By Samantha Gjeltema, Staff Writer
Have you ever written a research paper for a class and while looking for articles you think you found the one, but turns out you must pay upwards of $50 to view it? It is often said that knowledge is power, so why would we hold that idea for ransom?
In the film, “The Internet’s Own Boy” presented by the Holy Cross Math and Computer Science departments, the topic of open and free access to information reveals itself in Aaron Swartz’s powerful, yet tragic pursuit. I had never even heard of Aaron Swartz prior to viewing this documentary, but feel ignorant for not knowing his incredible story. Aaron’s tragic ending to his gloriously brilliant life is indeed heartbreaking, but his legacy will be everlasting.
His story is truly remarkable. I enjoyed how the film began with home videos from his childhood discussing his incredible intelligence at such a young age while his two other brothers, in addition to his mom and dad narrated. Furthermore, hearing from his co-workers, mentors, and past lovers also provided perspective, comfortability, and compassion for Aaron and his bold technological and political moves.
His story also brings about serious questions regarding the motives of his alleged computer crimes, and consequently, serious questions about computer ethics. Carmen Ortiz, the former U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, is quoted in the movie, “Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars.” I found one of the speaker’s arguments against Ortiz more compelling about causing physical damage. He said that taking a crowbar and prying something open leaves physical damage, but downloading files on the internet for indeterminate, yet seemingly harmless and justifiable means appears to have no physical harm at first sight.
It appeared Swartz was going to win his case, and the four felonies against him were going to be dropped from his record for good. However, the government continued to pursue their case and Swartz was eventually charged with 13 different felonies. After enduring several years of battling the media, the government, and himself, Aaron, unfortunately, ultimately committed suicide.
I cannot help but wonder why the government would work so hard to take down such a brilliantly beautiful and creative mind such as Swartz’s. He was not engaging in terrorist activities nor posing a threat to the wellbeing of humanity. He appeared to want to spread equal access and equality both nationally and globally, and if anything revealed that systems such as MIT and Jstor are hackable and vulnerable arenas. I am truly frustrated with how his story ended as he clearly could have created and designed things society could merely dream of. His motives, based off the film, appeared to support notions of justice and equality; not harm or threats.
I feel strongly that the public disagrees with how the government and legal system victimized Swartz and his incredible brilliance. I also feel that Swartz’s untimely death bodes as a strong example for the government demonstrating the negative effects and collateral damage when it attempts to destroy controversial intelligence, rather than fostering and channeling unique brilliance for positive construction. Free and open access should be implemented because why are we making people pay exorbitant prices for knowledge? It is time to abandon archaic practices of discrimination and embrace the wave of the future.