June 27--Was the programming prodigy, Reddit partner and information activist Aaron Swartz hounded to death by the U.S. government? Did the government's legal drone attack and threat of a 35-year prison stretch drive Swartz to take his own life at age 26 last year?
If you see Brian Knappenberger's provocative and gripping documentary "The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz," you'll believe it. You'll also think it's no wonder NSA bete noir Edward Snowden fled the United States rather than face such legal persecution.
Beginning with a quote from Thoreau regarding fighting "unjust laws," Knappenberger ("The Story of the Hacktivists") takes us on Swartz's journey, leading him to infiltrate the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, download information that had been bought by corporate entities and held behind pay walls and make it available free of charge. MIT, which declined to comment on the record for the film, chose not to press charges (bad publicity for a "venerated" institution?). But the government did, vigorously. (U. S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz has been criticized for her "overzealous prosecution" of Swartz.)
Knappenberger and others argue what Swartz did is not piracy: Piracy is what corporations do when they co-opt the libraries of information and monetize them online. Swartz also made federal court documents public, which might have been his real downfall.
In the film, we meet Swartz at a young age in family videos shot by his grieving parents and also meet his two younger- brothers. We see the young man himself, affable, handsome, brilliant and super-articulate. He could read at age 3 and before long was programming with his little brother- a "Star Wars" trivia game and convinced that "programming is magic." Among the issues the adult Swartz wanted to explore were "wealth disparity" and the influence of corporate contributions on academic research that in turn supported corporate positions concerning such subjects as climate change. The sort of Internet whistle-blowing Swartz engaged in is the issue of our times.
See "The Internet's Own Boy" and be aware and beware.
("The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz" contains no objectionable material.)
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Original headline: 'Boy' blames Swartz's death on persecution
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