In Response To Aaron's Death: Don't Take Down, Build Up; Don't Attack, But Share

from the it's-what-he-would-have-wanted dept

I've already written some basic thoughts on the death of Aaron Swartz, and I know that more will be forthcoming, but within the justifiable anger out in the world over this turn of events, there are some reports suggesting that DDoS attacks took down MIT's website and possibly other sites (though, reports of the Justice Department's website being taken down were wrong). This happened soon after MIT put out a statement about Swartz, following the statement from Swartz's family that pointed a finger directly at MIT.

The family had said:
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death.”
In response, MIT's statement, by president L. Rafael Reif, was actually somewhat self-reflective, admitting that the university needed to look closely at its own role in the situation, and appointing professor Hal Abelson -- someone quite knowledgeable and active in many of the same causes as Aaron -- to lead the investigation.
To the members of the MIT community:

Yesterday we received the shocking and terrible news that on Friday in New York, Aaron Swartz, a gifted young man well known and admired by many in the MIT community, took his own life. With this tragedy, his family and his friends suffered an inexpressible loss, and we offer our most profound condolences. Even for those of us who did not know Aaron, the trail of his brief life shines with his brilliant creativity and idealism.

Although Aaron had no formal affiliation with MIT, I am writing to you now because he was beloved by many members of our community and because MIT played a role in the legal struggles that began for him in 2011.

I want to express very clearly that I and all of us at MIT are extremely saddened by the death of this promising young man who touched the lives of so many. It pains me to think that MIT played any role in a series of events that have ended in tragedy.

I will not attempt to summarize here the complex events of the past two years. Now is a time for everyone involved to reflect on their actions, and that includes all of us at MIT. I have asked Professor Hal Abelson to lead a thorough analysis of MIT's involvement from the time that we first perceived unusual activity on our network in fall 2010 up to the present. I have asked that this analysis describe the options MIT had and the decisions MIT made, in order to understand and to learn from the actions MIT took. I will share the report with the MIT community when I receive it.

I hope we will all reach out to those members of our community we know who may have been affected by Aaron's death. As always, MIT Medical is available to provide expert counseling, but there is no substitute for personal understanding and support. With sorrow and deep sympathy,

L. Rafael Reif
I am sure that many will continue to criticize MIT for its actions in this mess -- and some criticism may be well deserved. That said, MIT's response here is a step forward -- and hopefully it creates real change in how MIT handles such things in the future. I think that there are many, many, many reasons to be furious about the Justice Department's actions in the Swartz case (and I felt that long before Swartz's death). However, a DDoS attack on MIT or the DOJ or anyone else is exactly the wrong message to send concerning Aaron. Yes, I was just defending the use of DDoS as a form of expression and protest, but this is not the kind of protest that serves Aaron's memory well.

Aaron -- more than almost anyone else -- did stuff. He built stuff and he created change. Not by taking things down, but by building them up. Not by attacking, but by sharing and informing and educating.

Aaron's memory needs to be preserved, and his death will hopefully be a catalyst for many changes -- to the way the government prosecutes people, to the way computer hacking laws are used today, to the way copyright laws are used and much, much more. But the way to do that is to do something proactive and positive. The organization Aaron founded is called Demand Progress, and that's what we should be doing now.

We should be looking for ways to continue Aaron's work, to build, to share, to create and to create change through sheer will of knowing what's right.

So, don't participate in attacks or takedowns. Look for ways to build something up. Create efforts to change problematic laws like the CFAA or copyright law. Look for ways to share knowledge and expand our ability to learn and to educate each other. Create ways for people to speak out and to enable everyone to do more.

That is the legacy that I believe Aaron would have wanted. It will always be impossible to fill the void that Aaron's death has left in its wake -- but if it inspires each of us to do a little more, to create some positive change, to truly demand progress in the face of ridiculous odds, then that will be the testament to all that Aaron did for the world.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 4:51am

    I think the attacks are actually fine but misplaced. It's the real Govt bullies that should be taking a huge dose of firepower not only in the form of DDoS.

    In any case, I think anytime a constructive protest should be attempted before going for the destructive type. Unfortunately the constructive types are being promptly ignored by our Govts.

     

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  2.  
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    The Real Michael, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 5:11am

    People who've committed far worse crimes are often treated with far more leniency than Aaron was. Perhaps the charges leveled against him were designed specifically to cause maximum psychological harm. Who knows?

     

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  3.  
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    Prashanth (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 5:30am

    Steve Irwin

    The attacks remind me of what happened after Steve Irwin tragically died from a stingray strike. A lot of people in their anger started killing stingrays. It was needlessly destructive, wasn't helping anyone, was totally misplaced, and was exactly what Steve Irwin would not have done.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 5:35am

    The fact that a person who shared something with the rest of the world for the benefit of all, was this heavily targeted by the government, shows just how out of touch the IP maximalists are with the real world.

     

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  5.  
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    Eldragon, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 5:51am

    How many times are the people expected to sit idly by as we watch injustice and scandal come out of the the Department of Justice?

    The rich and powerful never see the inside of a court room, let alone jail cell. While the average citizens is has the full might of the US govt. thrown against them for the most minor of infractions.

    Unfortunately, since these people are not elected, there is nothing we can do other than sign toothless petitions and hope for the best.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 5:55am

    I'm sorry but some attacking is required because an ass hat federal prosecuter was trying to make a name for himself by making a federal case from misdemeanor trespass.

     

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  7.  
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    Zos (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 6:01am

    we will not forgive. we will not forget. Another brilliant young man hounded to destruction by asshat bureaucrats for felony interference with a business model.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 6:46am

    Subtle differences in tone of press articles...

    I know there are many who believe the term "piracy" is fine to use for the act of misappropriating copyright protected content, but consider the difference in tone of a snippet from two press articles.

    CNN - Internet prodigy, activist Aaron Swartz commits suicide - By Michael Martinez
    "Swartz then engaged in Internet digital activism, co-founding Demand Progress, a political action group that campaigns against Internet censorship."

    Bloomberg - Web Activistís Family Blames MIT, Prosecutors in Death - By Aaron Ricadela & Dan Hart
    "He co-founded the news and information site Reddit, as well as Demand Progress, a group that advocated against Internet piracy bills, according to his website."

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 6:49am

    Notice the subtle differences in tone of press articles...

    I know there are many who believe the term "piracy" is fine to use for the act of misappropriating copyright protected content, but consider the difference in tone of a snippet from two press articles.

    CNN - Internet prodigy, activist Aaron Swartz commits suicide - By Michael Martinez
    "Swartz then engaged in Internet digital activism, co-founding Demand Progress, a political action group that campaigns against Internet censorship."

    Bloomberg - Web Activistís Family Blames MIT, Prosecutors in Death - By Aaron Ricadela & Dan Hart
    "He co-founded the news and information site Reddit, as well as Demand Progress, a group that advocated against Internet piracy bills, according to his website."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    cyberdoyle, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 7:05am

    nearly happened here

    We nearly lost a bright young man here in the UK to this obsolete USA bullying system. Instead of his talents being used for good they were used up trying to protect himself from a system bent on destruction. Free Gary McKinnon is the cause we are part of, he has been saved from extradition to the USA but will stand trial in the UK for his hacking. People with extraordinary gifts like these should be channelled into using them for good, not hounded to destruction like Aaron was. If someone can hack into governments then those skills need harnessing and using. Surely?
    surely it just proves they are smarter than the civil servants? surely we want the bright young things on our side?
    Is it just that the bureaucrats are jealous of their talent? Is it that the authorities don't understand the potential of their gifts? Or can we make the authorities glimpse the future? The future is not in their dusty offices full of paper, its in the ether.

     

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    Mega1987 (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 7:07am

    I doubt any government will take a piece of responsibility of causing a poor guy's death.

    In fact they might even say he took an easy way out.

    damn...

    I hope this wake them up or they need a bigger eye opener with lots of eye-moe's and contact lenses cleaner for them so see the truth behind their actions...

     

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  12.  
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    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 7:10am

    DOJ "down"

    ...though, reports of the Justice Department's website being taken down were wrong...


    I have a theory about the roots of the confusion. DOJ sites were not accessible yesterday to me — when I used VPN. I tried a couple of serves: same result. Meanwhile, I had no problem loading the said sites while being connected directly via my ISP.

    So my theory is: some attacks did take place, but as a part of DDoS protection, some IP addresses were blocked, and the fact that VPN servers are blacklisted shouldn't surprise anyone.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 7:19am

    'Aaron's memory needs to be preserved, and his death will hopefully be a catalyst for many changes -- to the way the government prosecutes people, to the way computer hacking laws are used today, to the way copyright laws are used'

    so much truth and sense in this short sentence. what a shame the 'powers that be' from all areas and depts wont take the slightest bit of notice. it isn't the likes of us here that need to be re-educated, it's those that have in their hands the means to be sensible and proceed in the right way rather than be so ignorant and bolshy in their attitude, simply because they can.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 7:23am

    Re: nearly happened here

    I don't think you give bureaucrats enough credit. It takes a lot of skill and insight to identify and stiffle potential threats. Its just that the threats always seem to make the system more efficient and open thus making their jobs useless or insignificant. Their only recourse is to be dragged kicking and screaming into a new paradigm that can create new opportunities.

     

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  15.  
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    Pat, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 7:58am

    Remember to vote against Carmen Ortiz...

    US Attorney Carmen Ortiz wants to be Mass. Governor one day. If you live in Massachusetts vote against her. That is is another way to remember Aaron's death.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 8:00am

    Re:

    The IP maximalists aren't really out of touch with the real world. They know what they are doing. They are just selfish bastards with no regard for anyone else. The ones that are really out of touch are the government officials that listen to them instead of the public that they are supposed to represent.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 8:14am

    Re: Subtle differences in tone of press articles...

    What I find rather interesting in your comment is the Bloomberg article's exageration of the family's statement. They didn't outright "blame" MIT and the prosecutors. They said that the actions of MIT and the procecutors "contributed" to it.

     

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    Jesse (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 8:57am

    Forget cyberbullying, this country needs to focus on judicial bullying.

    The classroom is a microcosm of society. You can't fix bullying in classrooms until you fix it in adult society.

     

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  19.  
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    The Old Man in The Sea, Jan 14th, 2013 @ 4:02pm

    DDoS attacks - another FBI/DOJ tool to malign who they are after

    Don't forget that any and all of the DDoS attacks could have been initiated by FBI/DOJ as a misdirection technique to malign the character of those support the changes.

    How many times have governments of all ilks initiated trouble just to blame it on those they did not like or were after. There are fools on both sides of the fence.

    It is better to construct and build than to just destroy and annihilate. Encourage the required changes than just deface the world.

     

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  20.  
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    John Abbe, Jan 16th, 2013 @ 2:57am

    Reforming CFAA

    Just one small thing we can do is reform the CFAA law used to bully Aaron, and the EFF already has a link you can follow to reach your representatives: https://eff.org/r.1bGp

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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