Internet activist Aaron Swartz took his own life one year ago today. He was 26 years old and facing federal hacking and fraud charges for downloading millions of academic articles using MIT’s network. Before his passing, he was on outspoken advocate for freedom of information and a founder of Demand Progress, the nonprofit that invigorated a successful grassroots effort to fight the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in 2012.
Swartz was, as WIRED’s Kevin Poulsen wrote a “coder with a conscience,” and in a clip premiering today on WIRED from director Brian Knappenberger’s forthcoming documentary The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, more than a few web visionaries remember him for the important work he did and the legacy he created.
“I think Aaron was trying to make the world work – he was trying to fix it,” says World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee. “So he was a bit ahead of his time.” He’s later followed by Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig, who notes “he was just doing what he thought was right to produce a world that was better.”
Swartz’s fight for rights online has only been brought more intensely into focus in the year since his death, largely due to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. To see him talk about government spying in this documentary at a time before the Snowden leaks is especially chilling now. But thanks to Knappenberger’s documentary – and other actions being taken to remember the internet activist – the conversation he started can continue.
“Now we are all submerged in a massively networked world where every important part of our lives has an online component to it,” said Knappenberger, who managed to Kickstart and finish his documentary in just a year. “Geeks and hackers already knew this but, thanks to Edward Snowden, now everyone realizes it.”
Last week, I awoke to find Aaron with me. He was sitting next to my bed, grinning his cheekiest grin, holding my hand.
For a few minutes, I savored a sweet uncertainty: Were the last few weeks all a nightmare, and Aaron was still with me? Or was I awaking inside a dream state, and in the real…
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…
There is no way to express the sadness of this day. There will be many words, eventually, to express its anger. This story will infuriate you. For now, to the co-creator of RSS, of the Creative Commons architecture, of part of Reddit, and of endless love and inspiration and friendships, rest. We are all incredibly sorry to have let you down.