The Sad Fate of Aaron Swartz

It’s a case that’s bothered me a quite a bit. As many already know, Aaron Swartz took his own life earlier this month at age 26 due to feeling there was no way out of his legal conundrum after state prosecutors rejected all pleas and let it be understood that they would settle for nothing short of Aaron pleading guilty to 15 charges and that it was within their power to push for the maximum sentence, which could have resulted in 30 or more years in prison. Aaron’s crime was downloading millions of articles and documents from JSTOR academic database with the intent to freely distribute this information to the public. In my firm opinion, he was in the right and fighting for a good cause.

JSTOR (along with EBSCO and other scholarly journal databases) are accessible to students and university faculty, but once outside of academe the cost for access is steep, which thereby cuts most of the public off from what is being argued in academia. The problem with this is these academics do actively influence public policy, yet average citizens are effectively cut out of the debates taking place within ivory towers. Arguments that affect our lives and impact our political system are removed from our view unless we are willing to pay handsomely for access. It seems Aaron recognized this for the injustice that it is and aimed to free up the information for the masses, and he was handled severely by the Law as a result.

“Prosecutors defend charges against Reditt co-founder Aaron Swartz,” on RTAmerica:

“WikiLeaks confirms relationship with Aaron Swartz,” on RTAmerica:

 

What really makes my hair bristle is the FBI’s National Security Higher Education Advisory Board, which Susan Hockfield, President of MIT, resided as a member on since 2005. Information provided on that FBI link:

The board, which will consist of the presidents and chancellors of several prominent U.S. universities, is designed to foster outreach and to promote understanding between higher education and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The board will provide advice on the culture of higher education, including the traditions of openness, academic freedom, and international collaboration. The board will seek to establish lines of communication on national priorities pertaining to terrorism, counterintelligence, and homeland security. They will also assist in the development of research, degree programs, course work, internships, opportunities for graduates, and consulting opportunities for faculty relating to national security.

Graham Spanier, president of Pennsylvania State University, will chair the board.

 

Anyone else see anything odd in that? Graham Spanier, (now former) president of Penn State University — that’s the same Spanier involved in the cover-up of sex scandals involving assistant coach Sandusky molesting boys in The Second Mile program. The same man who turned his back on protecting innocent boys subjected to harm from trusted authority figures chaired a board responsible for throwing the book at Aaron Swartz for downloading academic journal articles with the intent to freely distribute?? Anyone can see that that doesn’t add up, not unless your prerogative is to promote the power of the State while protecting your own status. These crimes were treated according to how they might impact their respective institutions and concerned faculty — one swept under the rug for fear of negative publicity, the other deemed worthy of punishing to the full extent of the law because it might have lost universities a few bucks and freely enriched the public in turn.

The ill will in this is threefold and in my eyes a sure sign of sociopathic self-concern on the part of Spanier and others like him at the expense of anyone and everyone else.

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