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Anti-hacking law outdated, important to support cause for more available Internet access

One of the best and brightest young minds in the history of our nation was born in our generation … and you may have never even heard of him.

His name was Aaron Swartz.

While a birthday in 1986 made Swartz several years older than the average undergrad student here at the University today, like us, he was still very much a millennial, having spent the majority of his life in the midst of exponential technological growth and the advent of the internet.

Swartz adapted to emerging computer technologies faster than most. In fact, he was a software

programming prodigy.

By three years old, Swartz taught himself to read.

Something that drove him just as much as learning was compelling others to learn and making the opportunity to do so available to everyone.

By age 14 he became one of the principle developers of “RSS,” one of the web’s first standard formats for syndicating and aggregating news and information from across the internet.

Later, he co-founded organizations like Creative Commons as well as Open Library and contributed to popular websites such as Reddit. There are many others as well.

The list of online projects that were influenced by Swartz’ programming work runs long.

Most had something in common: they promoted the sharing of knowledge, public information and education, through open and fair access.

Meanwhile, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are household names.

The fundamental difference between Swartz and these technological visionaries that came before him: Swartz was far more interested in utilizing his brilliance to spread the wealth of knowledge across the world, as opposed to amassing unfathomably large material wealth of his own.

Swartz, however, was but one of the most prominent and productive cogs among a machine made up of millions that shared his vision of a free and open internet.

More than a machine, it’s a generational movement and one that’s still being fought for today. A movement

that’s winning.

Despite efforts of those with immense political influence via lobbying and campaign finance, the old guard’s fight against a free and open internet isn’t one they’ll win.

Prosecute one prominent leader in the movement and countless others rise to take that place, behind them a galvanized online public willing to advocate for their rights.

In January of 2011, Swartz became the latest victim of that prosecution, in what was nothing less than a complete farce of federal

prosecutorial discretion.

Swartz faced up to five decades in prison for downloading a large number of academic journal articles from JSTOR, a paid academic

digital library.

As a research fellow at Harvard, Swartz had legal access to the documents.

However, because he downloaded too many articles too quickly through a network switch in an unlocked wiring closet at MIT, state and federal authorities thought it was a crime worthy of the 13 charges, amounting to the 50-year maximum sentence.

The charges were based on an outdated, overreaching and incredibly vague anti-hacking law from 1984.

MIT backed down. JSTOR backed down. Both organizations stated their intention not to peruse any legal action against Swartz.

The federal prosecution proceeded.

People with influence, unhappy with Swartz’ philosophy, were aware of Swartz’ ability to make a difference, through both his intellect and goodwill. They wanted to set an example.

After having unremitting stress of the case weigh on him for two years, Swartz turned down a plea bargain that would’ve had him admit guilt to felony charges.

Facing certain incarceration, Swartz committed suicide in January, 2013.

The case was dismissed posthumously. But Swartz’ legacy will live on.

The movement, a free and open internet, will persevere.

Respond to Jon at

[email protected]

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