RIP, Aaron Swartz, Didn't knew you existed

DfgDfg Admin
edited January 2013 in Life
I knew the name Aaron, sort of remembered his connection with Reddit, apparently he was the co-founder of Reddit. As I said I didn't knew him and didn't knew about his achievement so it came as a shock to see him sharing the same birth year as me and dead. He has an early start compared to me, our lives run off in different directions but I guess deep down we did share something in common and as wild it seems it makes sense for him to end his life it's just a shame I wasn't there or didn't reach out to him. I do hope people will realize what we lost today and will fight to prevent that in near future. Aaron bro, R.I.P you're a legend.


Photo by Jacob Applebaum

Aaron Swartz /u/Aaronsw (1986 – 2013)

We at reddit were saddened by the news of Aaron's passing. Here is a statement from his family. Our thoughts and deepest condolences are with his family and loved ones.

Aaron joined reddit in 2006. His friends and family are sharing memories and stories on

If you feel so moved, join us in donating to Demand Progress or GiveWell in Aaron's memory so that his work for civil liberties, civil rights, and government reform can continue.

Just to show how awesome he was read this:

There's an old joke among programmers about who will maintain the code when its author gets hit by a truck. This page is here so that if for some reason I'm no longer able to keep my web services running, people will know what to do.
I designate Sean B. Palmer as my virtual executor to organize such things. (And if you delete anything, Sean, I will haunt you from the grave!)
I ask that the contents of all my hard drives be made publicly available from
web.resource.orgSean (or someone he designates) should become the new curator/webmaster. Please continue updating the site and mirror list and ensuring the persistence of its URIs. (This means that nothing controvertial or illegal should be included. Save those for cryptome.)Source CodeCopyright for my GPLed source code should revert to the Free Software Foundation. They seem to have a reasonable policy about letting people use the code.WebsitesPlease keep the websites operational where possible, with content written by me kept untouched where appropriate. Appropriate pages (e.g. on may contain a notice about what happened with a link to more info. The front page of should be redone as appropriate with a link to the old page.GraveI'd like to rest someplace that won't kill me. That means access to oxygen (although direct access would probably be bad) and not having to climb through six feet of dirt. For other stuff, email Sean. I'm sure he'll do something reasonable.
If something does happen to me, please update the footer of this page with a link. Also email the relevant lists and set up an autoresponder for my email address to email people who write to me. Feel free to publish things people say about me on the site. These are probably all obvious and I'm sure you'll figure it out.
Oh, and BTW, I'll miss you all.

and this:

Official Statement from the family and partner of Aaron Swartz

Our beloved brother, son, friend, and partner Aaron Swartz hanged himself on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment. We are in shock, and have not yet come to terms with his passing.

Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable—these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.

Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the scope and accessibility of human knowledge. He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across generations and continents. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.

Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.

Today, we grieve for the extraordinary and irreplaceable man that we have lost.


  • DfgDfg Admin
    edited January 2013


    3 Felony counts? I can only express outrage and spew vitriol towards U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz. She so desperately wants to put her name out front hoping to win the next Governor’s election and she did just that, but unfortunately, at the expense of beloved Aaron Swartz’s life. MIT & JSTOR refused to press charges; potentially, misdemeanors for downloading documents for free public access & possibly violating a TOC. But Scott Garland, the other prosecutor (lap doggy), and Carmen Ortiz pursued Aaron by digging deep into their own interpretation of the law to manufacture new and more serious charges against him. Carmen Ortiz and her minions continued to badger Swartz by harassing this brilliant & heroic young man until his death by suicide. The government should have hired him rather than make him a criminal. I wonder which murderer, child abuser or rapist the DOJ planned to spring from the overcrowded prison to make room for an open-source activist.
  • DfgDfg Admin
    edited January 2013
    I did not know Aaron Swartz, unless you count having copies of a person’s entire digital life on your forensics server as knowing him. I did once meet his father, an intelligent and dedicated man who was clearly pouring his life into defending his son. My deepest condolences go out to him and the rest of Aaron’s family during what must be the hardest time of their lives.
    If the good that men do is oft interred with their bones, so be it, but in the meantime I feel a responsibility to correct some of the erroneous information being posted as comments to otherwise informative discussions at Reddit, Hacker News and Boing Boing. Apparently some people feel the need to self-aggrandize by opining on the guilt of the recently departed, and I wanted to take this chance to speak on behalf of a man who can no longer defend himself. I had hoped to ask Aaron to discuss these issues on the Defcon stage once he was acquitted, but now that he has passed it is important that his memory not be besmirched by the ignorant and uninformed. I have confirmed with Aaron’s attorneys that I am free to discuss these issues now that the criminal case is moot.
    I was the expert witness on Aaron’s side of US vs Swartz, engaged by his attorneys last year to help prepare a defense for his April trial. Until Keker Van Nest called iSEC Partners I had very little knowledge of Aaron’s plight, and although we have spoken at or attended many of the same events we had never once met.
    Should you doubt my neutrality, let me establish my bona fides. I have led the investigation of dozens of computer crimes, from Latvian hackers blackmailing a stock brokerage to Chinese government-backed attacks against dozens of American enterprises. I have investigated small insider violations of corporate policy to the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and have responded to break-ins at social networks, e-tailers and large banks. While we are no stranger to pro bono work, having served as experts on EFF vs Sony BMG and Sony vs Hotz, our reports have also been used in the prosecution of at least a half dozen attackers. In short, I am no long-haired-hippy-anarchist who believes that anything goes on the Internet. I am much closer to the stereotypical capitalist-white-hat sellout that the antisec people like to rant about (and steal mail spools from) in the weeks before BlackHat.
    I know a criminal hack when I see it, and Aaron’s downloading of journal articles from an unlocked closet is not an offense worth 35 years in jail.
    The facts:
    • MIT operates an extraordinarily open network. Very few campus networks offer you a routable public IP address via unauthenticated DHCP and then lack even basic controls to prevent abuse. Very few captured portals on wired networks allow registration by any visitor, nor can they be easily bypassed by just assigning yourself an IP address. In fact, in my 12 years of professional security work I have never seen a network this open.
    • In the spirit of the MIT ethos, the Institute runs this open, unmonitored and unrestricted network on purpose. Their head of network security admitted as much in an interview Aaron’s attorneys and I conducted in December. MIT is aware of the controls they could put in place to prevent what they consider abuse, such as downloading too many PDFs from one website or utilizing too much bandwidth, but they choose not to.
    • MIT also chooses not to prompt users of their wireless network with terms of use or a definition of abusive practices.
    • At the time of Aaron’s actions, the JSTOR website allowed an unlimited number of downloads by anybody on MIT’s 18.x Class-A network. The JSTOR application lacked even the most basic controls to prevent what they might consider abusive behavior, such as CAPTCHAs triggered on multiple downloads, requiring accounts for bulk downloads, or even the ability to pop a box and warn a repeat downloader.
    • Aaron did not “hack” the JSTOR website for all reasonable definitions of “hack”. Aaron wrote a handful of basic python scripts that first discovered the URLs of journal articles and then used curl to request them. Aaron did not use parameter tampering, break a CAPTCHA, or do anything more complicated than call a basic command line tool that downloads a file in the same manner as right-clicking and choosing “Save As” from your favorite browser.
    • Aaron did nothing to cover his tracks or hide his activity, as evidenced by his very verbose .bash_history, his uncleared browser history and lack of any encryption of the laptop he used to download these files. Changing one’s MAC address (which the government inaccurately identified as equivalent to a car’s VIN number) or putting a mailinator email address into a captured portal are not crimes. If they were, you could arrest half of the people who have ever used airport wifi.
    • The government provided no evidence that these downloads caused a negative effect on JSTOR or MIT, except due to silly overreactions such as turning off all of MIT’s JSTOR access due to downloads from a pretty easily identified user agent.
    • I cannot speak as to the criminal implications of accessing an unlocked closet on an open campus, one which was also used to store personal effects by a homeless man. I would note that trespassing charges were dropped against Aaron and were not part of the Federal case.
    In short, Aaron Swartz was not the super hacker breathlessly described in the Government’s indictment and forensic reports, and his actions did not pose a real danger to JSTOR, MIT or the public. He was an intelligent young man who found a loophole that would allow him to download a lot of documents quickly. This loophole was created intentionally by MIT and JSTOR, and was codified contractually in the piles of paperwork turned over during discovery.
    If I had taken the stand as planned and had been asked by the prosecutor whether Aaron’s actions were “wrong”, I would probably have replied that what Aaron did would better be described as “inconsiderate”. In the same way it is inconsiderate to write a check at the supermarket while a dozen people queue up behind you or to check out every book at the library needed for a History 101 paper. It is inconsiderate to download lots of files on shared wifi or to spider Wikipedia too quickly, but none of these actions should lead to a young person being hounded for years and haunted by the possibility of a 35 year sentence.
    Professor Lessig will always write more eloquently than I can on prosecutorial discretion and responsibility, but I certainly agree that Aaron’s death demands a great deal of soul searching by the US Attorney who decided to massively overcharge this young man and the MIT administrators who decided to involve Federal law enforcement.
    I cannot speak as to all of the problems that contributed to Aaron’s death, but I do strongly believe that he did not deserve the treatment he received while he was alive. It is incumbent on all of us to figure out how to create some positive change out of this unnecessary tragedy. I’ll write more on that later. First I need to spend some time hugging my kids.
  • RemadERemadE Global Moderator
    edited January 2013
    Remember me talking about sharing Academic Journals? If not, then yes, I shared a good few hundred.

    What people don't realise, if they are even aware of these Journals, is that the Authors are hardly recognised. It is the companies such as JSTOR and copywrite companies that make the mney, charging for access and copy/distribution rights.
    Pirating doesn't harm the Authors. The reason being, and this has been confirmed with almost everyone in my Uni faculty that to make money they have to sell out. Are you aware of leading Academics? For History it would be people like Ian Kershaw, Orlando Figes etc. They are well known and made their money before the age of online Journals came around. Selling out wasn't frowned upon.

    Now they all struggle for recognition with JSTOR etc have a stranglehold on them, nobody can raise their head above the parapit, peer-reviewd is more like peer-reviews-and-overseer-taxation.

    Fucking disgusted by the jail term he was facing for it. I cannot urge any University/College/Academic/Person who has access to these materials to share the knowledge. Just cover your tracks in PDF/MetaData editors.
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