The inevitable canonization of Aaron Swartz - First Martyr in the digital church of The Singularity?

The inevitable canonization of Aaron Swartz - First Martyr in the digital church of The Singularity?

Summary: I attended the Aaron Swartz memorial in San Francisco at the Internet Archive...

TOPICS: Great debate
Internet Archive


I attended the Aaron Swartz memorial Thursday evening at the Internet Archive building (above) in San Francisco where several hundred people gathered to mourn his passing.

It was an excellent turnout organized by Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle and supporters. And it was a perfect setting, in a wonderful former Christian Science church (see below). 

Internet Archive Inside


I'll be posting more later, and exploring the future of Aaron Swartz, lost at a tragically early age, and now in death, hoisted onto the shoulders of others and recruited as an activist for a wide number of causes, including the liberation of big data in academia and in publicly funded research.

I witnessed the beginnings of his canonization as speaker after speaker, some knowing him, and others that didn't, begin the construction of a mythology around Aaron Swartz, that will grow ever larger. 

"His canonization is inevitable," John Gilmore, co-founder of the Electronic Freedom Foundation, told me. 

Others, such as Alex Stamos, one of the speakers that evening, told me that nothing can stop his "canonization" but he disagreed with it. 

"I worry that a 16-year old kid that gets trapped in similar circumstances will take their life as Aaron did."

What role did Aaron's depression play in his suicide? Was it a vindictive US government prosecution because of his activism and whistle blowing activities that conspired against him?

Or, as suggested by John Gilmore, was it a lack of activism by others to rally around his court case and causes that might have paved the road to his suicide? 

I'll be writing more on this subject, based on many conversations with people that evening, and I'll be posting more photos and videos as I process them.

Here is an except from the speech given by Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Aaron Swartz's girlfriend, who is convinced that the US justice system led to his suicide. She says, "Aaron's death should radicalize us."

Topic: Great debate

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  • Did Anonymous do Swartz's Memory Any Favors?

    Swartz would probably not think Anonymous is accomplishing much by simply spraying a few web sites with graffiti, which is easily removed in 10 minutes by restoring from backups. Neither is vandalizing government web sites going to win any allies in high places. It will only cause those few officials who agreed with Swartz's ultimate goals to disavow him.

    As for the document dumps, it isn't very smart for the government to keep sensitive documents in a web-exposed database, anyway. My hunch is that the documents aren't exactly top secret material. We have a whole different problem if they were, and the problem is lax security.

    Anonymous may have done us a favor there by exposing lax security. Whatever Anonymous copied as a public stunt just to prove that they could do it, China, North Korea, Iran, and no telling who else has probably already copied in secret, long ago. Even the Wikileak dumps were probably no great surprise to our adversaries, which is what really matters.

    Back when I was working in a Secret environment, there were no physical or virtual connections to even internal corporate networks - much less to something as vast as the web. I seriously doubt that has changed much, because encryption can be broken with a smuggled key, which is just a secret string of a few letters, numbers, and characters. Even lacking the secret key, encryption can eventually be broken with a cluster of super-computers and a team of very clever and smart cryptologists - So if secret documents really ARE resident on web-facing servers, as I said, we have a whole different problem that requires (as a first step) unplugging the servers immediately and the removal of whoever authorized and facilitated such a dumb act.

    From what I know about Swartz, his main intent was to make public government records free to access. That's not exactly the crime of the century, since they were PUBLIC records, paid for already by taxpayers.

    The difference was, that instead of lawyers and defendants having to dig through moldy courthouse basements looking for records, the government eventually took the hint from people like Swartz, and scanned many of the documents into their system - Which they charged for access.

    Remember, these were public documents paid for by taxpayers, being accessed for a hefty fee for search and retrieval on systems that were also paid for by taxpayers. I'm sure the hope was for the fees to offset costs to the taxpayers, but just the system that was set up to handle counting and auditing of the fees cost a lot of money as well. I'm not familiar with the actual cash flow situation, but my guess would be that both tax money and fees ultimately went to government contractors.

    That is where Swartz ran afoul of the law, inventing ways to bypass the fees to access the public documents. It could easily be argued that he did the country a favor, and it could easily be argued that he was a thief.

    I think the bottom line is that the Government SHOULD have stepped back and let Swartz's volunteer group completely open-source public documents from scanning and indexing to serving them up for free on a public web site, thus saving the government millions in the long run - much as the open-source of things such as the LINUX operating system development (one of the few viable Windows alternatives, available for free) and Wikipedia (the free web encyclopedia which rivals World Book and Encyclopedia Britannica in content and accuracy) has done.

    If government bureaucracy and law enforcement formed more volunteer alliances instead of treating them like criminals and vigilantes, I think only government contractors would be unhappy with the results. This simply cannot be done on a large scale with secret missions, cases under investigation or in litigation, or documents related to those things, or any systems that store and process those documents. But it certainly can be done on a small scale with highly screened volunteers, and on a large scale with public information and minor law enforcement actions, provided that it is all overseen and audited for legality, accuracy and omissions.

    I think the main objections to volunteerism comes from government unions and government contractors, both of whom stand to loose a fortunes - Often by collecting huge fees for doing a job, then hiring "disposable workers" (i.e., temps paid minimum wage) to actually do the work. Why do that, when the government already pays a vast pool of non-workers about the same amount, for doing nothing? (I'm speaking of people on unemployment). I'm sure a lot of them would jump at the chance to do something besides watching daytime TV, given just a little extra pocket change.

    One job for them that comes to mind during this time of year is the scanning of tax returns, which is normally outsourced to contractors hiring disposable workers.

    I feel safer about my IRS tax information staying secret already.
    Charlie Barrett
  • Fire the Prosecutors that harrased Aaron Swartz to death!

    Copy and paste this link to all news stories and social media related to Aaron Swartz to get an official whitehouse response:

    Sign the petition to fire Steve Hymann, one of the prosecutors responsible for Aaron's death. Also, forward this white house petition link through your social network!!! We only have until February 11 to get 15,000 more people to sign the petition.
    • You can call me what you want

      But I dont see anyone but the person responsible for a suicide