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Jan 27 2013

The Legacy of Aaron Swartz

The White House announced a National Day of Civic Hacking, June 1 – 2, 2013, as the internet continues to mourn the hacker and activist, Aaron Swartz, who died of suicide at age 26. Aaron’s partner Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, executive director and founder of SumofUs.org joins host Chris Hayes; Lawrence Lessig, Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School; Susan Crawford, professor for the Center on Intellectual Property & Information Law Program at Carodozo School of Law; and Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior editor for The Atlantic on the Up with Chris panel to discuss the legacy of Aaron Swartz.

Jan 15 2013

In Aaron’s Name, Change This Law

SOPA Reddit WarriorComputer programmer, writer, archivist, political organizer, and Internet activist, but most of all son, brother and friend, Aaron Swartz tragically took his own life last week. One of the many achievements of Aaron’s too short life was to win a battle in the war for Internet Freedom, he helped lead the fight to Stop SOPA. SOPA was the Stop Online Piracy Act bill that sought to monitor the Internet for copyright violations and would have made it easier for the U.S. government to shut down websites accused of violating copyright.

This was Aaron’s address at F2C:Freedom to Connect 2012, Washington DC on May 21 2012.

Now we have a battle to fight in Aaron’s name to reform the law that overzealous federal prosecutors used against him, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Marcia Hoffman, senior staff attorney for Electronic Freedom Foundation, lays out the case for fixing this draconian law:

Problem 1: Hacking laws are too broad, and too vague

Among other things, the CFAA makes it illegal to gain access to protected computers “without authorization” or in a manner that “exceeds authorized access.”  Unfortunately, the law doesn’t clearly explain what a lack of “authorization” actually means. Creative prosecutors have taken advantage of this confusion to craft criminal charges that aren’t really about hacking a computer but instead target other behavior the prosecutors don’t like. [..]

Problem 2: Hacking laws have far too heavy-handed penalties

The penalty scheme for CFAA violations is harsh and disproportionate to the magnitude of offenses. Even first-time offenses for accessing a protected computer “without authorization” can be punishable by up to five years in prison each (ten years for repeat offenses) plus fines. It’s worth nothing that five years is a relatively light maximum penalty by CFAA standards; violations of other parts of that law are punishable by up to ten years, 20 years, and even life in prison. [..]

The Upshot

The CFAA’s vague language, broad reach, and harsh punishments combine to create a powerful weapon for overeager prosecutors to unleash on people they don’t like. Aaron was facing the possibility of decades in prison for accessing the MIT network and downloading academic papers as part of his activism work for open access to knowledge. No prosecutor should have tools to threaten to end someone’s freedom for such actions, but the CFAA helped to make that fate a realistic fear for Aaron.

In Aaron’s name please call on Congress and the White House to change this law.

Click here to send your message to your congressional representatives.

Please sign the Petition to President Barack Obama to Reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to reflect the realities of computing and networks in 2013.

Do this not just in Aaron’s name but mine, yours and everyone who uses the internet.

Jan 14 2013

In Memoriam: Aaron Swartz 1986 – 2013

The brilliant mind, righteous heart of Aaron Swartz will be missed



The transcript can be read here

Lean into the pain

by Aaron Swartz

When you first begin to exercise, it’s somewhat painful. Not wildly painful, like touching a hot stove, but enough that if your only goal was to avoid pain, you certainly would stop doing it. But if you keep exercising… well, it just keeps getting more painful. When you’re done, if you’ve really pushed yourself, you often feel exhausted and sore. And the next morning it’s even worse.

If that was all that happened, you’d probably never do it. It’s not that much fun being sore. Yet we do it anyway – because we know that, in the long run, the pain will make us stronger. Next time we’ll be able to run harder and lift more before the pain starts.

And knowing this makes all the difference. Indeed, we come to see the pain as a sort of pleasure – it feels good to really push yourself, to fight through the pain and make yourself stronger. Feel the burn! It’s fun to wake up sore the next morning, because you know that’s just a sign that you’re getting stronger.

Few people realize it, but psychological pain works the same way. Most people treat psychological pain like the hot stove – if starting to think about something scares them or stresses them out, they quickly stop thinking about it and change the subject.

The problem is that the topics that are most painful also tend to be the topics that are most important for us: they’re the projects we most want to do, the relationships we care most about, the decisions that have the biggest consequences for our future, the most dangerous risks that we run. We’re scared of them because we know the stakes are so high. But if we never think about them, then we can never do anything about them. [..]

Next time you start feeling that feeling, that sense of pain from deep in your head that tells you to avoid a subject – ignore it. Lean into the pain instead. You’ll be glad you did.