One year ago, computer programmer and Internet activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide in his Brooklyn apartment on the eve of his trial in federal court. He faced years in prison for using MIT’s open network to download millions of articles from JSTOR, a paid academic subscription service.
From Congress to Twitter, Swartz’s death sparked outrage because of perceived overzealous prosecution. It highlighted a growing conflict between the ideals of Internet freedom and more assertive cyber-security demands by law-enforcement interests. As “hacktivism” has become a resonant cultural theme since Swartz’s death, his actions have been conflated with those of Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning. This misses something subtle and substantive about Swartz.