Information Access Guardians and Aaron Swartz

Last week included a significant day… at least in my life. Well the date of your birth tends to register high on the list of important dates in the calendar. 9th January is my special date and so last week I celebrated my entry into this world. I receive fewer gifts and cards nowadays but that is not why I feel sadness as the week progresses. It is also not because I am now past 60 years of age! At the age of just 26 a wonderful human being, Aaron Swartz, hanged himself in his apartment in Brooklyn New York on January 11th 2013. He was very special and touched our world, the world of information and open access.

Freedom of information

He had a world view, big thinking, and an ability to focus on the really important things. Dumb Copyright laws were one but freedom of information, was really important to him. Protecting freedoms that affects the way that our society works and how we live was his “thing”. In the short time that he lived he contributed in many ways to our ability to access and share information.

In twelve years, he accomplished remarkable achievements such as the creation of RSS Feeds at the age of 14, being a co founder of Reddit to name two. He advanced the ideas of creating Wikipedia and Change.org before they came into being. At 15, he e-mailed one of the leading theorists of Internet law, Lawrence Lessig, and helped to write the code for Lessig’s Creative Commons, which, by writing alternatives to standard copyright licenses, allows people to share their work more freely. He challenged the status quo, massively in favour of large publishers and chose JSTOR and MIT as his battleground.

Following his death an address was given at the Harvard Law School by Mr Lessig (a professor of law at Harvard and stood as a Presidential candidate in 2016). The lecture is titled “Aaron’s Laws: Law and Justice in a Digital Age”. It is a powerful set of arguments that he makes about how we should challenge and frame laws, how we use words, how we build and protect our society. How we should fight corruption to advance the public good.

Watch the full Video at Harvard Law School:
https://youtu.be/9HAw1i4gOU4

There was no social justice for Aaron. The power of the state was turned full force against him for what most reasonable people would have thought of as a misdemeanour.

Information Guardians

How the law shapes our access to information and how we perform our duties as citizens are intertwined. We need guardians and protectors to ensure that our access to information is unfettered. Those of us working in the field of technology and information can take a key message from Aaron’s experience to think deeply about how we use technical knowledge to advance a public good, provide access to information for all, not just the knowledge elites whose attendance at Universities gives them entitlement to information that others do not easily get.

Aaron was shy and unassuming. His ideas were bigger than life.

When I go to a library and I see the librarian at her desk reading, I’m afraid to interrupt her, even though she sits there specifically so that she may be interrupted, even though being interrupted for reasons like this by people like me is her very job. (Aaron Swartz 2007).

 

Author

View more posts by Graham Beastall Graham Beastall – Senior Consultant and Managing Director. Graham’s background is in Accountancy, Public Administration and Organisational Theory with a deep technical understanding of databases and web technologies. More posts by Graham.

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