Der US-Netzaktivist Aaron Swartz ist gestern mit 26 Jahren verstorben. Ich hab ihn nie persönlich kennen gelernt, war aber über verschiedene Netze mit ihm verbunden und wollte ihn auch immer schon mal auf einer re:publica haben. Er galt als Wunderkind, das mit 14 am RSS 1.0 Standard mitgearbeitet hat, dann bei der technischen Details der Maschinenlesbarkeit der Creative Commons Lizenzen dabei war, und diverse andere Netzprojekte unterstützte. Er gilt als einer der Mitgründer von Reddit (zumindest frühen Mitarbeiter), ließ sich irgendwann auszahlen und wurde danach zum Vollzeitaktivisten, der u.a. Demand Progress mit seinem Geld und seiner Zeit aufbaute, eine Kampagnenplattform, die zu den Keyplayern der Stop SOPA-Kampagne wurde. Aaron Swartz litt nach eigenen Angaben bereits seit mindestens fünf Jahren an Depressionen. Seit 2011 wurde gegen ihn wegen des Scrappens von wissenschaftlichen Daten aus dem MIT-Netz ermittelt, wobei ihm bis zu über 30 Jahre Haft und der finanzielle Ruin drohten. Er hat sich gestern das Leben genommen.
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.
Lawrence Lessig erhebt schwere Vorwürfe gegen den Staatsanwalt und die Gesetzeslage: Prosecutor as bully.
In that world, the question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a “felon.” For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept, and so that was the reason he was facing a million dollar trial in April — his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge. And so as wrong and misguided and fucking sad as this is, I get how the prospect of this fight, defenseless, made it make sense to this brilliant but troubled boy to end it.
Fifty years in jail, charges our government. Somehow, we need to get beyond the “I’m right so I’m right to nuke you” ethics that dominates our time. That begins with one word: Shame. One word, and endless tears.
In 2011, Aaron used the MIT campus network to download millions of journal articles from the JSTOR database, allegedly changing his laptop’s IP and MAC addresses when necessary to get around blocks put in place by JSTOR and MIT and sneaking into a closet to to get a faster connection to the MIT network. For this purported crime, Aaron was facing criminal charges with penalties up to thirty-five years in prison, most seriously for „unauthorized access“ to computers under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. If we believe the prosecutor’s allegations against him, Aaron had hoped to liberate the millions of scientific and scholarly articles he had downloaded from JSTOR, releasing them so that anyone could read them, or analyze them as a single giant dataset, something Aaron had done before. While his methods were provocative, the goal that Aaron died fighting for — freeing the publicly-funded scientific literature from a publishing system that makes it inaccessible to most of those who paid for it — is one that we should all support.
Moreover, the situation Aaron found himself in highlights the injustice of U.S. computer crime laws, and particularly their punishment regimes. Aaron’s act was undoubtedly political activism, and taking such an act in the physical world would, at most, have a meant he faced light penalties akin to trespassing as part of a political protest. Because he used a computer, he instead faced long-term incarceration.