March 3, 2013

REPORT: Life Inside The Aaron Swartz Investigation. “I am a journalist of hackers. They are my beat and my friends, so I’d seen people harassed and persecuted. Some piece of research or conference presentation would suddenly become an investigation, phone calls and meetings with lawyers. We came to expect raids, surveillance, and threats from powerful men who couldn’t tell the good guys from the bad in my world.”

UPDATE: Reader Kristo Miettinen writes:

Thanks for all you do. The link to Quinn’s article on Swartz was very illuminating!

First, it confirms what I have pointed out before: this was mainly about breaking and entering, more than about open access to archived scholarly articles. Swartz himself put it that way initially to Quinn, and the open access manifesto wasn’t even known to prosecutors at the time that they offered, and Swartz refused, the plea deal. At that time Swartz was being prosecuted for his ways, not for his ends. It is his defense (especially posthumously) that wants to make this about ends in order to cast him in the most positive light.

Second, the article opens the lid on a world of emotional children with the power to make very adult decisions. Both Quinn and Swartz reveal that they need to do a lot of maturing (Swartz has since regrettably opted out of growing up). But I can’t help but look at these two and fear that they are
like Iranian Ayatollahs with nukes. Less crazy perhaps, and less physically dangerous, but still that same sort of combination of immaturity of judgment and capability to do harm.

To tie it all back to a strongly related but superficially different topic, this is why we raise children to handle weapons. It’s not for hunting, not even (we hope) for self-defense, it is for mastering power, for learning to be responsible as you develop great personal capability. I’ve been reading Jeff Cooper lately, and I feel that if Aaron Swartz had known more of Cooper’s philosophy, he would have stayed out of the wiring closet and would still be alive today.

Well, the Swartz case has to be read against MIT’s long-time culture of tolerated pranks and break-ins (they have, or had, intramural lockpicking, and there’s a famous MIT lockpicking guide on the Web). But the Cooper point is a good one.