Skip to main content

“That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.  Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

~Thomas Jefferson, 1813

In Memoriam: Aaron Swartz

Official obituary and funeral notice

Aaron is survived by his parents Robert and Susan Swartz, his younger brothers Noah and Ben, and his partner Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman.

Aaron’s funeral will be held at 10am on Tuesday, January 15 at Central Avenue Synagogue, 874 Central Avenue, Highland Park, Illinois 60035. Announcements about memorial services in other cities will be posted here in coming weeks.

Remembrances of Aaron, as well as donations in his memory, can be submitted at






Aaron at 13 with his friend Lawrence Lessig
/ Rich Gibson / CC BY

26-Year-Old Internet Folk Hero Commits Suicide After Years Of Government Harassment

"An Incredible Soul": Lawrence Lessig on Aaron Swartz After Leading Cyberactivist's Suicide (1 of 2)

"An Incredible Soul": Lawrence Lessig on Aaron Swartz After Leading Cyberactivist's Suicide (2 of 2)

F2C2012: Aaron Swartz keynote - "How we stopped SOPA"

Aaron Swartz - The Network Transformation

Aaron Swartz (Startup Bootcamp, 2009)


Aaron had an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill, and intelligence about people and issues, I think he could have revolutionized American (and worldwide) politics. His legacy may still yet do so.
~Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
We often say, upon the passing of a friend or loved one, that the world is a poorer place for the loss. But with the untimely death of programmer and activist Aaron Swartz, this isn’t just a sentiment; it’s literally true. Worthy, important causes will surface without a champion equal to their measure. Technological problems will go unsolved, or be solved a little less brilliantly than they might have been. And that’s just what we know. The world is robbed of a half-century of all the things we can’t even imagine Aaron would have accomplished with the remainder of his life.
I didn’t know Aaron, though I knew of his legend, but from what I have read about him he was one of those people (Timothy Berners Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web and Richard Stallman, the founder of the free software movement, are both like this) who believe that if someone is in need of knowledge and you can provide it, but you don’t, you are guilty of a crime against the human spirit. (See this.)

The cause of Internet freedom, which is very often a radical cause, is radical in just this sense: let all who are hungry eat. Farewell, Aaron, my child. Your cause is just.
Jay Rosen

I remember always thinking that he always seemed too sensitive for this world we happen to live in, and I remember him working so mightily, so heroically, to try to bend the world into a place more hospitable to people like him, which also means hospitable to people like us. I like what the blogger Lambert Strether wrote on my Facebook page (in Aaron’s memory, friend me!): “Our society should be selecting for the Aaron Swartz’s of this world. Instead, generous and ethical behavior, especially when combined with technical brilliance, turns out to be maladaptive, indeed lethal. If Swartz had been Wall Street’s youngest investment banker, he would be alive today.”
Rick Perlstein, The Nation
Swartz's activism, I argued, was waged as part of one of the most vigorously contested battles - namely, the war over how the internet is used and who controls the information that flows on it - and that was his real crime in the eyes of the US government: challenging its authority and those of corporate factions to maintain a stranglehold on that information. In that above-referenced speech on SOPA, Swartz discussed the grave dangers to internet freedom and free expression and assembly posed by the government's efforts to control the internet with expansive interpretations of copyright law and other weapons to limit access to information.

That's a major part of why I consider him heroic. He wasn't merely sacrificing himself for a cause. It was a cause of supreme importance to people and movements around the world - internet freedom - and he did it by knowingly confronting the most powerful state and corporate factions because he concluded that was the only way to achieve these ends.
He could have easily opted for a life of great personal wealth, status, prestige and comfort. He chose instead to fight - selflessly, with conviction and purpose, and at great risk to himself - for noble causes to which he was passionately devoted. That, to me, isn't an example of heroism; it's the embodiment of it, its purest expression.
Glenn Greenwald: The inspiring heroism of Aaron Swartz

News and Opinion

The Hill: Justice drops charges against Swartz after activist kills himself
The Justice Department dropped its charges against Internet activist Aaron Swartz on Monday, citing his death.  ...
The filing is standard when the defendant in a case has died.
MIT announces internal investigation into its role in Aaron Swartz's prosecution 13 Jan 2013

On Sunday, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a statement on the untimely death of digital activist and pioneer Aaron Swartz, offering condolences to his friends and family and announcing an investigation into the university's role in his prosecution. "I will not attempt to summarize here the complex events of the past two years," writes MIT president L. Rafael Reif. "Now is a time for everyone involved to reflect on their actions, and that includes all of us at MIT."

WSJ: Legal Case Strained Troubled Web Activist

Just days before he hanged himself, Internet activist Aaron Swartz's hopes for a deal with federal prosecutors fell apart.

Two years ago, the advocate for free information online, who was known to have suffered from depression, allegedly used the computer network at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to download nearly five million articles from a fee-charging database of academic journals. To some in the Internet community, it was a Robin Hood-like stunt.  Prosecutors disagreed and threatened to put him in prison for more than three decades.

Mr. Swartz's lawyer, Elliot Peters, first discussed a possible plea bargain with Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann last fall. In an interview Sunday, he said he was told at the time that Mr. Swartz would need to plead guilty to every count, and the government would insist on prison time.

Mr. Peters said he spoke to Mr. Heymann again last Wednesday in another attempt to find a compromise. The prosecutor, he said, didn't budge.

Carmen Ortiz, U.S. Attorney, Under Fire Over Suicide Of Internet Pioneer Aaron Swartz
WASHINGTON -- A petition urging President Barack Obama to fire U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz for prosecutorial overreach in her office's case against Aaron Swartz had garnered more than 10,000 signatures in the few days since the open-democracy advocate's death. A leading academic has also called for an independent inquiry into her office's conduct.
Aaron Swartz's Lawyer: Prosecutor Stephen Heymann Wanted 'Juicy' Case For Publicity
Heymann was looking for "some juicy looking computer crime cases and Aaron's case, sadly for Aaron, fit the bill," Peters said. Heymann, Peters believes, thought the Swartz case "was going to receive press and he was going to be a tough guy and read his name in the newspaper."
Heymann, the deputy chief of the criminal division in the Boston-based U.S. Attorney's office, also headed the computer crimes task force there, a position Peters said "doesn't carry much prestige and respect unless you have computer crimes cases."

Peters said Heymann was threatening Swartz with potentially longer prison sentences if Swartz didn't accept his plea deal offers.

"He was very intransigent," Peters said of Heymann. "It was his philosophy that as you got closer to trial the plea offers only got worse. But the offer he was making was so unreasonable that having it get worse didn't concern me much."

Aaron Swartz And The Obama Administration’s War On Public Access To Information Jonathan Turley
The abuse of Swartz speaks of industry capture of our government that has now claimed the life of one of the brightest of our country. He is the ultimate personification of how our copyright and trademark laws have been flipped on their head. Rather than protect creativity, they now stifle such creativity. We now have prosecutors and lawyers pursuing people like Swartz to prevent public access to information. His tragic image hanging in his apartment speaks to the dismal state of information control in this country. His was truly a beautiful mind and his death should galvanize his cause to empower citizens in their demand to breakdown the rising barriers to information in this country.
Two Days Before MIT and Cambridge Cops Arrested Aaron Swartz, Secret Service Took Over the Investigation emptywheel
The public story of Aaron Swartz’ now-tragic two year fight with the Federal government usually starts with his July 19, 2011 arrest.

But that’s not when he was first arrested for accessing a closet at MIT in which he had a netbook downloading huge quantities of scholarly journals. He was first arrested on January 6, 2011 by MIT and Cambrige, MA cops.

According to a suppression motion in his case, however two days before Aaron was arrested, the Secret Service took over the investigation.

The facts: The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s “Crime” by Alex Stamos


Aaron Swartz, a Spark in Life and Death
By Thom Hartmann and Sam Sacks, TruthOut

The Occupy movement drew attention to this two-tiered, corrupt justice system. Just as it gave attention to the threats to a free and open internet, and just as it gave attention to the broader struggle underway in an America taken over by Wall Street and corporate executives who are out to destroy what’s left of the middle class.

In Aaron’s death, all of these injustices again confront us. And, based on what we’ve seen so far on the internet in the days since Aaron’s death, it’s clear that the progressive online community will not let Aaron’s fight be forgotten.

Often out of the tragedy of death comes a spark to make lives better for the living. We saw that play out in Tunisia, when a young street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire to protest the kleptocratic rule of his government and bring attention to the suffering of his generation. Within weeks, Tunisia’s oppressive government was toppled by largely nonviolent actions of average citizens. So, too, were Egypt’s and Libya’s. The Arab Spring was born.

Let’s hope that Aaron’s death will be just like his life – a spark for nonviolent revolutionary change to bring about a more just, freer, and more equal America.

Hackers for Right, We Are One Down

Perhaps it was this rare combination of conviction, brilliance, and public support, which made Swartz so threatening. A well-respected hacker, he was willing to wield technical skills as a political tool.

What is clear from all these examples is that the U.S. government criminalizes hacking under all circumstances, unwilling to differentiate between criminal activities, playful pursuits, and political causes. As the public confronts the tragic loss of that astonishing hacker, who for too short of a time poured his soul into making the world a better place, who improved everyone's life who uses the Internet, maybe this time we can see a different side to hackers. Maybe now we can begin the slow but necessary process of transforming perceptions of hackers and reform the existing statutes which enable prosecutors to seek long jail sentences for "crimes,"such as violating a website's terms of service. Maybe now we can start to appreciate, instead of criminalize, those bright kids who are doing things that we depend on, that often make our lives better, and are undaunted by powerful people trying to stop them.

These petitions require 25K signatures to 'earn' a review: "If a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response."
Petition the Obama administration to Remove United States District Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz. has 23,920; still needs 1,080; UPDATE (about midnight) only needs -590- 437. Okay now 392. Shrinking fast!  
Petition the Obama administration to Fire Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Heymann
here's a new one:
Petition:: Reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to reflect the realities of computing and networks in 2013
It's time to reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act passed in 1986, which is outdated, and doesn't reflect the realities of the Internet, networks and computers in 2013.
Remembering Aaron: Sign up for updates about activism to forward Aaron Swartz's legacy
Please add your name at right for updates from Demand Progress as we determine how to move forward.
We are conferring with Aaron's family, friends, and colleagues about several ways in which we might honor him and help ensure that the injustices that weighed so heavily on him are addressed.  We will have more news to share in the coming days.

Blog Posts and Tweets of Interest

Firing Swartz Prosecutors (TWO hackers have committed suicide on their watch): Why It's Not Easy  by Jesselyn Radack on dailykos

In Aaron's Name Change This Law by TheMomCat on dailykos

Anonymous hacks MIT- tribute to Aaron Swartz~UPDATEx2~ by Lisa Lockwood right here on dailykos

Anonymous will defend Swartz’s funeral from Westboro Baptists
The hackers launch #OpAngel to protect the activist's funeral and then push for an end to DoJ persecution


Anonymous Anonymous ‏@YourAnonNews
#OpAngel is not about the WBC. We're going to support an end to the malicious prosecution of hackers. Get strapped in people. #YAN



Why We Should Remember Aaron Swartz
{in layman's terms... ~LL}
This is the tension at the heart of the Internet: whether to own or to make. You can own a site or a program—iTunes, Microsoft (MSFT) Word, Facebook (FB), Twitter—but you can’t own a language. Yet the languages, written for beauty and utility, make sites and programs useful and possible. You make the Internet work by making languages universal and free; you make money from the Internet by closing off bits of it and charging to get in. There’s certainly nothing wrong with making money, but without the innovations of complicated, brilliant people like Swartz, no one would be making any money at all.
Swartz wasn’t an anarchist. He came to believe that copyright law had been abused and was being used to close off what, by law, should be open. It’s hard to find fault with his logic, and there’s much to admire in a man who, rather than become a small god of the Valley, was willing to court punishment to prove a point. The world will have no trouble remembering Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, and this is as it should be. But it should remember, too, people like Aaron Swartz, the ones who make those empires possible.
Aaron Swartz’s Politics by Matt Stoller
As we think about what happened to Aaron, we need to recognize that it was not just prosecutorial overreach that killed him. That’s too easy, because that implies it’s one bad apple. We know that’s not true. What killed him was corruption. Corruption isn’t just people profiting from betraying the public interest. It’s also people being punished for upholding the public interest. In our institutions of power, when you do the right thing and challenge abusive power, you end up destroying a job prospect, an economic opportunity, a political or social connection, or an opportunity for media. Or if you are truly dangerous and brilliantly subversive, as Aaron was, you are bankrupted and destroyed. ...
{hat tip cosmic debris in comments}
Anonymous ‏@YourAnonNews

Police comfirm #WBC's lawyer contacted them and said the would not be protesting #opvigil #AaronSwartz #YAN

On humanity, a big failure in Aaron Swartz case
Andy Good, Swartz’s initial lawyer, is ­alternately sad and furious.
“The thing that galls me is that I told Heymann the kid was a suicide risk,” Good told me. “His reaction was a standard reaction in that office, not unique to Steve. He said, ‘Fine, we’ll lock him up.’ I’m not saying they made Aaron kill himself. Aaron might have done this anyway. I’m saying they were aware of the risk, and they were heedless.”

Please join us in comments below with your thoughts, news, queries or tributes. We ask that this memorial diary be kept peaceful in honor of Aaron's memory.  
We wish to express our deepest condolences to his friends and family.
~~~ DFH Writers Group ~~~

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site