The Best of 2013 // #89: Remembering Aaron Swartz

The programmer and activist campaigned for open access.


Aaron Swartz, computer programmer, author, and activist, most famous for his fight for open access to information, killed himself in January 2013, and the young age of 26.

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While fellow digital activists Edward Snowden and Julian Assange fought for publicizing secret government security information, Swartz fought to free information that was already public, but only available for a price – an important distinction.  Swartz thought this information should be free, and he used library accounts to obtain the information and make it available.  He used this idea to make millions of court records available using the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, which charges for access.

Swartz did a similar thing with JSTOR, a digital library for scholarly articles, for which the federal government started a criminal investigation into his actions; he was indicted in 2011 for it.

“Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves.”

Friends close to Swartz said the investigation, along with the fear of a long prison sentence, led to Swartz taking his own life.  His suicide became a rallying cry for activists who promote open access to government documents, research papers, and other public funded information.

There’s more stories from 2013.  Check out the Best of 2013 series here

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