Aaron Swartz’ death a year ago was absolutely a tragedy. The grand jury indictment conceded Aaron had legitimate access to JSTOR through Harvard’s Center for Ethics. Even though the alleged hacking occurred at MIT, how could he “steal” documents that were free? If Aaron had no prior criminal record, why did a plea bargain require prison time? Questions like these are now moot. Aaron Swartz is gone. Gone, but not forgotten.
Please indulge me briefly if Aaron Swartz had lived. A plea deal was offered of four months in prison, according to Aaron’s attorney Elliott Peters. For sparing everybody the burden of a lengthy trial, prosecutors may have let Aaron and his attorney choose the minimum security facility. He could’ve completed the four months, done some soul-searching alone behind bars, and emerged stronger and wiser. Just 27 years old, he would’ve still had his entire life ahead of him to apply his talents to change the world for the better.
I recently browsed the tributes to Aaron, including Remembering Aaron Swartz, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Aaron Swartz: The Documentary. In July, I wrote Aaron Swartz was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame. On Friday, Congress and Senators sent a follow-up letter to Eric Holder regarding the DOJ’s handling of the Swartz case.
Aaron’s legacy may result in the increased open access to information and changes to laws for which he fought. However, it is forever tragic that Aaron Swartz doubted his own strength and felt the need to take his life. Imagine if Aaron Swartz had lived.