Critical.
Authoritative.
Strategic.
Subscribe to CIO Magazine »

The end of an extraordinary life: Aaron Swartz

He was extraordinarily smart, nice and dedicated to making the right things happen.

I had already submitted my last column when I heard about Aaron Swartz's death. Some might say that it's too late to comment on this story since the crowd has moved on, but it's never too late to write about someone you knew.

I did not know Aaron well: I spent a few days at a retreat he also attended about five years ago, but I knew his work. He was everything that all the coverage you have already read mentions -- extraordinarily smart, nice and dedicated to making the right things happen.

MORE: 'Aaron's Law' could have unintended consequences

As chance would have it, I also know one of the prosecutors in the case, Stephen Heymann, about as well -- having talked with him about the same amount of time. In some ways, Heymann and Swartz are not all that different -- both are (or were) smart and dedicated to their view of "right."

Much vitriol has been unleashed on the prosecutors' office in this case. At this point I do not think that any of the people not directly involved know enough of what happened in detail but, as many have said, including U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, the actual charges Aaron was facing were widely out of proportion with what he had done. Even the widely reported six-month sentence being offered as part of a plea deal is far too high a price to pay for attempting to make a pile of scholarly articles freely available.

Maybe it was a refusal on the part of MIT to accept a lesser penalty, as has been reported, that kept Ortiz and Heymann from agreeing to a penalty more in line with what Aaron actually did. We should know at some point because MIT, to its credit, appointed Professor Hal Abelson, perhaps the one MIT person that could be trusted to fully tell MIT and the rest of us the truth, to investigate the school's actions.

I am sad, very sad. Aaron was a good guy, a very good guy. He made the Internet, and thus the world, a better place by what he did -- starting when he was barely a teen. He accomplished more in his 26 years than almost any other fighter for the right that I can think of has done in twice as many years. Aaron was four years younger than the Internet (if you measure from the deployment of TCP/IP) -- he spent the whole of his life in the world of the Internet and he swam so smoothly and powerfully in that world.

I am also angry -- a sad angry -- that Aaron was subject to the law rather than to justice. For that I, at this point with incomplete information, blame MIT as well as the prosecutors' office. We will know more about MIT's role when Abelson makes his report and I hope that we will find out more about paths not taken by the prosecutor's office in the future.

At this point I do not know what to feel about Heymann's role. From what I saw in him during our talks I fully expect he felt he was doing the right thing. But I do wish that his right thing had not contributed to the death of a person who had so much more to give to the world.

Disclaimer: Harvard has not expressed any opinion on Aaron's activities or his death, so the above lament is mine.

Read more about lan and wan in Network World's LAN & WAN section.

Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

More about: LAN, MIT
Comments are now closed.
Related Coverage
Related Whitepapers
Latest Stories
Community Comments
Tags: business issues, personnel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, JSTOR, MIT, Aaron Swartz, LAN & WAN
Latest Blog Posts
Whitepapers
  • Why you should be re-thinking your approach to data protection
    Organisations of all shapes and sizes need a new approach to data protection that addresses the challenges of data growth, but IT budgets are not keeping pace with the escalating costs of supporting storage requirements. This whitepaper explores how securing and retrieving organisational data will need to be done more efficiently.
    Learn more »
  • Rebranded Quadmark revamps its IT solutions with Google Apps
    The Singapore office was using Exchange as its email server but encountered various issues such as storage capacity limitations and difficulty in managing spam. Adding new users to the server was also a hassle that often required a third party vendor, resulting in a waste of time and resources. Quadmark also experienced email performance issues that slowed down their employees’ response time, leading to frustration among staff and clients. Quadmark’s management felt that it was unacceptable to continue it’s current solution and thus decided to streamline its IT infrastructure alongside its rebranding plans. The business wanted a unified and consolidated email service for its various offices. Quadmark also wanted to be able to house files and documents on the cloud.
    Learn more »
  • Research firm Radicati names Google Apps for Business the leader in cloud business email
    Radicati Market Quadrants illustrate how individual vendors fit within a specific technology market, classifying them as niche specialists, up-and-coming pioneers, today’s top players or yesterday’s leaders. In August 2013, Radicati used this model t o assess and compare 14 cloud business email providers, including Google.
    Learn more »
All whitepapers
rhs_login_lockGet exclusive access to Invitation only events CIO, reports & analysis.
Salary Calculator

Supplied by

View the full Peoplebank ICT Salary & Employment Index


Computerworld
ARN
Techworld
CMO