moment, as best you can with clear eyes and love in your heart, with joy in your heart? If you can do that gentlemen, then you’re perfect.

We’re in hell right now, and we can stay here get the shit kicked out of us, or we can fight our way back, into the light, we can climb out of hell, one inch at a time.

-Listen to yourself, that sounds impossible.
It’s only when we’re pushed to our absolute limits that we can truly shine! You know when you get old in life things get taken from you, and that’s, that’s, that’s part of life. But you only learn that when you start losing stuff. You find out life’s this game of inches, and in any fight it’s the guy who’s willing to die who’s gonna win that inch!

He told the guy, he said when you want to succeed as bad as you want to breath then you’ll be successful. The only thing you care about when you trying to breath is to get some fresh air, that’s it. And when you get to the point where all you want to do is be successful as bad as you want to breath, then you’ll be successful!

And somebody said you have to hate losing, more than you love winning. And I hate losing!

Listen to me, pain is temporary, it may last for a minute, or an hour, or a day or even a year, but eventually it will subside, and something else will take its place. If I quit however it will last forever. And so every time something get hard, you quit, you call mama. I dare you to take a little pain! You ain’t gonna die, at the end of pain is success! You not gonna die because you feeling a little pain, you already in pain, you already hurt, get a reward from it! Don’t go to sleep! Some of you love sleep more than you love success, and I’m here to tell you today, if you’re going to be successful you gotta be willing to give up sleep. If you really want to be successful, someday you gonna have to stay up three days in a row, because if you go to sleep you might miss the opportunity to be successful, that’s how bad you gotta want it!

We can’t keep thinking we’re all that matter, that the world has nothing to do with us. This is where we live, and we have to do our part.

We are Anonymous. what we do in life, echoes in eternity.

Million Mask March 2015, Singapore


Dear citizens of Singapore,

We are Anonymous, We are Singaporeans, reason we are writing is to explain where there we didn’t have any large scale movement today. But firstly I would like to address The Messiah. Though 5th of November wasn’t a success we will still be cheering on for you, for what you stand for, what you believe in and most importantly why you are doing what you are doing. Secondly to the people who doubt of The Messiah’s ways, yes I agree there are probably better approaches but think about it. Nowadays are our government really listening? Do they take the very same MRT the citizens take to work daily? Do they take the busses daily? Will the government really understand what is happening on the field? You be the judge of that. Thirdly to the people who do are reading this hoping something would happen or to those who said that nothing was going to happen, let me explain.

Firstly, yes some might see small groups of Anonymous in mask or just gathering, they are out there by their own free will and we hope there will be no legal issues that will affect them.

Secondly I would like to express how irresponsible how AOTWH Singapore Project is for creating an event page and later not following up, not responding to our enquiries, for not applying the paperwork and most importantly disappointing the Anonymous Community.

Thirdly, when we tried to secure a permit we were informed that we couldn’t book Speakers corner for whatever reason I was not told informed of.

Fourth, even without a permit we couldn’t meet up in attire and mask in larger numbers, so we didn’t see a point if only a few anonymous shows up, and yes you might say a little goes a long way, next time we will be prepared. Expect us.
Fifth, we Anonymous are a NON-VIOLENT movement and we will not go against the law in order to put a point across. That is the main point to why we didn’t go on with the Million Mark March.
The Anonymous movement is here to help. Not harm.

Lastly I would like to sign off saying that, Messiah your message will not be in vain and to the people of Singapore, don’t wait till when your freedom is taken away then you start complaining.

We are Anonymous,
We are Legion,
We do not forgive,
We do not forget,
The Corrupt Fear us,
The Heroic Join us,
Expect us.

A woman wears a Guy Fawkes mask similar to the ones used during the illegal Million Mask March in Singapore. Photo: Reuters

Remembering Aaron Swartz – in memoriam

  • Official obituary and funeral notice

    Aaron is survived by his parents Robert and Susan Swartz, his younger brothers Noah and Ben, and his partner Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman.

    Aaron Swartz San Francisco memorial: Thursday, January 24, at The Internet Archive, 300 Funston Avenue, 7pm. RSVP requestedlivestream.

    Remembrances of Aaron, as well as donations in his memory, can be submitted at http://rememberaaronsw.com.  

    12 Jan 2013
  • Official statement from family and partner of Aaron Swartz

    Our beloved brother, son, friend, and partner Aaron Swartz hanged himself on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment. We are in shock, and have not yet come to terms with his passing.

    Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable—these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.

    Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the scope and accessibility of human knowledge. He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across generations and continents. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.

    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.

    Today, we grieve for the extraordinary and irreplaceable man that we have lost.

    12 Jan 2013
  • Estou Triste I Am Sad

    Estou muito consternada com essa perda e terrivelmente assustada com esse sistema judiciário que causou essa morte. Apoio a causa pelo acesso gratuito ao conhecimento!

    I am very saddened by this loss and terribly frightened by this court system that caused this death. Support the cause by free access to knowledge!

    Sandra Neves

    18 Jan 2013
  • Guerilla Open Access Manifesto

    One thing I am trying to do in Aaron’s memory is spread his Guerilla Open Access Manifesto as much as I can. Gratitude and admiration are both not strong enough to describe what I feel for Aaron’s work. I wish a candle could hold all those feelings and carry them upwards to feel their warmth where he is now. Thank you Aaron. Rest in peace. We will try to continue the information war.

    Adina RO NL

    18 Jan 2013
  • Honoring the memory of Aaron Swartz

    As many of you may know, our daughter Taren’s beloved partner, Aaron Swartz— human rights activist and computer genius—died Friday. He took his own life in despair over prosecution by the US government. On Tuesday, Aaron was buried, but we hope that the ideals to which he devoted his life were not buried with him. Here are six things we can do, individually and collectively, to further his legacy.

    1) Support the adoption of an open-access policy by DePauw faculty and DePauw University. Aaron believed passionately that information—especially scholarly information—should be freely available to all people on this planet, not just privileged individuals like us who have the institutional ties or individual wealth necessary to access it. We believe that, too. In recent years, faculty at some of the world’s leading universities have adopted policies requiring that all research published in scholarly journals by faculty and students at that institution also be made available on-line for free. Hope College, a GLCA sister institution of DePauw, has already adopted an open-access policy. DePauw should follow suit as soon as possible, and then encourage the rest of the GLCA and other liberal arts colleges to do so as well.

    2) Consider making your publications open-access. Most open-access policies at universities are prospective, not retrospective, thus denying most people free access to scholarship that has already been published. In solidarity with Aaron, this week thousands of scholars have posted their own published articles at http://pdftribute.net/ If you have none to post, then post something by a scholar who has died and cannot liberate his or her own articles. As Aaron wrote in 2008, “Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations… . Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves.”

    3) Support the nomination of Aaron to be the recipient of the American Library Association’s 2013 James Madison Award. Before Aaron’s death, DePauw librarian Bruce Sanders was preparing to nominate Aaron for the ALA’s annual award to the person who has “championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s ‘right to know.’” James Jacobs and Shinjoung Yeo of Stanford University seconded the nomination, as did the People’s Librarians of Occupy Wall Street through Mandy Henk. If you are a member of the ALA, please consider adding your voice in support.

    4) Sign the White House petition protesting overreach of prosecutorial power. Hundreds of articles and blogs have been written in the past few days about the overreach of prosecutorial power that led directly to Aaron’s death, including one by the retired federal judge from the US District Court where Aaron was indicted. But Aaron is only one of literally millions of people in the USA—most of them poor and powerless—who suffer from a system of injustice that allows prosecutors to pile on charges and potential years of incarceration to the extent that nearly all defendants are forced to accept plea bargains. Fewer than 3% of defendants in federal cases last year had the temerity to take their cases to trial. The White House petition, which has already been signed by 35,000 people, asks for the dismissal of Aaron’s prosecutor—a symbolic but important step to take. Prosecutorial discretion at the federal, state and local levels needs to be reined in and federal prosecutors in particular need to be made more accountable.

    5) Support the newly proposed “Aaron’s Law,” which would reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). On the day Aaron was buried, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren introduced “Aaron’s Law,” which would amend a key part of the CFAA, one of the statutes under which Aaron was indicted. According to DemandProgress.org (one of the many organizations that Aaron founded in his short life), “The CFAA makes violations of a website’s terms of service agreement or user agreement—that fine print you never read before you check the box next to it—a FELONY, potentially punishable by many years in prison. That’s how over-broad this dangerous statute is, and one way it lets showboating prosecutors file charges against people who’ve done nothing wrong.” You can sign the letter supporting Aaron’s Law here.

    6) Share this letter with colleagues at other universities.

    The day after his death, Aaron’s family and Taren released a statement about Aaron’s legacy that read in part:

    Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable—these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.

    Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the range and accessibility of human knowledge. He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across the world. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.

    Like so many others, we loved Aaron and shall miss him terribly. Thank you for your help in honoring his memory.

    Kelsey Kauffman and Bruce Stinebrickner

    18 Jan 2013
  • Dear Aaron,

    I am deeply sad that you are no longer with us on this side of the world. I feel such a loss that I wish I can travel back through time to meet you. I wish I could meet you to share your idealism, to talk about how you want to change the world, to share your depression about the injustice of the world, to dream together about how things should be. I love you Aaron. I admire and am inspired by what you have done for the world. The rest of us will work together to help realize your dream of a better world with freedom to connect.

    You are gone but your presence is not gone. You are in everyone’s heart. Your smile, your voice, your image are here just like you are still with us. You are like a new friend of mine who I have never talked to or even heard of before today but who is important to me. We were born the same year but I was born in China. Your efforts to make the Internet an open place to share will continue to inspire me and millions of other young people all over the world. I can not help but thinking about your witty, your smile, your warmth, your kind, your energetic spirit. I love you and you will always be in my heart. May you forever in peace.

    Yours sincerely, Lina


    18 Jan 2013
  • Your tireless efforts have given us all much more freedom. Your legacy will live on. We “are all promised” eternal life….. move on proudly brother..RIP

    Joyce Neff

    18 Jan 2013
  • Addio a un genio Farewell to a genius

    Carissimi genitori anch’io padre sono vicino a voi in questo struggente momento. La circolazione libera della conoscenza fa paura a molte persone, perché sapere è potere, mentre vogliono tenerci nella ignoranza. Ciao Aaron che tu possa continuarci a seguire ovunque sia il tuo spirito. Un abbraccio

    Dear father parents are too close to you in this poignant moment. The free circulation of knowledge is frightening to many people, because knowledge is power, and want to keep us in ignorance. Hello Aaron you can continuarci to follow wherever your spirit. A hug


    18 Jan 2013
  • Aaron you were a great human being

    More than a genious, more than a computer geek, more than all, you, Aaron, was a beautiful human being, a lovely soul, a person dedicated to distibute knowledge to all people, to improve this world. RIP, Aaron. This world does not deserve you. The Justice of your country – of all countries – are made for the big-money guys, not for the ones that desires that any person have rights to have dignity in their lifes , to learn, to grow. Your death is another proof that the human race is a failure and the exceptions – you was a enromous exception – for that shall return to the cosmos, as bright energy, to work in another planets where love is the only law and inhabitants do not know what money means.

    Jose Claudio Barbedo

    18 Jan 2013
  • We failed

    When measured by the way we treat our genius minds, the people who think outside the box, as a society we just scored a big, fat F-. There’s just no other way to look at it.

    Let us make sure Aaron’s death wasn’t in vein. We must cherish our intellectuals, not chastise them for having unorthodox ideas. These people are the greatest resources we have as a species.

    Aaron, may you find in death what you couldn’t alive.

    Colin Helvensteijn

    17 Jan 2013
  • My Thoughts About Aaron

    Facing this huge loss

    I did not know even his name until the day after the fateful Friday when the tragic news spread like fire over the internet.

    As I started to read about Aaron and his accomplishments, to absorb his thoughts, writings, energetic commitment to justice and freedom, my sorrow grew with every word, every interview. I am in sorrow for the loss to his family and friends, and I am in sorrow for the loss to the nation and to the world.

    We cannot lose a person such as Aaron, without leaving a hole in the heart and a deep sadness for all that we have lost.

    On Aaron’s behalf, and in his honor, I feel we must push back against the forces of tyranny that pushed on him to destroy the peace in his life, and I hope to play a part in that movement. Let us all please move to reform this detestable system of “justice” so we can someday say it without the quotes.

    In other times, we lost another loving wonderful man when Robert Kennedy was assassinated, and in honor of Aaron, I need to quote something that Robert Kennedy said that so very much applies to Aaron:

    “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Let’s make sure the current he started continues to knock down the walls of oppression. My condolences to his family and friends.

    I miss him and grieve for his loss.

    Patricia Gracian

    16 Jan 2013
  • My unexpected neighbor

    I maintain pkgsrc packages of some of Aaron’s software, and over the last decade or so would occasionally send him bits and pieces of code. Along the way we somehow discovered that we’d grown up a couple hundred meters apart, separated by a driveway and some trees. (If only we’d known, and been around at the same time, our common interests would doubtless have made us fast friends.)

    When sending patches I’d always ask what he’d been up to lately, because it was always something new and ambitious, even audacious. We were just nerds on the Internet whose paths occasionally crossed, but I felt like I knew him better than that. Above all, he had managed to hold fast to a way of thinking about our world – as evidenced by his writing and his actions – that I had forced myself to hold rather more loosely. I always admired him for that.

    Had we had the chance to know each other better, I’m quite sure I’d have admired Aaron for much more.

    Amitai Schlair

    20 Jan 2013
  • It’s tragic, it’s sad. I know I don’t need to explain, we all feel the same.

    I wrote this poem in Aaron’s memory and I would like to share it:

    Goodbye Aaron:

    That night the stars were less brighter. That night was dark and silent… like it was holding it’s breath. The sky didn’t wanted to see. The sun didn’t wanted to come out. A mother cried that morning. A mother is still crying right now. And innumerable souls are still weeping in silence, for you, Aaron.


    Veronica Valeros

    18 Jan 2013
  • An unforgettable mind

    I met Aaron twice and, each time, I was struck by the searing lucidity of his mind, by his uncanny ability to see further than most of us. Issues fraught with complex consequences generally paralyze people; in his case, he would suddenly come up with a perspective that made clear that the rightness of the objective did not have to be compromised on account of the difficulties involved in reaching it. Not only was he brilliant, dauntingly so at times, he was ethically brilliant. At the same time, he was deeply approachable, profoundly human, so very pleasant to know. I write all this as an old professor who has had the privilege of meeting many excellent young people in my career. Aaron was simply the best.

    His death is obviously touching a deep nerve everywhere, so unjust and stupid it is. Hounding a young man as was obviously the case here appears idiotic and needlessly cruel: if the Justice Department had expended as much energy on some of the banks’ leaders who created the recent economic disaster in the world as they did with Aaron, it would have been money well spent. In this case, the zeal of prosecutors is, to say the least, ambiguous. The possibility that someone wanted to score an easy “intellectual property” victory to advance one’s legal career will always linger in the back of my mind. I would certainly harbour a deep feeling of guilt if I were that prosecutor.

    Let Aaron’s name stand as a symbol of redress and true justice in a very flawed world. Let it also stand as a reminder of warm humanity and deep concerns for others. We are mourning a truly extraordinary individual. We all miss him and his death makes us much poorer.

    Jean Claude Guedon

    18 Jan 2013
  • I wept for myself and the world at large

    Profound loss … how is it possible that I have wept every day for the last week for a young man, his family, and his devoted friends when I don’t know any of them personally? I have also wept for myself and the world at large, like so many others, because we lost something big and important on Friday. I am easily old enough to be Aaron’s mother, yet I have lost whatever vestige of naivete that remained in my cynical brain over the events surrounding his prosecution and suicide. The venality and stupid orthodoxy of our justice system and those who manage it is shameful.

    I add my outrage, compassion, and commitment to help move the things along that Aaron embraced, to the myriad of voices that have already spoken. Perhaps we really can create a collective conscience great enough and ethical enough to carry on Aaron’s work in whatever way possible.

    I beg all of the other Aaron/Erin’s out there! Please, please, please keep stepping outside the box, continue to challenge orthodoxy, and remember the greater good. We need you! I just hope we don’t fail you to.

    Maria Swarts

    18 Jan 2013
  • An inspiration and a true being of light

    I never had a chance to meet Aaron, but have known him through his work. He is an inspiration and a true being of light. Reading what the others have wrote, I find that everything there is to say has already been said about him. He was one of the few amongst us 20-somethings that actually had substance. He was one of the few that is worthy of being looked up to. His light will shine on forever. He left us a legacy, and his name will never be forgotten.

    Victoria Dickens

    18 Jan 2013
  • Incredibly Gifted As Well As Brave

    I am deeply sorry for your loss. I didn’t know Aaron, but he was obviously incredibly gifted, as well as brave. The injustice he had to face is incredibly disturbing, but I hope that you are comforted by the fact that he did so much towards democratizing and communicating paths towards greater knowledge, and that he is an inspiration to many, myself included.

    Beth Fowler

    18 Jan 2013
  • One voice

    As much as I am ashamed to admit, the general population is bunch of followers. We wait for someone else to to create, to discover, to make a difference, before we get on the bandwagon. We fail to imagine anything new and yet we think we are creative. We keep asking for a change in the world and we wait for someone else to do it for us. We see someone doing great things and we wait for him to do more. So here we are… the one we were watching is no longer there. So are we going to sit back and wait for another rift in the universe? Or are we willing to fight for the same cause… the freedom to have equal knowledge, to have shared information, to have one unified and more importantly, an informed world. Let’s do our part. Let’s not limit our knowledge. Let’s not sit at our desks hogging what we know because we are too scared to let go. Let’s not all his actions be in vain. Let’s continue to prove that the internet community is far stronger, smarter and more humane than anyone could every think of.

    Tia Connaratna

    18 Jan 2013
  • The world is Now a Lesser Place

    Aaron Swartz – an amazing and extraordinary man. A prodigious talent that will be missed by all of us.

    The world is now a lesser place without Aaron. I pray his legacy will be an impetus for change.

    Ocala, Florida

    Robert Devine

    18 Jan 2013
  • Rage rage against the dying of the light

    Dear Aaron, family and friends,

    I have been able to think of little else since I learnt of your death last week. Although we had not met, I knew of your plight via some ThoughtWork’s meetings late last year around the unjust criminalisation of your actions at JSTOR. Sadly, the next news I had about you was that you were gone. I feel deeply ashamed to be part of a world that thoughtlessly and callously extinguished a mighty intellect, generous heart and courageous spirit that only fought to protect the rights and enrich the lives of the many.

    What really galls me is that we spend our lives believing that right will prevail and justice be done, instead the good has been crushed and the villains run amok. Shame on the DoJ who ironically were motivated by all that you were not: greed, fame, ambition and ruthlessness.

    We all failed you and I am deeply sorry for that, we should have stood shoulder to shoulder with you and helped bear the terrible burden that was placed upon you. When facing financial ruin, the intimidation of those you knew, decades in prison and a criminal record, (for something that was not even a crime) all of this would be enough to crack the spirit of even the most determined warrior.

    To Aaron’s family and friends, my heart is broken for you and I only hope some day you can learn to carry this great pain. You produced a person that was truly one in a million: be proud, we are deeply grateful.

    Destroying you will not extinguish your work, you pointed out the path and we must all now step up and act, protest, donate and signup. We cannot stand idly by whilst the authorities pick off those who are smart, energetic and fearless enough to hold them to account.

    Aaron is gone but we are all Aaron and his fearless spirit will guide the way.

    Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince:

    And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

    Harvinder Dhinsa

    18 Jan 2013
  • We may overcome aaron

    …following the roads your long hard stepping to freedom of net, to freedom of mankind had beaten further ahead. i promise by heart to contribute all i’m able to do here in the material and here in the virtual dimension of this world – and not least to hold on to the memory of beings like you, aaron. we are the ones, aaron – not them! Thinking of you PETER. (Germany)


    18 Jan 2013
  • What is a hero?

    In my circles, I know more than a few people who have stood up for what they believed in, taking a risk of serious consequences. But most of them have been very strong, more outgoing personalities, who could react to attacks without flinching. It is perhaps more brave to take on the world when you are shy and it can hurt you so badly.

    I never quite knew what to make of Aaron. Having been a whiz-kid myself I will admit I had some jealousy for somebody who was outdoing us all in that dept. People don’t realise just how hard it is to get adults to respect you and listen to you when you’re that young. He did it.

    Aaron once said that I was one of his heroes. All I can say is that kid, you got that backwards. You’re one of mine.

    Brad Templeton

    18 Jan 2013
  • Your beloved son

    Just looking at the pictures and reading about this beautiful young man, broke my heart. I wish you peace and strength and that Hashem brings your family a long life, with renewed joy. with respect, susan

    Irish Connell

    18 Jan 2013
  • A Formidable Warrior

    Like so many of us, I have come to know of Aaron much too late. It is beyond words to express how sad it is to loose such a formidable warrior. It is also not difficult to figure out that he just knew too much and that he was already in danger before this. But his passing is also a victory at the same time. He has drawn attention of vast number of people around the world to key problems that we face as humanity. I have learned so much from him in the last few days from his blogs and his talks. He has shown us a path and I will go there as far as I can. He is irreplaceable but a part of him will live on in all of us who really understand him. Blessings and Peace Aaron!


    18 Jan 2013
  • Aaron thanks for the inspiration.

    Aaron and Family, your efforts have not been in vain. Burned out, facing tons of legal crap, depressed, hating what has become of IT (my career for 20 plus years) in the Microsoft-SOPA-jackboot era – this week I got back to coding, logged on the EFF and am determined to rebuild my career as coder and activist. Aaron, your picture is on my desktop, you are a modern Prometheus. Knowledge is a far greater a gift to humans than fire, knowledge is our only hope in the quest for justice for the common man. Sad that it takes such a tragedy for us to stop and think how extraordinary this explosion in access to knowledge has been via the Web, networks and computers in general, you fought for such a worthy cause. Go with God Aaron, I won’t forget you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Ben Ballou

    18 Jan 2013
  • Hello,

    I want to share a song I am releasing as a dedication to Aaron Swartz. It’s licensed under Creative Commons, free to listen/download/distribute. It’s my way of grieving, and my best effort to share his compelling story.

    I am an artist/programmer/activist who only knew his name in passing due to DemandProgress & his efforts against SOPA. After his tragic death I read a bunch about Aaron, about watched many videos.

    I was so moved by his story I decided to release my first public single as a tribute to him. This is a big step for me, as I’m usually very private…but I have been re-inspired, to say the least.

    The song titled “Vote 4 Hackers”, along with an article I wrote about Swartz’s, can be found here: http://contrascience.com/vote-4-hackers-aaron-swartz-tribute

    Download via Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/contrascience/vote-4-hackers-aaron-swartz-tribute

    Video on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-VHb91Ic1w

    I am deeply saddened by the loss of Aaron Swartz and can only imagine how you feel. But if it’s any condolence, he’s sparked at least one very passionate flame (my own)…and we both know there are many others.

    Thank you,

    Nathan Jones/Contrascience

    Nathan Jones Contrascience

    18 Jan 2013
  • You shall live on. A glorious son


    I do not know you in person. I am just an year older than you. We have something in common which unites us – THE INTERNET. We belong here. This is our world where boundaries are torn apart.

    I cried. Literally cried reading about you. A part of mine wants to beleive and write this -‘Well staged Dark Knight! How is Florence? Hope you are having a good time out there.See you in the next Python conference presenting some uber cool thing which you would get to work in isolation from the rest of the world who dont understand the genius in you’. Wish it is true.I know reality is different.My wishful thinking is not going to be true.

    Some 2-3 years before, I lost 2 friends of mine.One, really brilliant fellow, did as you did. Another, just vanished into thin air. I am still searching for him. Thus,I am able to empathize more with all that people of our age go through and what you might have been through. Research, hacking, etc – which would be termed as path breaking things – are no longer fun and free.I am intrigued to think what would the society made of Edison had he been living now. May be his professor might have shown him the doors because of 99 failures or may be the justice system might have booked him for wasting state money, but producing no result.Damn!

    Aron, You shall live on, for, the free content on the internet has an indebtion to repay you. You shall live on, for, not just the fact you were a genuius but you were a kind person. A gentle human being who touched the heart of many who came in touch with you. There are many geeks and nerds in this world, but not everyone has a kind helping heart which you had. Thank you. You shall live on, for, in the sincerity of the intentions you did nothing wrong and is surely on the lines of some good souls who have walked on this planet.You just genuinely wanted to help others. That is something glorious.

    This world may not be right place for you with all the jealously and ill-motivated people around. May be you belong elsewhere where only kindness and good things exist. Wishing you well!

    with sincere appreciations, Vignesh

    Dear Robert and Susan Swartz,

    Having experienced first hand, the experiences parents go through in these situations, my heartfelt feelings of reassurance to both of you. Your son was a great man whose ‘love for humanity’ was so rare in the technological world.

    In India, in some schools,as we grew up we are taught some important scriptural lessons. A profound teaching is – soul never perishes. So, please be reassured, your son is just doing fine. Nothing can happen to him. It is as much simple a fact as someone going from USA to Australia.

    For the good hearted person he was, only good shall happen to him. Sometimes, in a classroom of mediocore students, a teacher may pick the brightest one and put him in a place where his talents and abilities would be used better. May be God felt, this world is not the right place for him,for people here are not so good and unworthy of his good deeds.

    Thanks for giving us a nice person.

    good wishes, Vignesh.

    Shri Vignesh

    21 Jan 2013
  • Dear Swartz Family

    A sad welcome to the club. Our daughter, Lauren, took her life 16 months ago.

    I realize that the death of Aaron is so public and that the news media and Aaron’s followers will buoy you all up during the “shock” period.

    I just wanted to reach out as another father who lost a child to this.

    There is not much help out there for dads.

    We need to get together and talk.

    If you want to, I’m all ears. We raised the kids in Naperville, IL.

    Doug Marlowe, father of Lauren Jill Marlowe 2/5/1984 – 9/20/2011.

    Douglas Marlowe

    18 Jan 2013
  • I heard of Aaron Swartz only after his death. Shortly afterwards I found myself reading on his website. It didn’t take long till I couldn’t hold weeping. As I read more and more of his essays and saw all the things Aaron had achieved – not for himself, but instead for the society as a whole I understood that Aaron was not only a very intelligent, but also a very idealistic young man with a great drive to make the world a better place.

    I don’t have an idea what comes after the end of life, but I’m convinced that if we had more selfless and empathic people like Aaron, heaven would be a place on earth.

    My deepest condolences go out to his family. I hope you find the strength to cope with the loss of Aaron.

    Martin Winter, Germany

    Martin Winter

    18 Jan 2013
  • In thanks for Aarons courage and sorrow at his death

    My son informed me of Aaron’s suicide when we met for lunch this week. I am appalled that our government engages in this destructive persecution of individuals who seek to keep the public informed of important information. Is our country turning into a police state?

    I am so sorry, and give my deepest condolences to Aaron’s family and friends.


    18 Jan 2013
  • Make the loss of Aaron the cause to carry on his work

    I am so sorry about the tragic loss of Aaron. Although I never met him but I admire and appreciate the great work he had accomplished. Like many, I will remember his tireless selfless and astonishing effort to advance democracy. Like many, I will work to cherish that memory. Though we can’t bring him back, we will make sure he didn’t die in vein by carry on his work. Thank you for giving us such a brilliant humanitarian. RIP, Aaron.

    Ying Yan

    18 Jan 2013
  • Like many who have commented

    I had not even heard his name until yesterday but have been strangely touched and have found myself weeping. It’s very sad that someone so young felt so much darkness. We are living in dark times, and he may have done something wrong but the whole system is wrong. What stood out for me is his age. At 26 these charges would be a lot to handle and particularly if he was struggling with depression. I hope that his death is used for good and that anyone who contributed towards it is held accountable.

    I will keep his family, friends and loved ones in my prayers during this difficult time. I cannot imagine the heartbreak. God bless.

    Beth Wallace

    18 Jan 2013
  • On Aarons Passing

    To the parents and family of Aaron Swartz

    Although I didn’t know Aaron personally, I feel like “we are all” Aaron Swartz. I am taking this opportunity to express my heartfelt condolences to his loving family and condemn the actions of our over-zealous government in prosecuting/bullying the wrong people. We know Aaron’s death will not be in vain, and that justice WILL BE SERVED in bringing those who abused the system to pay for their hideous and inhumane actions.

    Deborah Stone

    18 Jan 2013
  • Protecting the smart not only the weak

    This kid’s tragic case underscores our nation’s (academia, professionals, groups) inability to protect one of our brightest from destructive beauraucratic interventions. The lack of transparency and artificial locks he was fighting against ultimately destroyed him. What a shame and what a sham “investigation”, an actual witch hunt. My heart weeps especially for his family God rest his soul


    18 Jan 2013
  • Thank you for helping

    me to get science papers I cannot afford. I am a self taught marine person who has worked with many research projects, but am not affiliated with any one institution. Getting science papers is a begging affair for me. I cannot afford a 35 dollar download to check a protocol. The very idea that someone would try to freeshare science papers is the most freethinking educational idea I’ve ever heard of. Thank you for unleashing the power of the idea. I hope others with better know how than I will continue with it. You are a great loss to me, and others ike me who could really have benefitted from what you did. Peace to those close who knew you well. Meri

    Meri Ratzel

    18 Jan 2013
  • We have lost…

    Aaron was a huge, magnificent person. I suppose when people talk of a meteoric career you can think of a meteor as something amazing and bright. Also, alas, as something short. A spark, that in Aaron’s case is out – but what an incredible spark he was! Blazing across the dark sky of ordinary people, broken systems, a shining force for good, a maker of great things.

    I first came across him online in the hacker community. I mean “hacker” in the most positive way the technical community does, someone who can do stuff, build stuff, with computers. Generally we hung out in Internet Relay Chat rooms. (They’re sort of a window – a chat room – where you can see who else is there and anybody can type anything into the group conversation.) And so, many years ago, there was a Semantic Web Interest Group chat room. The Semantic Web was what was cool and interesting to me at the time and I hang out there and a bunch of other people did too. And this guy “aaronsw” turned up and he introduced himself. He sent a message to the list saying: “Hi, I’m Aaron. I’m not very good at programming but I think what you’re doing is cool and I’d like to help.” And he started doing all kinds of things. He didn’t just talk, he coded! And those who code, who make stuff, get a lot of respect.

    He also started organizing people, getting people to agree about how stuff should be done. At one point I was even worried that this “aaronsw” guy, whoever he was, was going to organize, that his organization of his group there was going to threaten the fact that the World Wide Web Consortium, my Consortium, was where all these people would come and do their standards because he seemed to be such a good organizer.

    He joined a working group which was doing work on the Semantic Web, the RDF Working Group. At one point this group, which normally met only online, was going to have a rare face-to-face meeting. Normally, everything happens online – we share code, ideas, hopes and dreams. But we actually then had a time when we decided a number of working groups would meet together. And the RDF Working Group decided to meet. And somebody said to me: “So this … umm … Aaron Swartz, he’s going to be coming to the meeting, is he?” And I said: “Yes, I think so.” And they said: “You know, he’s 14.” “What? he’s 14 years old? Oh … He’s a minor! What? We’ve never had a minor, we don’t know what we should do – do we have to get a parent to sign a permission form? We don’t know how to do this!” Here’s this guy who is looked up to and respected and a major contributor – who is wise beyond his years. Suddenly so then he’s revealed face-to-face for being 14. And there’ve been times, other times when I’ve met Aaron face-to-face later at a few conferences and he’s actually had a parent somewhere quietly, discretely in the background. Invisible unless you looked for her. And Aaron would be contributing totally with the best and the brightest of them.

    And to say he was contributing with the best and the brightest of them – in fact, he was superlative. He read more. I think, I don’t know if there’s anybody in this room maybe who has read as many books as Aaron read. He thought! The amount he thought – he had to read in order to feed that thought process, maybe. And also he was (this has a certain irony in it) such an ethical person. I’ve not known anybody else who is so ethical: who has thought, all the time, about what is right and what is wrong and what should be done and what should not be done.

    And so here was this person who, on the face of it, was a coder. He knew that by writing code that was one way of changing the world. You could change the world directly by giving somebody a hug. You could write a piece of code that would make life easy for a whole lot of people. You could build a website which would make it easier for people to communicate, to work together.

    And as he worked on projects in the connected world, Aaron realized that a great waste, a great missed opportunity. He realized that sitting on a lot of government computers was a lot of information which in principle anyone should be allowed access to and in practice they were not. He worked very hard on openness of governments, on advocacy, and taking data which was public and making it actually available on the web. This is something I’ve spent some time on myself, I think its really important, and I was very happy to se Aaron doing this work. He was one of these people jumping up and down trying to persuade governments to just get all the information you have about how the country’s running and put it out there on the web. So he fought for that.

    But I remember feeling a little bit of a sinking in my stomach when he said that actually he’d become disillusioned. He’d decided open data wasn’t going solve all the worlds problems. It wasn’t enough. Aaron began to be aware of the complexity of the social systems which he needed to change and the political systems around him. He started to understand how, to get change, you could change the world with software but that you could also use your code to make social change. And you could use that social change, you could create structures and further social changes which would then lead to political change. And he realized that unless you made huge political changes then you wouldn’t be able to solve the problems. And driving this was a fiery sense of justice: it was as though the motivating force behind his work was a keen sense of the real injustices and inequalities in the world.

    Aaron was a magnificent person because he took all that on. Took it all on his shoulders and immersed himself in it to a level the rest of us don’t. So he was an amazing person and people a lot older than him kind of looked to him. And looked to the things he wrote. Looked to what he was. Looked to the things he discovered. Looked to the way he operated. Looked to him. So he was a mentor. He is an elder. We have lost an elder.

    And we’ve lost a fighter. We’ve lost somebody who put huge energy into righting wrongs. There are people around the world who take it on themselves to just try to fix the world but very few of them do it 24/7 like Aaron. Very few of them are as dedicated. So of the people who are fighting for right, and what he was doing up to the end was fighting for right, we have lost one of our own. So, yes, Taren, we need to all work together, and if we put all our energy together, maybe we can to some small extent, compensate for the loss of Aaron.

    So we’ve lost a fighter. We’ve lost a great person. But also, we’ve lost somebody who needed to be nurtured, who needed to be protected. I didn’t work with Aaron as closely as many people here, but I got the sense that all who have known him realized that he needed to be protected. He needed to be held carefully in our hands. He needed to be nurtured. So nurturers of the world, everyone who tried to make a place safe to work or a home safe to live, anyone who listens to another, looks after another or feeds another, all parents everywhere – we’ve lost a child. And there’s nothing worse than that.

    Tim Berners Lee

    18 Jan 2013


Towards learning from losing Aaron Swartz


Over the weekend, I learned that Aaron Swartz had taken his own life.  I cried, and am still crying, for him, his family, for the close friends who loved him, and for our community. We lost a rare and special person, one who did so much in his short life to make the world a better place.  Any do-gooder, including myself, could be proud were we to accomplish as much.  We don’t know what else he would have acheived were he to have lived. But I admit that I also cried for myself, because I felt guilty that I didn’t do more to help Aaron in his criminal case.  This post is about part of that challenge, the challenge to improve computer crime laws, and the criminal justice system more generally.  Hopefully in the end, there’ll be something that I, and you, can do about it.

I was a criminal defense attorney for nine years, before I started working full time on Internet law issues in 2001.  I represented people charged with all kinds of crimes, including computer crimes, in federal and state court.  I left that work for a lot of reasons, but in part, I found it grueling and insufficiently rewarding.  Once, at a federal defender conference, someone was giving a speech addressing attrition in the field.  He said that there were three kinds of people who got into criminal defense. First, there are those who care about people, especially the underprivileged, and want to help them through the system.  Those don’t last long.  Second, there are those who believe in the Constitution, and want to curb the awesome power the government can otherwise wield over the individual.  Those do better, but they don’t last long either.  And then there are the third kind, those who just want to fuck with a fucked up system.  The crowd roared its approval.  I turn out to be Type 2.  And so eventually, I left for a field where, in 2001, I felt the law was more wide open, and thus more amenable to positive change.


As a former criminal defense lawyer, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the law under which Aaron was charged, is one of my biggest concerns.  The statute basically outlaws accessing a computer without authorization, or in excess of authorization.  In a networked environment, the boundaries between machines are porous and appropriate uses are cultural, subtle, subject to interpretation.  In the law, the boundaries are bright, and the CFAA polices them under penalty of law.  Since every communication with a computer is access, the distinguishing line between legal and prison is the ephemeral concept of “authorization”.  “Authorization” is in the eye of the beholder.  Desired uses of systems can be expressed in terms of service, clickthrough notices, (sometimes competing) cultural expectations, technological protection measures, employment contracts, or cease and desist letters.  Yet outside of the computer context, disregarding any of these things is generally not a crime. It may not even be a civil offense.  “Authorization” gives great power to the computer system owner.  That entity may unilaterally decide what is right and wrong on their system, and the CFAA brings the full force of federal law behind it.  Yet outside of the computer context, crimes punish social wrongs, not merely offenses to personal or business preferences.

Another way of looking at the CFAA, is that it protects the box, regardless of other social values or laws regarding the information residing there.  Our laws try to balance the protection of information with other social goods, including freedom of expression and the public’s right to know.  So copyright is conditioned by fair use. Trade secrets are specifically defined and only protected against misappropriation. Classified information must be marked, and there is a cultural and legal history that enables news organizations and journalists who report on such issues to continue to operate. The CFAA doesn’t care about any of that nuance.  There’s a bright line protecting the box, and even otherwise public data stored on the box is thereby subject to the system owner’s control.

That concept of punishing access in excess of authorization lead to some relatively early civil cases that were potentially very dangerous to innovation and consumer interests, including lawsuits against companies that aggregated pricing data (American Airlines v. FarechaseeBay v. Bidder’s Edge), used Whois to generate business leads (Register.com v. Verio), or identifying metatags on a site in order to better market a competing service to the same set of potential customers (Oyster Software v. Forms Processing).  These cases were not brought under the CFAA, but under a resurrected version of the tort of trespass to chattels.  Of course, the tort doesn’t carry criminal penalties.  Nevertheless, it fell out of favor with potential plaintiffs in 2003, when the California Supreme Court ruled in Intel v. Hamidi that the tort required a showing of damage or impairment to the targeted computer system.

The CFAA specifically allows civil suits for violations of some of its provisions, and Plaintiffs have increasingly used the CFAA and its state corrollaries, rather than trespass to chattels, to stop data aggregation for similar anti-competitive purposes (Facebook v. Power Ventures) and also in employment disputes to inhibit employees planning to leave from taking advantage of their computer rights to position themselves for competitors.  These uses have been embraced by courts.  For example, in International Airport Centers, L.L.C. v. Citrin, the Seventh Circuit held that an employee who uses a company computer disloyally, i.e. contrary to the employer’s interest,violates the CFAA.  Take that, all you people who look for a new job while you are at your old job.

In 2001, early in this history, I was on KQED’s Forum program with Chris Painter, who I believe was then at the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) in the U.S. Department of Justice. During the debate, I complained about the breadth of the computer crime laws and I remember Painter saying that even though civil plaintiffs were urging an expansive interpretation of the CFAA and courts were embracing those arguments where monetary harm was at stake, that the Department of Justice would not exercise its discretion to use the CFAA to put people in prison for such borderline kinds of activities.  At the time, I could not point to a contrary example.

Chris Painter doesn’t work at CCIPS anymore. And today, I have many such examples of borderline prosecutions involving broad interpretations of the statute, including Aaron’s case, and the successful Auernheimer prosecution for conspiracy to violate the CFAA.  Most notably from a legal precident perspective, the Ninth Circuit relatively recently rejected CFAA prosecutions in United States v. Lori Drew and in United States v. Nosal.

In Drew the government argued that the defendant’s use of MySpace was without authorization because she violated the social network’s terms of service in setting up a pseudonymous account.  The account was used to harass a girl who subsequently committed suicide, but the harassment did not rise to criminal levels under state law, which is why the prosecutors wanted to bring the federal case. [Its interesting now to reread the prosecutor’s statements in the Drew case, blaming the defendant there for the child’s suicide, next to the apologia we are now seeing online from some current and former DOJ employess who I suppose are simply inured to miscarriages of justice such as those we see in Aaron’s case. Guys, guess what? We don’t have to prove that your prosecution was the but for cause of Aaron’s suicide in order for some critical thinking about the justice of the case to be in order here.]  In Nosal, the government prosecuted a man who went to work for a competitor and got some of his old colleagues to send him source lists, client data, and contact information from his former employer.  The DOJ argued that violating a workplace computer use policy “exceeded authorization” and amounted to a crime.  The Ninth Circuit disagreed.


There is a circuit split, with the Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh circuits adopting a broad interpretation of the statute, finding that an individual accesses a computer “without authorization” or in excess of his authority when the employee acquires an interest adverse to his employer or breaches a duty of loyalty, and the Fourth and Ninth Circuits (in Drew and Nosal, for example) reading the statute to exclude such cases.  One area for advocacy could be in the Supreme Court, should the issue ever get there.  If it does, you can be sure that the facts will be very ugly, as the government will get to decide which case it uses as the vehicle to see such review.

Alternatively, there could be a statutory fix. Through various vehicles, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) has been pushing an amendment to the CFAA that would make clear that TOS violations and employee misconduct are not CFAA crimes.  The Justice Department opposes that change and the cause is currently moribund.  Statutory amendment along this line could fix what has come to be known as the “Lori Drew problem”.  Another area for advocacy would be to come up with good language for this amendment and to explain to policy makers why it is important.

How should a principled line between lawful and criminal access to computers be defined?  Certainly TOS violations and disloyalty are beyond the pale.  Scholars and others have proposed looking to whether the alleged attacker merely used the target computer, or somehow circumvented a technological security measure put in the place to control system access.  The most complete expression of this proposal is Orin Kerr’s article “Cybercrime’s Scope: Interpreting ‘Access’ and ‘Authorization’ in Computer Misuse Statutes”, accessible from SSRN. Without question, this would be better than what we have now.

However, even requiring circumvention of a code based restriction on computer access or use puts too much power in the hands of the computer owner to define social good, with the force of criminal law behind it.  Such a rule probably would not have protected Aaron from prosecution.  This is an additonal area for advocacy.  We need more scholarly work in this area.


Prosecutorial discretion is both a blessing and a curse.  Its a blessing when, for example, someone breaks the law but does so because they are hungry, or young, or addicted and they need another chance.  Its a curse when, for example, laws are written to encompass all kinds of every day behavior, and the government can pick and choose its defendants based on whether they are political rivals, activists, assholes or some other anti-social but lawful behavior.

In 2003, I appealed the conviction of security researcher Bret McDanel, who pointed out a flaw in his former employer’s messaging service in 2001.  He emailed the customers directing them to a webpage explaining how the flaw worked and how the privacy of their messages could be compromised. The government successfully argued at trial that McDanel accessed the system unlawfully by emailing customers via the service, and impaired the integrity of that messaging system by informing customers about the security flaw. Outsiders could potentially access the system, and current customers were upset. The company therefore had to correct the flaw that McDanel revealed. Because fixing that preexisting problem cost money, the government argued that McDanel caused loss to his former employer.  It was a bench trial, and the judge agreed.

There were other chilling aspects to Bret’s case.  First, Bret spent a good portion of the pendancy of his case in custody.  I did not represent him then, and I can’t remember the details now, but I believe he had violated the conditions of his release in some way and had bail set, bail he could not meet.  When I took on the case, he was imprisoned while he waited for sentencing (16 months), while we waited for the transcript to be prepared, while I wrote the appeal, and while we gave DOJ some time to consult internally. Bret served his entire sentence, even though he was innocent.

Relatedly, the government used all its resources to try to force Bret to plead guilty.  While he was in custody on the Central District case, the government indicted him in New Jersey for a much earlier incident involving a different employer that the FBI had investigated and taken no action on.  I don’t remember how explicit the threat was, again because I didn’t represent him in the trial court.  But he was “arrested” for the New Jersey case a few weeks before his California trial began, and the indictment was filed after his conviction while his motion for acquittal was pending and after he made clear that he was going to appeal. I know the government wanted him to plead in the California case and I know that resolution of the New Jersey charges were part of the deal.  Bret did not plead. We are still friends and I hope he’s honored when I say it was because he’s a stubborn son of a bitch and he knew he was right.  Of course, we won the California case, and the government gave him probation in the bullshit New Jersey case.  But not everyone is a tough as Bret.

I must also add that the government argued at trial that Bret had criminal intent because he was a hacker and we know he was a hacker because he was wearing a Defcon tee shirt when he was arrested.

To my mind, the government’s case in McDanel was not plausable.  It should have been obvious that the conviction was improper. Either prosecutors were misinterpreting the CFAA, or the CFAA violated the First Amendment. The DOJ admitted as much on appeal when it declined to oppose my application to vacate the conviction.  But educated prosecutors brought the case and a federal court judge bought it.  Nothing in the statute was an obstacle to McDanel’s conviction.

Cybercrime is a serious problem.  National security and economic interests, not to mention privacy and fraud prevention, are at stake.  But those very real problems, the rhetoric associated with them, and the financial resources that follow, have been used to justify a legal regime which as often than not is used against whistleblowers, disloyal employees, and activists.  Moreover, prosecutorial discretion is structured by various incentives. These include office culture, office policies, training, internal and external oversight, public oversight via data collection and information sharing, defining metrics for office and individual performance evaluation.  Governments are putting increasing resources into establishing cybercrime divisions and training investigators and prosecutors.  If money, prestige and jobs are going to go to the offices that get the most cybercrime convictions, we aren’t going to get what we are paying for.  We need more data and scholorship here.  We need to figure out why US Attorney’s Offices, and Massachusetts, New Jersey and the Central District of California in particular, are pursuing so many troubling cases.


The CFAA is not the only broad statute that lends itself to prosecutorial overreaching.  Our drug laws are notoriously broad, if only because they prohibit activities most of us have participated in at one point or another in our lives.  (Marijuana smoking, anyone?) Those harse laws have incentivized young people to work off their potentially devestating sentences as undercover operatives in law enforcement efforts to catch bigger fish in the drug dealing food chain, sometimes with tragic consequences.  They have also been instrumental in incarcerating historic numbers of African Americans.  See Alexander, Michelle, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Harvey Silverglate, a renowned criminal defense attorney who works in the District of Massachusetts, where Aaron was being prosecuted, can plausably claim in his book “Three Felonies A Day” that “citizens from all walks of life — doctors, accountants, businessmen, political activists, and others — have found themselves the targets of federal prosecutions, despite sensibly believing that they did nothing wrong.”  Silverglate identifies particular statutes succeptable to such overreaching, but his book also shows via war stories the ways that the progress of criminal cases can push even innocent defendants towards prison, bankruptcy, career ending guilty pleas, or emotional ruin. A short list includes pretrial incarceration, indicting or involving family members or friends in the case, the risk of draconian sentences, and superceding indictments in response to refusals to plead.  Some of these tools were used in Aaron’s prosecution.  Perhaps his case is a window through which this digital community can understand better how broadly broken the criminal justice system is.


I met Aaron when he was a teenager; he was working with my boss Larry Lessig on Creative Commons.  I didn’t know him very well, though I couldn’t but love him.  He was a kid, a fascinating, fascinated kid whose heros were people like Ted Nelson (pioneer of computer networking) and Doug Engelbart (inventor of the computer mouse).  We knew each other, but were not friends. When he was indicted for the JSTOR downloads, we talked and I recommended defense lawyers to him.  A few months ago, we talked again.  Aaron wanted to know if I would help his lawyers with the case.  I said I didn’t know what I could offer, but that I would talk to his attorney, and see what I could do.  I had one conversation with his second lawyer, Marty Weinberg about the CFAA, and I sent an email to his last lawyer, Elliot Peters, to check in, but that was the extent of my contribution.

Why didn’t I do more?  I believed then and now that prosecuting Aaron was wrong, and that what he did, while ill-advised, was not a crime.  Aaron was allowed to download JSTOR articles for free, both from the MIT network and from his home institution. To my mind, a successful prosecution requires drawing a line between downloading and downloading really, really fast.

The government was aided in making that specious argument by two things.  First was atmospherics.  Like Bret McDanel’s tee shirt, Aaron did something that made him seem guilty to the prosecutor, he hid his computer in a closet and covered his face when he went to retrieve the machine. He also named the computer he was trying to hide Gary Host, or ghost, the mystery machine. Regardless of the the merits of the case, the government could argue that Aaron acted guilty because he was guilty.  Evading surveillance is not evidence of guilt, of course, but countering that argument was something that was going to take good old criminal defense advocacy, something that I haven’t done for years.  Each of the attorneys Aaron selected were well respected.  I had nothing to offer there.

The second obstacle was the CFAA itself.  Even if the Massachussets court adopted the narrower view propounded by the Ninth Circuit that TOS violations are not crimes, MIT did more than that.  According to the indictment, MIT blocked Aaron’s laptop’s MAC address from the network to stop it from downloading the JSTOR articles.  Aaron then spoofed the MAC address to get the machine back on the network, and connected to JSTOR.  Even under the superior formulation of the CFAA offered by Orin Kerr, this might be circumvention of a code based restriction on access, enough to bring the case outside of Drew territory and into the statutory prohibitions.

I’m not arguing that changing a MAC address should be a CFAA violation.  Aaron was still allowed to use the MIT network, and he was still allowed to access JSTOR.  The statute doesn’t regulate the means of computer access, nor does it prohibit certain uses of information one is otherwise authorized to obtain.  But the government would use these facts to say that Aaron was unauthorized and he knew it. Aaron’s lawyers knew all of this already. I didn’t want to be presumptuous.  I made myself available, I didn’t want to second guess, or interfere.


I’ve been mulling over something danah boyd wrote in her blog post about Aaron, addressing the question of why she hadn’t spoken up about Aaron’s case before.  She said, in part, “I was too scared to speak publicly for fear of how my words might be used against him.”

Certainly, talking about a friend’s case publicly is dangerous.  First, you could be called as a witness.  That is an awful thing, for your friends and relatives to be called to testify against you.  I advised my clients never to talk to anyone about the case, and certainly not to witnesses.  That gives the prosecution an avenue into the defendants state of mind, defense posture, etc.  It is completely alienating and depressing when friends are called before a grand jury to testify against you.  The reports say that at least two of Aaron’s friends were subpoened to testify against him at the trial.

Second, as a defense attorney, I would always ask supporters not to talk publicly about the case.  There are so many ways a defense can be derailed and in the typical case you need to control every variable within your abilities.  I did not let my client talk to the press, and I did not want friends or witnesses innocently doling out information that could be twisted or misused against my client.  Remembering things differently from your friends, contradicting yourself after forgetting or remembering facts over the course of an investigation can all form the basis for obstruction of justice allegations.  This is what, for example, Martha Stewart was convicted of when the government failed to prove insider trading.

The second thing danah said was also deeply sad: “And I was too scared to get embroiled in the witch hunt that I’ve watched happen over the last three years. Because it hasn’t been about justice or national security. It’s been about power. And it’s at the heart and soul of why the Obama administration has been a soul crushing disappointment to me. I’ve gotten into a ridiculous number of fights over the last couple of years with folks in the administration over the treatment of geeks and the misunderstanding of hackers, but I could never figure how to make a difference on that front.”

In the next installment, I’ll address this concern of danah’s. I will look at the exercise of state power in Aaron’s case, but also how the disproportionate power of the federal government is generally wielded in the criminal justice system against people of color and the poor, even as geeks and hackers have also gotten the brunt of it.  My goals here are to (1) explain the criminal law and legal process; (2) identify things we can do right now to help fix the CFAA and (3) to introduce the awesome power of Internet activism to networks of criminal justice activists to start to fix this problem for Americans from all walks of life.

The CFAA is incredibly broad and covers swaths of online conduct that should not merit prison time.  To point out that under the CFAA, Aaron’s defense was hard is not to say that I believe Aaron was guilty.  Aaron was authorized to access JSTOR as a result of being on MIT’s campus.  The CFAA may protect the box from unauthorized access, but it does not regulate the means or the speed of access.  If you are allowed to download, and Aaron was, then it is not a crime to download really, really fast.  Even if the server owner would prefer you took your time.

Exactly because the CFAA arguably applies to Aaron’s alleged actions,it should be amended.  It’s also why prosecutors must be extremely careful and measured when bringing these cases.  Unfortunately, from Drew, to Nosal, to McDanel, to Aurenheimer to Swartz, they are not.  When so many thoughtful people, including former prosecutors, disagree with United States Attorney’s conduct in these cases, we need to stop.


Many people feel that Aaron’s prosecution was disproportionate to the offense, if any, committed.  The government filed multiple, duplicative charges, hung 35 years, then 50, over Aaron’s head and insisted that Aaron plead to multiple felonies and be incarcerated.

Certainly, most federal cases I defended went much the same way: The government overcharges the case.  There are so many ways to lose and only one way, total acquittal, to win. The maximum potential sentence is terrifying.  While any first time defendant is unlikely to get the maximum, because defendants are sentenced based not just on the conduct proven at trial, but also on unproven “related conduct”, the actual sentence can be quite high.  In this atmosphere of terror, the prosecutor offers a deal, usually before dispositive motions are heard, or before trial.  If my client waives her right to trial and appeal and admits felonious conduct, the government will suggest to the court a greatly reduced sentence.  If she refuses to do so, the prosecutor will return to the grand jury and add more charges to the case, thereby racheting up the opportunities to lose and the maximum lawful sentence.

This reality is discomfiting enough when your client has been caught red-handed with a car full of cocaine.  But when the facts are unclear, or the case arises under a vague and overbroad law, it becomes terrifying. I want to both acknowledge that regular defendants unjustly face the same tactics used against Aaron every day, and also identify ways in which those tactics are especially likely to produce unjust results in the computer crime context.


Voluminous, overlapping charges may be typical, but they can give unfair advantage to the prosecution.  At trial, each charge is a chance for the prosecution to win.  Convict on one count, and you can likely punish the defendant for all of his conduct, because related conduct, even aquitted conduct, is part of the sentencing calculation.  In contrast, the defendant has only one way to win: He must be acquitted on all counts.  The more counts, the more chances for the government to win. Furthermore, having a lot of counts bolsters the government’s case in front of a lay jury.  Jurors tend to infer that the defendant must have done something very wrong if the indictment is substantial and voluminous. When just disposition of the case requires jurors to understand technology, politics, economics, philosophy and physics likely outside of common experience, this tactic is all the more coercive.


Aaron was in danger of doing real time behind bars, and that is terrifying. To really understand the pressure that federal defendants face, you have to understand something about the way that federal sentencing works.

In federal court, sentences are almost entirely determined by the federal sentencing guidelines.  The guidelines were initially adopted to constrain judges’ arbitrary sentencing practices, so similarly situated convicts would be sentenced similarly.  In practice, the guidelines set draconian sentences that would always rachet upwards, but almost never downwards.  Because one of the only ways to lower your sentence was to plead guilty and testify against someone else, the federal court system is replete with prosecutions based on snitches and liars.  When I was practicing, judges had to sentence according to the guidelines. Today, the guidelines are highly influential but technically discretionary, giving us the worst of both worlds — arbitrary sentences informed by a strict and draconian regime.

To calculate the sentence, you look at the defendant’s past record and at the offense characteristics.  The factors are plotted along the X- and Y-axis on a sentencing table.  Cross-referencing these factors on the table gives the judge a range of months she should impose.  Along the X-axis, Aaron was criminal history category I, he had no prior convictions.

Along the Y-axis, you look at the sentencing guideline for the particular case.  CFAA sentences are governed by §2B1.1, which providers for a base offense level of 6, and adds to that for loss and other characteristics of the offense.

Sentencing under the CFAA is both harsher and less predictable than sentencing even in other fraud cases. Loss, and not the statutory maximum, determines the sentence in computer crime cases.  But, as I wrote in 2006 (pdf), in computer crime cases, the sentence is almost wholly dependent on a “reasonable estimate” of loss and the loss calculation is extremely malleable. The CFAA defines loss as “any reasonable cost to any victim, including the cost of responding to an offense, conducting a damage assessment, and restoring the data, program, system, or information to its condition prior to the offense, and any revenue lost, cost incurred, or other consequential damages incurred because of interruption of service.”

Nor do the guidelines limit loss in computer crime cases to foreseeable damages. While the definition of loss for other white collar fraud crimes punished under the same guideline includes only reasonably foreseeable monetary harm, a special rule for computer crime cases requires the court to include any reasonable cost to any victim, “including the cost of responding to an offense, conducting a damage assessment, and restoring the data, program, system, or information to its condition prior to the offense, and any revenue lost, cost incurred, or other damages incurred because of interruption of service”, regardless of whether the harm was reasonably foreseeable or not. Also, the guidelines establish a lower burden of proof for loss calculations in sentencing. Generally, sentencing is by a preponderance of the evidence. However, the guidelines only require the judge to make a “reasonable estimate” of the loss. In other words, the government only needs to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the sentencing court made a reasonable estimate of loss, and that estimate is a factual finding entitled to great deference on appeal.

I don’t know what the government claimed was the loss in Aaron’s case. Allegedly, he downloaded 4.8 million articles and the cost to download each individual article was $19.  At that rate, Aaron arguably caused $91M in loss to JSTOR.  The government’s opposition to the suppression motion alleged the information was “valued in the tens of thousands of dollars at the time.” Another, or additional, claim of loss could be based on the amount of time MIT and JSTOR spent trying to stop Aaron from downloading. Given the low burden of proof, and the fact that such damage need not be foreseeable, loss numbers are very much in the control of the alleged victims.

For Aaron, with such a fungible numbers in hand and such a low burden of proof, the government could have argued for almost any sentence it wanted.  Using just the base level of 6 and $70K in loss, Aaron would not be eligible to serve any of his sentence in a halfway house or on home confinement. He would be looking at 15 to 21 months of incarceration.  That number could get higher quickly.  Section 2B1.1 increases the base offense level to 12 if the conduct involved use of an “authentication feature” or “unauthorized access device”. Alternatively, upwards adjustments may be warranted if the defendant used a special skill, abused a position of trust, or tried to obstruct justice. True, 35 years wasn’t in the cards, despite the fact that’s the sentence the government publicly waived over Aaron’s head.  Neither was a maximum of 50 years, which was what the government arrived at after its perplexing choice to get a superceding indictment.  But Aaron could easily have come out to over a year in his guideline calculation.


Reportedly, prosecutors offered Aaron three options: He could plead guilty to all 13 felony charges and the government would argue for a six-month prison term while Swartz’s lawyers argued for less time; he could plead guilty to all 13 felonies and accept a sentence of four months; or Aaron could go to trial and if he lost, the government would argue for seven years.

Some have blithely said Aaron should just have taken a deal. This is callous. There was great practical risk to Aaron from pleading to any felony. Felons have trouble getting jobs, aren’t allowed to vote (though that right may be restored) and cannot own firearms (though Aaron wasn’t the type for that, anyway). More particularly, the court is not constrained to sentence as the government suggests.  Rather, the probation department drafts an advisory sentencing report recommending a sentence based on the guidelines.  The judge tends to rely heavily on that “neutral” report in sentencing.  If Aaron pleaded to a misdemeanor, his potential sentence would be capped at one year, regardless of his guidelines calculation.  However, if he plead guilty to a felony, he could have been sentenced to as many as 5 years, despite the government’s agreement not to argue for more.  Each additional conviction would increase the cap by 5 years, though the guidelines calculation would remain the same.  No wonder he didn’t want to plead to 13 felonies.  Also, Aaron would have had to swear under oath that he committed a crime, something he did not actually believe.

There’s a more systemic problem here.  Plea bargaining in the face of potentially heavy sentences incentivizes guilty pleas even (or especially) where the case is weak, or the defendant is factually innocent. People plead guilty all the time to things they did not do, because they couldn’t afford the right lawyer, because they are scared, because they think no one will believe them, because they are simply playing the odds. Especially when you have a case involving network policies, academic culture, technological infrastructure, and information of questionable economic value, asking a jury to decide what’s “authorized” at the risk of prison is scary.

Lest we mistake plea bargaining for justice, ask yourself, why is a seven-year sentence just for a person who goes to trial, while one who pleads guilty should only be incarcerated for six months? Why should Aaron have received two additional months of incarceration in order to argue to the judge that his sentence should be lower?  This is not justice, this is horse trading.  It is typical, it happens every day, but it is also wrong.

The criminal process is byzantine and treacherous.  We rely on knowlegable lawyers to shepherd our loved ones safely through the system, even though we know that the system is broken.  We ourselves are afraid to be called as witnesses, to be inculpated.  We have no clear avenue through which we can say “Stop!”  Perhaps now is an opportunity.


I’ve seen two petitions to the White House circulating, one for reforming the CFAA and one for removing the prosecutors from office.

Real reform of the CFAA requires two steps: (1) a comprehensive rethinking of the statute, esp. since solving the Lori Drew problem would not have saved Aaron and (2) engaging not with the White House, but with Senators Leahy and Franken, the policy makers most likely to understand and support these efforts. Nevertheless, I’m going to sign this petition. The White House can know what I think.

As for removing the prosecutors, yes, I am angry. But, I am the kind of person who tends to blame the system rather than the individual, and I believe systematic change is more likely to make a difference than a campaign against these particular officials. I want to know how and why the decision to charge was made in Aaron’s case. I want to know why they were pushing for felonies and incarceration.  I want to know what JSTOR and MIT’s role was. I want to better understand funding, incentives, evaluation metrics, bonuses and other perks prosecutors receive, for cybercrime and for other cases.  I want to insulate future prosecutors from the incentives to build their careers on conviction rates rather than crime prevention, to train them so that they don’t get myopic, so that in their bones they know that behind their conviction rates are the hearts, minds and bodies of real people and their families. I want to change the conditions so that a newly-minted bully won’t just take these prosecutors’ places.

It is also true that in my criminal law career, I found the U.S. Attorney’s office in the District of Massachusetts particularly immoral.  In one case, I was told that if my client failed to enter a plea that day, the prosecutor would obtain a superseding indictment and add embarrassing pornography charges to my client’s computer crime case based on materials allegedly found on his hard drive but never disclosed to me in discovery.  Similarly, that office sought to imprison a man for collecting user emails to compile a list of best-selling books, despite the fact that the email collection would have uncontrovertably have been lawful had it occurred a nanosecond later. (U.S. v Councilman).

I may sign that petition, but I need more time to think about that.


I admire this community’s anger and energy. We are not alone. There are great organizations out there fighting to improve the criminal justice system in specific ways that would have helped Aaron.  Every day there are people getting chewed up by the criminal justice system, rightly or wrongly, and these people tend to be poor, people of color, non-English speakers, the mentally ill, the addicted. The pressure the government regularly brings to bear on the least powerful of us, when combined with vague laws like the CFAA, can wreak devastation on innocent people from all walks of life.  My hope is that this community will productively cross-pollinate with criminal justice advocates and that together we are strong enough not only to change the CFAA but also the normalization of disproportionately harsh prosecutorial tactics.

In the next few days, I’ll post a short reading list and seek out compatriots at the ACLU, NACDL, and Federal Defender bar and talk to friends and colleagues about what’s next.

To Aaron’s friends and family: I’m sorry.  In the aftermath of this great loss, all I know how to do is make a To Do list.  I am going to try to make changes that will reduce the chances that something like this happens again.  It will not bring our Aaron back.

Towards Learning from Losing Aaron Swartz | Center for Internet and Society (stanford.edu)

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons

Goodbye, Aaron


My friend Aaron Swartz committed suicide yesterday, Jan 11. He was 26. I got woken up with the news about an hour ago. I’m still digesting it — I suspect I’ll be digesting it for a long time — but I thought it was important to put something public up so that we could talk about it. Aaron was a public guy.

I met Aaron when he was 14 or 15. He was working on XML stuff (he co-wrote the RSS specification when he was 14) and came to San Francisco often, and would stay with Lisa Rein, a friend of mine who was also an XML person and who took care of him and assured his parents he had adult supervision. In so many ways, he was an adult, even then, with a kind of intense, fast intellect that really made me feel like he was part and parcel of the Internet society, like he belonged in the place where your thoughts are what matter, and not who you are or how old you are.

But he was also unmistakably a kid then, too. He would only eat white food. We’d go to a Chinese restaurant and he’d order steamed rice. I suggested that he might be a supertaster and told him how to check it out, and he did, and decided that he was. We had a good talk about the stomach problems he faced and about how he would need to be careful because supertasters have a tendency to avoid “bitter” vegetables and end up deficient in fibre and vitamins. He immediately researched the hell out of the subject, figured out a strategy for eating better, and sorted it. The next time I saw him (in Chicago, where he lived — he took the El a long way from the suburbs to sit down and chat with me about distributed hash caching), he had a whole program in place.

I introduced him to Larry Lessig, and he was active in the original Creative Commons technical team, and became very involved in technology-freedom issues. Aaron had powerful, deeply felt ideals, but he was also always an impressionable young man, someone who often found himself moved by new passions. He always seemed somehow in search of mentors, and none of those mentors ever seemed to match the impossible standards he held them (and himself) to.

This was cause for real pain and distress for Aaron, and it was the root of his really unfortunate pattern of making high-profile, public denunciations of his friends and mentors. And it’s a testament to Aaron’s intellect, heart, and friendship that he was always forgiven for this. Many of us “grown ups” in Aaron’s life have, over the years, sat down to talk about this, and about our protective feelings for him, and to check in with one another and make sure that no one was too stung by Aaron’s disappointment in us. I think we all knew that, whatever the disappointment that Aaron expressed about us, it also reflected a disappointment in himself and the world.

Aaron accomplished some incredible things in his life. He was one of the early builders of Reddit (someone always turns up to point out that he was technically not a co-founder, but he was close enough as makes no damn), got bought by Wired/Conde Nast, engineered his own dismissal and got cashed out, and then became a full-time, uncompromising, reckless and delightful shit-disturber.

The post-Reddit era in Aaron’s life was really his coming of age. His stunts were breathtaking. At one point, he singlehandedly liberated 20 percent of US law. PACER, the system that gives Americans access to their own (public domain) case-law, charged a fee for each such access. After activists built RECAP (which allowed its users to put any caselaw they paid for into a free/public repository), Aaron spent a small fortune fetching a titanic amount of data and putting it into the public domain. The feds hated this. They smeared him, the FBI investigated him, and for a while, it looked like he’d be on the pointy end of some bad legal stuff, but he escaped it all, and emerged triumphant.

He also founded a group called DemandProgress, which used his technological savvy, money and passion to leverage victories in huge public policy fights. DemandProgress’s work was one of the decisive factors in last year’s victory over SOPA/PIPA, and that was only the start of his ambition.

I wrote to Aaron for help with Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother to get his ideas on a next-generation electioneering tool that could be used by committed, passionate candidates who didn’t want to end up beholden to monied interests and power-brokers. Here’s what he wrote back:

First he decides to take over the whole California Senate, so he can do things at scale. He finds a friend in each Senate district to run and plugs them into a web app he’s made for managing their campaigns. It has a database of all the local reporters, so there’s lots of local coverage for each of their campaign announcements.

Then it’s just a vote-finding machine. First it goes through your contacts list (via Facebook, twitter, IM, email, etc.) and lets you go down the list and try to recruit everyone to be a supporter. Every supporter is then asked to do the same thing with their contacts list. Once it’s done people you know, it has you go after local activists who are likely to be supportive. Once all those people are recruited, it does donors (grabbing the local campaign donor records). And then it moves on to voters and people you could register to vote. All the while, it’s doing massive A/B testing to optimize talking points for all these things. So as more calls are made and more supporters are recruited, it just keeps getting better and better at figuring out what will persuade people to volunteer. Plus the whole thing is built into a larger game/karma/points thing that makes it utterly addictive, with you always trying to stay one step ahead of your friends.

Meanwhile GIS software that knows where every voter is is calculating the optimal places to hold events around the district. The press database is blasting them out — and the press is coming, because they’re actually fun. Instead of sober speeches about random words, they’re much more like standup or the Daily Show — full of great, witty soundbites that work perfectly in an evening newscast or a newspaper story. And because they’re so entertaining and always a little different, they bring quite a following; they become events. And a big part of all of them getting the people there to pull out their smartphones and actually do some recruiting in the app, getting more people hooked on the game.

He doesn’t talk like a politician — he knows you’re sick of politicians spouting lies and politicians complaining about politicians spouting lies and the whole damn thing. He admits up front you don’t trust a word he says — and you shouldn’t! But here’s the difference: he’s not in the pocket of the big corporations. And you know how you can tell? Because each week he brings out a new whistleblower to tell a story about how a big corporation has mistreated its workers or the environment or its customers — just the kind of thing the current corruption in Sacramento is trying to cover up and that only he is going to fix.

(Obviously shades of Sinclair here…)

also you have to read http://books.theinfo.org/go/B005HE8ED4

For his TV ads, his volunteer base all take a stab at making an ad for him and the program automatically A/B tests them by asking people in the district to review a new TV show. The ads are then inserted into the commercial breaks and at the end of the show, when you ask the user how they liked it, you also sneak in some political questions. Web ads are tested by getting people to click on ads for a free personality test and then giving them a personality test with your political ad along the side and asking them some political questions. (Ever see ads for a free personality test? That’s what they really are. Everybody turns out to have the personality of a sparkle fish, which is nice and pleasant except when it meets someone it doesn’t like, …) Since it’s random, whichever group scores closest to you on the political questions must be most affected by the ad. Then they’re bought at what research shows to be the optimal time before the election, with careful selection of television show to maximize the appropriate voter demographics based on Nielsen data.

anyway, i could go on, but i should actually take a break and do some of this… hope you’re well

This was so perfect that I basically ran it verbatim in the book. Aaron had an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill, and intelligence about people and issues. I think he could have revolutionized American (and worldwide) politics. His legacy may still yet do so.

Somewhere in there, Aaron’s recklessness put him right in harm’s way. Aaron snuck into MIT and planted a laptop in a utility closet, used it to download a lot of journal articles (many in the public domain), and then snuck in and retrieved it. This sort of thing is pretty par for the course around MIT, and though Aaron wasn’t an MIT student, he was a fixture in the Cambridge hacker scene, and associated with Harvard, and generally part of that gang, and Aaron hadn’t done anything with the articles (yet), so it seemed likely that it would just fizzle out.

Instead, they threw the book at him. Even though MIT and JSTOR (the journal publisher) backed down, the prosecution kept on. I heard lots of theories: the feds who’d tried unsuccessfully to nail him for the PACER/RECAP stunt had a serious hate-on for him; the feds were chasing down all the Cambridge hackers who had any connection to Bradley Manning in the hopes of turning one of them, and other, less credible theories. A couple of lawyers close to the case told me that they thought Aaron would go to jail.

This morning, a lot of people are speculating that Aaron killed himself because he was worried about doing time. That might be so. Imprisonment is one of my most visceral terrors, and it’s at least credible that fear of losing his liberty, of being subjected to violence (and perhaps sexual violence) in prison, was what drove Aaron to take this step.

But Aaron was also a person who’d had problems with depression for many years. He’d written about the subject publicly, and talked about it with his friends.

I don’t know if it’s productive to speculate about that, but here’s a thing that I do wonder about this morning, and that I hope you’ll think about, too. I don’t know for sure whether Aaron understood that any of us, any of his friends, would have taken a call from him at any hour of the day or night. I don’t know if he understood that wherever he was, there were people who cared about him, who admired him, who would get on a plane or a bus or on a video-call and talk to him.

Because whatever problems Aaron was facing, killing himself didn’t solve them. Whatever problems Aaron was facing, they will go unsolved forever. If he was lonely, he will never again be embraced by his friends. If he was despairing of the fight, he will never again rally his comrades with brilliant strategies and leadership. If he was sorrowing, he will never again be lifted from it.

Depression strikes so many of us. I’ve struggled with it, been so low I couldn’t see the sky, and found my way back again, though I never thought I would. Talking to people, doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, seeking out a counsellor or a Samaritan — all of these have a chance of bringing you back from those depths. Where there’s life, there’s hope. Living people can change things, dead people cannot.

I’m so sorry for Aaron, and sorry about Aaron. My sincere condolences to his parents, whom I never met, but who loved their brilliant, magnificently weird son and made sure he always had chaperonage when he went abroad on his adventures. My condolences to his friends, especially Quinn and Lisa, and the ones I know and the ones I don’t, and to his comrades at DemandProgress. To the world: we have all lost someone today who had more work to do, and who made the world a better place when he did it.

Goodbye, Aaron.

Remembering Aaron Swartz, Creative Commons


Lawrence Lessig and Aaron Swartz
Lawrence Lessig and Aaron Swartz (2002) / Rich Gibson / CC BY

Friends and Commoners,

It is with incredible sadness that I write to tell you that yesterday, Aaron Swartz took his life. Aaron was one of the early architects of Creative Commons. As a teenager, he helped design the code layer to our licenses, and helped build the movement that has carried us so far. Before Creative Commons, he had coauthored RSS. After Creative Commons, he co-founded Reddit, liberated tons of government data, helped build a free public library at Archive.org, and has done incredibly important work to reform and make good our political system. (DemandProgress.org, his most recent org, was instrumental in blocking the SOPA/PIPA legislation one year ago.)

More than all that, Aaron was a dear friend to all of us, and an inspiration to me and many of you. Our prayers are with his parents and those who knew his love. But everything we build will forever know the product of his genius.

Remembering Aaron Swartz – Creative Commons

Creative Commons — Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International — CC BY-NC-SA 4.0