DemocracyNow! broadcast live Monday from the Freedom to Connect conference, a national gathering to promote Internet freedom and universal connectivity. It comes as the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act has been reintroduced in the House, calling for a "cybersecurity" exception to existing privacy law that would give immunity to companies that hand over troves of confidential customer records and communications to the National Security Agency, FBI and Department of Homeland Security.
Last year at this same conference, Aaron Swartz, the late cyberactivist, computer programmer, social justice activist and writer who committed suicide earlier this year, gave the keynote address, in which he described the battle to defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA.
Swartz took his own life at the age of 26 just weeks before he was to go on trial for using computers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to download millions of copyrighted academic articles from JSTOR, a subscription database of scholarly papers. JSTOR declined to press charges, but prosecutors moved the case forward. Aaron Swartz faced up to 35 years in prison and a million dollars in fines for allegedly violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. After Aaron’s death, federal prosecutors dropped the charges against him.
Well, this year’s conference, which is "dedicated to the work Aaron still had left to do." DemocracyNow! is joined by Darcy Burner, delivering the "After Aaron" address this morning. She worked with him on several projects, including ProgressiveCongress.org, which she formerly directed, as well as the Progressive Congress Action Fund. She’s also one of the biggest tech geeks to run for Congress, having run for office three times from Washington state. She formerly worked for Microsoft.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re giving, Darcy, the "After Aaron" address today. What does that mean? And what are you saying?
DARCY BURNER: Well, you know, Aaron was a friend of mine. And I—
AMY GOODMAN: And for people who don’t know who Aaron Swartz was?
DARCY BURNER: He was an activist. He started out as a programmer. He was—as a teenager, actually, was a fairly influential programmer, very involved in creating some of the protocols and systems that people take for granted right now, like Reddit, for example. And he went from that to deciding that he wanted to be active in politics. He was one of the very early people at the Progressive Campaign Change Committee, the PCCC, which does a lot of D.C.-based political activism holding Congress accountable. And he was very focused, among other things, on Internet freedom.
And he—while he was a fellow at Harvard and had access privileges to MIT and had access privileges to JSTOR, which is a database full of academic articles, he downloaded a whole bunch of those articles—the electronic equivalent of checking out too many library books at once. And because it was a violation of the terms of service of JSTOR to download that many articles at once, prosecutors decided to prosecute him for federal felonies.
AMY GOODMAN: Though JSTOR hadn’t; said that they wouldn’t press—
DARCY BURNER: JSTOR—right, that’s right. JSTOR didn’t want to prosecute. And facing federal felonies and potentially decades in prison, Aaron ultimately killed himself in January.
What he was fighting for mattered. And he was very clearly a threat to some very powerful people. Frankly, all of what’s done at this conference, the idea of an Internet where anybody can communicate with anybody else, is a threat to people in power. And the way that this played out is a demonstration of how seriously they’re taking that threat and how critical it is that we continue this fight.d up to 35 years in prison and a million dollars in fines for allegedly violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. After his death, federal prosecutors dropped the charges. DemocracyNow! is joined by Darcy Burner, who opens today’s conference with her "After Aaron" address. She worked with him on several projects, including ProgressiveCongress.org, which she formerly directed, as well as the Progressive Congress Action Fund. She is also one of the biggest self-described geeks to run for U.S. Congress, having run for office three times in Washington State.
Full transcript here of the program, including interview with Darcy Burner, and Aaron Swartz in his own words, as he spoke at the Freedom to Connect conference last year in Silver Spring, Maryland.