This post is dedicated to Aaron Swartz, data crusader and hactivist. As prodigy he helped create RSS. He was 16 at the time.
I’ve been using Creative Commons license for a while, specially if I want to post my work online, say on Facebook. And frankly, I’m surprised to learn that Aaron was CC’s Metadata advisor.
I’m among the Indonesian general public who has taken for granted his invention. In his short life time, Aaron has achieved a lot that most of us struggle to achieve in two or three times his lifetime, or ever.
Last year, he was indicted for downloading without authorization, 4+ million academic documents from JStor.
Here’s what Bisnis Indonesia said about JStor case:
Pada Juli 2011, Swartz dianggap terlibat dalam pencurian jutaan artikel akademis milik Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) yang disimpan di arsip digital.
On July 2011, Swartz was considered to be involved in theft of millions of academic articles belonging to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), stored as digital archives.
Aaron’s downloading of journal articles from an unlocked closet is not an offense worth 35 years in jail.
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.
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 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.
To close this dedication, let’s hear what Aaron said in regards of what’s truly important to him:
I think we need to do a better job explaining the state of the world to people, which is mostly an old-fashioned research and writing project. There’s an enormous amount of curiosity these days about how things like the government and the media work and how, in the US, things have gone so wrong. But nobody is doing a very good job of providing the answers.
You’ll be sorely missed.