Hundreds honor information activist Swartz in NYC

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 19, 2013 at 8:23 pm •  Published: January 19, 2013
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NEW YORK (AP) — Portraying his suicide as the product of injustice, friends and supporters at a memorial Saturday for free-information advocate Aaron Swartz called for changing computer-crime laws and the legal system itself.

At a New York City ceremony that was part tribute and part rallying cry, Swartz — who killed himself this month as he faced trial on hacking charges — was painted as a precocious technologist, erudite activist and hounded hero. One speaker called him nothing less than an "Internet saint."

To prosecutors, the 26-year-old Swartz was a thief whose aims to make information available didn't excuse the illegal acts he was charged with: breaking into a wiring closet at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and tapping into its computer network to download millions of paid-access scholarly articles, which he planned to share publicly.

But Swartz's girlfriend said the case drove him to his death.

"He was so scared and so frustrated and so desperate and, more than anything else, just so weary. I think he just couldn't take it another day," Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman told the hundreds of people who gathered to remember Swartz. ". In the end, he couldn't allow (prosecutors) to control him, either."

Friends attending the memorial remembered Swartz as a crusader for the open exchange of information — an "Internet saint," in the words of Quinn Norton, a journalist who writes about hacker and online culture.

Doc Searls, 65, a columnist and advocate for making computer code publicly accessible, said he met Swartz when the tech prodigy was a teenager and noted that the two "were often generational bookends at conferences we went to."

"When we're young we think our cause is a sprint, and when we're middle-aged we thing is it's a marathon," Searls said. "But when we're old we think it's a relay race. And Aaron was the one you wanted to hand it off to."

A grandson of activist folk singer Pete Seeger, Kitama Jackson, read a note from his grandfather that said: "These modern times are filled with such contradictions that experts are not agreed on what the future of the human race will be. But we can agree today that it was a tragedy for this brilliant young man to be so threatened that he hanged himself."

Swartz was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment on Jan. 11 as a trial in Boston loomed in his future. Federal prosecutors said he planned to make the paid-access articles obtained via MIT's network available for free.

Whatever he aimed to do with the data, "stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar," Boston U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said before Swartz's death.