Aaron Swartz, the hacker who wanted to improve the world
When we think of the internet, technology and the evolution of information technology, the prominent names are mainly those of CEOs of large companies or revolutionary inventors, such as Steve Jobs, Tim Berners Lee and Larry Page. There is a name less known to the masses, but probably just as important for computer enthusiasts, that of Aaron Swartz, a premature hacker protagonist of a short but extremely intense life, destined to leave his mark on the history of computing.
Aaron was born in Chicago in 1986 and from a very young age he showed an unbridled interest in the world of information technology and programming. Son of art, since both parents were part of the tech world, he has the possibility from the first years of life to be able to handle, know and understand computers. He immediately fell in love with programming and began to develop his skills. Today he would be defined as a computer nerd, to the point of finding himself better at developing relationships within this world than in the “real” one. He reads, participates and interacts with blogs and communities that discuss various issues, and manages to be appreciated under a pseudonym that the thirteen year old hides behind the computer.
However, Aaron’s passion leads him to show himself very quickly, participating in events and campuses from a very young age. Although still a child, or at most a boy, Aaron’s dialectical skills allow him to have the respect of adults, his ability to explain complex concepts in a simple way also attracts the attention of prominent personalities of those years, who sometimes involve him within your own projects.
If you ask Tim Berners Lee about Aaron Swartz, he will answer that he remembers that child with extraordinary gifts well.
A child who develops a very strong faith in the internet as a means to bring people together and especially to share information. In Aaron’s vision, the web must be a free tool for the free flow of information, especially in the world of programming where the computer code must be available to everyone so that it can be constantly integrated and improved.
Aaron then becomes a strong defender of the idea of Open Source.
At the age of 20 she therefore becomes an activist, in defense of the possibility of accessing information that should by right be the heritage of human knowledge, and not a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. Take advantage of an ill-thought government initiative, which allowed for about two weeks to download files that were usually paid for (at a cost of 8 cents per page). Aaron as a hacker installs his program on a library’s computers and begins downloading hundreds of thousands of pieces of information in order to share them.
A few years later Aaron becomes the protagonist of a similar “stunt”, accessing the JSTOR databases from the rooms of MIT, uninterruptedly downloading data and information, until his capture.
And at this moment an extremely controversial period opens for the world of information technology and the use of data and above all for Aaron, which will lead to his death.
The word hacker is often connoted with a negative meaning, but the reality is quite different. A hacker is in fact an expert in his field, what he decides to do with his skills is another matter. After accessing the JSTOR data, the trial against Aaron then begins, which however sees the charges dropped by JSTOR itself as Aaron manages to demonstrate that he did not share the stolen files and that there was no intention on his part to sell the files. themselves; the commercialization of the files was in fact the chargeable offence, which however did not exist.
However, they were politically fragile years, especially in the aspects related to the management of computer crimes. America feared cyber threats and the possibility that a particularly well-prepared kid could also access government information scared and was seen as a major threat nationwide.
For this reason the Swartz case became of quasi-governmental interest and it was decided to prosecute Swartz anyway, despite the fact that the charges against him had been dropped by the injured party. Then followed months and months of threats and pressure: millions of euros in fines and up to 35 years in prison were the intimidations towards Aaron while awaiting trial.
Violent and vicious allegations, perpetuated until January 11, 2013, the day 27-year-old Aaron Swartz took his own life.
A name that deserves to be known by computer and technology enthusiasts and by those who, in general, think that innovation must always travel towards people, looking for ways to help them and to improve the world. If you want to know more about Aaron Swartz you can watch the movie “The Internet’s Own Boy” or read the book “Fixing the World”.