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Friday, June 27, 2014

Sean Kelly

Doc Thoughts: The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

internets_own_boy_the_storyFrom director Brian Knappenberger (We Are Legion) comes the tragic story of internet activist Aaron Swartz.  Swartz began as a programmer at a very young age and he helped co-found the website reddit.  He then focused himself on helping bring public access to the public domain, which got Swartz into trouble. He was arrested for using the servers at MIT to mass download research papers from the online library JSTOR.  Facing 35 years in prison, Swartz was tragically found dead in his apartment at the age of 26.  The Internet’s Own Boy takes a look at Swartz’s life and asks the question why the government thought that he should be made an example, in their fight against online terrorism.

Aaron Swartz was something of a child prodigy, who took to computers at a very young age.  At the age of 12, Swartz created a precursor to Wikipedia called Info Network and he also worked on the RSS blog summary system at the age of 14.  His biggest success as a developer came when he co-founded the website reddit, which ended up being offered a million dollar buyout.  Swartz would eventually become more politically-minded and he began to focus his efforts to freeing up supposedly public documents.  This included Swartz acquiring more than 2 million public court records and his use of the MIT servers to mass download research papers from JSTOR, which is what ultimately got Swartz into major legal trouble.

The tragic story of Aaron Swartz is that he is the latest example of an old world that is afraid of new technology.  It is absurd to think that the US government would seek criminal prosecution, just because Swartz downloaded a bunch of files.  The argument made by the prosecution in Swartz’s case is that “stealing is stealing,” whether a computer is used or a crowbar.  However, there was no proof that Swartz was going to do anything illegal with the documents and he essentially found himself turned into a scapegoat, in the government’s larger fight against cyber terrorism.  Many of the laws used to charge Swartz with came from the 1986 “Computer Fraud and Abuse Act,” which was a highly out-dated law drafted by paranoid politicians, in response to the 1983 film WarGames.

Even though the charges eventually pushed Swartz to suicide, he did have at least one victory, when he helped put an end to the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act.  In addition, Swartz’s tragic story is helping pave the way for updated computer laws.  All together, The Internet’s Own Boy is a quite interesting and sad story about a man who had so much promise in the world of new technology, but ended up being a victim of the out-dated views of the old world.

 9 | REALLY LIKED IT

The Internet’s Own Boy opens today at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described ├╝ber-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).