Aaron H. Swartz (November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013) was a computer programmer, writer, political organizer, and Internet activist. Swartz was instrumental to the creation of the RSS model with his contributions, while only 14 years old. He went on to contribute to the creation of Reddit, was the creator of the web.py web application framework, and co-founded Demand Progress.
It was reported by relatives on January 11, 2013 that Swartz committed suicide in New York City. The suicide was confirmed by Swartz’s attorney. It has been speculated Swartz has struggled with depression for some time.
Swartz has had legal trouble associated with alleged computer crimes.
In 2009 Swartz downloaded and publicly released approximately 20% of the PACER database of United States federal court documents managed by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. He had accessed the system as part of a free trial of PACER at 17 libraries around the country, which was suspended “pending an evaluation” as a result of Swartz’s actions. Those actions brought him under investigation by the FBI, but the case was closed two months later with no charges being filed.
On July 19, 2011, Swartz was charged by U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts with wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer, in relation to downloading roughly 4 million academic journal articles from JSTOR. According to the indictment against him, Swartz surreptitiously attached a laptop to MIT’s computer network, which allowed him to “rapidly download an extraordinary volume of articles from JSTOR.” Prosecutors in the case claim Swartz acted with the intention of making the papers available on P2P file-sharing sites. This case has yet to reach resolution.
Aaron Swartz was a genius, and a great service to the online computer world. A man with a heart, but unable to win the fight against his personal demons. He will be missed and remembered both as a brilliant innovator and a cautionary tale RIP Aaron Swartz.