Twenty-six-year-old Aaron Swartz, a software prodigy and an Internet freedom activist, was found dead in his New York City apartment on Friday from an apparent suicide by hanging.
Swartz (pictured) had a brilliant mind and an activist's spirit that led him to create numerous breakthroughs in technology that allow Internet users to enjoy a more robust experience. At age 14 Swartz helped develop the protocol for RSS – “Rich Site Summary” or informally called “Really Simple Syndication” — which nearly every Internet user unknowingly uses when he accesses news sources and audio and video sites which are updated frequently.
At age 18 he entered Stanford University but dropped out after the first year and instead directed his energies and prodigious talent towards founding the software company Infogami which merged into Reddit in November 2005. He cashed out after Reddit was purchased by Conde Nast Publications, owners of Wired magazine, in January 2007. He continued working on Internet projects and first became noted for his activism when, in 2008, he downloaded about one-fifth of the database from PACER, the enormous collection of U.S. federal court documents known as Public Access to Court Electronic Records, to make those files available for free to the public.
Swartz worked closely with Carl Malamud, the founder of Public.resource.org, who contended that the PACER files should be available for free because, first of all, they weren't subject to copyright law and second, PACER charged a fee for the privilege even though the records were in the public domain. Swartz wrote his own program and, using a computer at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals library in Chicago, proceeded to download approximately 18 million documents and send them over to Malamud’s website. Swartz later learned, after filing a Freedom of Information request, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had looked into his actions but had dropped the investigation after a couple of months.
But he remained determined to promote the freedom of the Internet as he saw it. He supported the Open Access Movement, where scholars could gain unrestricted access to peer-reviewed journals for free. He wrote,
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