Open Access advocate Aaron Swartz dead at 26

Aaron Swartz, an Internet pioneer and activist (he co-authored RSS 1.0 died yesterday in Brooklyn. No doubt the US government’s senseless criminal case against him contributed to his suicide. My sympathies go out to his family and friends grieve for him.

Alex Stamos was to have been an expert witness for the defense in the trial agains Aaron and his post explains the case well. In short, Aaron used MITs (intentionally) unsecured network and some basic scripts to download about 4 million academic journal articles from JSTOR. At the time, JSTOR’s contract with MIT allowed unlimited downloads and didn’t even use captchas.

On July 19, 2011 Aaron was charged with various computer fraud crimes that carried a potential 35-year sentence and $1 million fine. A NY Times article from the time indicates that he used some simple things to hide his identity (like covering his face with a bike helmet in front of cameras and using pseudonym to access the open network), but per Stamos’s post, he did little else to cover his tracks. It’s important to note that what he did is only hacking in the sense that or the Firefox extension DownThemAll are hacking. This isn’t stealing credit card info or medical records; it’s just accessing a bunch of articles really fast.

Aaron Swartz was a strong and vocal advocate for Open Access to research, something I strongly believe in. The world will be worse off without him, but it is already a better place because of him.

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