Aaron Swartz, the brilliant technologist and transparency activist, tragically passed away one year ago today. He was just 26.
In his short lifetime, Aaron accomplished so much in pursuit of a free and open Internet that his acolades are almost too numerous to mention. He was critical in the launch of Creative Commons, which leverages copyright to allow the sharing of information as broadly as possible. He co-authored the first version of RSS, the protocol millions of people use to read news on the Internet (many without even knowing it). He developed the Internet Archive's OpenLibrary.org, which now has made more than one million books freely available to the world. He was a co-founder of Reddit, now one of the Internet's most popular websites. And much more.
Aaron was also instrumental in defeating the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the dangerous bill that threatened the free speech rights of millions of ordinary Internet users in 2011. Director Brian Knappenberger just released a new short film that can give you a sense of Aaron’s role in that historic political victory:
While Aaron’s commitment to government transparency was less known to the public, it’s a subject in which his passion and innovation were just as evident. He was prolific user of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which MuckRock founder Michael Morisy eloquently described last year. But Aaron was also aware of the shortcomings of FOIA, and as one of his last projects before his death, he created an open-source whistleblower system that could be installed by any news organization to anonymously accept documents from sources.
Freedom of the Press Foundation was honored to have taken over management of that project, now known as SecureDrop, in the fall of 2013. We’ve tried to make Aaron proud by making significant upgrades to the system in the past few months. Much of those upgrades stemmed from a hackathon that was held in Aaron’s honor in November. It was so successful, we are hosting another one at MIT on January 25th, which will be open to the public.
We hope we can do Aaron’s legacy justice by continuing to improve SecureDrop and spreading the technology as far as possible. We'll be helping news organizations in the United States and all over the world install it throughout 2014.
If you want to honor Aaron, many of the same groups that helped stop SOPA—including Demand Progress, the group he founded—are calling for a day-of-action advocating for NSA reform on February. They are asking everyone to call their representatives to demand they reign in NSA surveillance that threatens so much of the privacy and press freedom many Americans take for granted.
As Aaron once said, "Transparency can be a powerful thing, but not in isolation. So, let’s stop passing the buck by saying our job is just to get the data out there and it’s other people’s job to figure out how to use it. Let’s decide that our job is to fight for good in the world."