Today is Aaron Swartz Day
Aaron Swartz at a Creative Commons event. Used under Creative Commons license CC by 2.0. Original photo: Fred Benenson.

Today is Aaron Swartz Day

Eight years ago today, on January 11, 2013, Aaron Swartz died by suicide. Today we are taking a moment to remember Aaron, his contributions, and the state harassment that led to his death.

Swartz is perhaps most well known for being arrested and prosecuted after downloading content from JSTOR, an online library of academic papers and materials. He automated the process: rather than downloading items one-by-one, he wrote a small computer program to do it for on his computer.

Despite the fact that he had legitimate access to JSTOR through his association with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT police arrested him. He was charged with 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The 1986 bill’s definitions of unauthorized access to computer systems are not only outdated but have been used multiple times against security researchers and white-hat hackers alike. In Swartz’s case, he could have faced over 50 years in prison and more due to the harassment and overzealous prosecution of now-former US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz.

Aaron’s story must be told. The tragedy of his prosecution and death must be known. On January 11, Aaron Swartz Day, we need to remember his contributions as well.

Markdown: Along with writer John Gruber, Swartz created Markdown, a language for structuring text. If you’ve ever been on a bulletin board or online forum where you can wrap words in asterisks to make them bold, **like this**, you’ve used something likely inspired by Markdown.

Secure Drop: Originally known as DeadDrop, SecureDrop is a system where journalists and others can accept documents from their sources, securely and anonymously. It’s used to this day by organizations like Lucy Parsons Labs, the Canadian Broadcasting Company, Huffington Post, ProPublica and others.

RSS: You may not have ever used RSS yourself, and the days of its widespread use by tech and semi-tech people may have passed with the takeover of social media, but RSS technology is still out there. If you’ve ever seen a list of stories on a website that have been pulled in from another website, that’s likely RSS. Swartz helped write the specification in 2001.

And much more. To learn more about Aaron Swartz, take a moment to browse the Aaron Swartz Day and International Hackathon website.