First of all, thank you so very much for hav­ing me tonight. It’s actu­al­ly real­ly dif­fi­cult that I can’t be there in per­son, and I wish that I could be. When Lisa asked me to speak tonight, I actu­al­ly didn’t feel that I had some­thing to say until I sat down and wrote a text. So I’m just going to read you a text, and as a result I’m going to cov­er my cam­era because there’s noth­ing worse than watch­ing some­one read. So. As you can see there it’s just a bright white light, and now I’m going to read you this text, and I hope that you can still hear me.

[Some in crowd chant­i­ng We want Jake.”]

Lisa Rein: Jacob, come back on cam­era, please. Don’t do it, Jake.

Jacob: I’m sor­ry. It has to be this way. That’s how it has to be, I’m sor­ry, but here we go.

Lisa: It’s okay. No, no, no!

Jacob: You can’t fuck­ing be seri­ous. [cross-talk] —ter­ri­ble.

Lisa: Jacob, please. Thank you. Jesus Christ.

Jacob: Look, I want to see all of you, too, but we don’t get what we want so I’m going to read you this text now.

The first time that I heard Aaron Swartz speak in per­son was at the Creative Commons release par­ty in San Francisco. [cross-talk]

Lisa: Jacob, we’re going to turn it [the podi­um lap­top] around.

Jacob: I was work­ing the door as a secu­ri­ty guard, if you can believe that. I think it was in December of 2002. Meeting peo­ple in that seem­ing­ly weird world mutat­ed life in a good way. Over the years, we crossed paths many times, be it dis­cus­sions relat­ing to CodeCon, to age lim­its, or free soft­ware, or the Creative Commons, or about cryp­to, or any oth­er top­ic, Aaron was an insight­ful, hilar­i­ous, and awe­some person. 

Aaron and I worked on a few dif­fer­ent over­lap­ping projects and I very much respect­ed him. Some of the top­ics that came up were light, but some were very heavy and very seri­ous. The top­ic of WikiLeaks was impor­tant to both of us. In November of 2009, long before I was pub­lic about my work with WikiLeaks, I intro­duced Aaron to some­one at WikiLeaks who shall remain unnamed. If we had a secure, easy way to com­mu­ni­cate, if some sort of com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tem had exist­ed that had reduced or elim­i­nat­ed meta­da­ta, I prob­a­bly could’ve done so with­out a trace. 

But we didn’t. You’re not the first to know, the FBI and the NSA already know. Less than a year lat­er, Aaron sent me an email that made it clear how he felt. That email in its entire­ty was straight­for­ward and its lack of encryp­tion was inten­tion­al. On July 10, 2010 he wrote, Just FYI, let me know if there’s any­thing, ever, I can do to help WikiLeaks.” Did that email cast Aaron as an ene­my of the state? Did Aaron wor­ry? 2010 was an extreme­ly rough year. The US gov­ern­ment against every­one, the inves­ti­ga­tion of every­one asso­ci­at­ed with WikiLeaks stepped up. So many peo­ple in Boston were tar­get­ed that it was effec­tive­ly impos­si­ble to find a lawyer with­out a con­flict. Everyone was scared. A cold wave passed over every­thing, and it was fol­lowed by hard­ened hearts from many.

In February of 2011, a few of us were at a par­ty in Boston host­ed by danah boyd. Aaron and I walked a third per­son home, a third per­son who still wish­es to remain unknown. The sense of para­noia was over­whelm­ing but pru­dent. The over­bear­ing feel­ing of com­ing oppres­sion was crush­ing for all three of us. All of us said that our days were num­bered in some sense. Grand juries, loom­ing indict­ments, threats, polit­i­cal black­list­ing. None of us felt free to speak to one anoth­er about any­thing. One of those peo­ple, as I said, still wish­es to remain unnamed. We walked through the city with­out cross­ing cer­tain areas because Aaron was wor­ried about being near the prop­er­ties that MIT owned. 

When Aaron took his life, I remem­ber being told by some­one in San Francisco, and I didn’t under­stand. I lit­er­al­ly did not under­stand who they’d meant or who it could be. It seemed impos­si­ble for me to con­nect the words that were com­ing out of their mouth with my memories.

Shortly after Aaron was found, WikiLeaks dis­closed three facts:

  • Aaron assist­ed WikiLeaks.
  • Aaron com­mu­ni­cat­ed with Julian and oth­ers dur­ing 2010 and 2011.
  • And Aaron may have even been a source.

I do not believe that these issues are unre­lat­ed to Aaron’s per­se­cu­tion, and it is clear that the heavy-handed US pros­e­cu­tion pushed Aaron to take his own life. How sad that he was aban­doned by so many in his time of need. Is it real­ly the case that there was no link? Is it real­ly the case that the US pros­e­cu­tors went after Aaron so harsh­ly because of a cou­ple of Python scripts and some PDFs? No, clear­ly not.

I wish that Aaron had lived, as we all do. This was the year that brought us the sum­mer of Snowden, and yet it felt like ten years of grief in a sin­gle one. It was the last time I’ll spend any time in the US, and even now it feels like a dis­tant mem­o­ry, most­ly bad mem­o­ries. Especially the mem­o­ry of learn­ing about Aaron.

Only a few months lat­er in 2013, there was a New Year’s Eve toast with many of us who were being inves­ti­gat­ed, harassed, and tar­get­ed for our work, our asso­ci­a­tions with WikiLeaks, and for our polit­i­cal beliefs. It was me that stu­pid­ly, stu­pid­ly said, We made it.” But I know it was Roger, and I remem­ber it well, when he said, Not all of us.” And he wasn’t only speak­ing only about Aaron, but him too. And it was heart­break­ing to remem­ber, and it was telling of how to cope, how some try to for­get, and we do for­get, and that it is impor­tant to remem­ber. Especially right then and espe­cial­ly right there, just as it is here and just as it is right now.

When we learned more details about the US pros­e­cu­tors, we learned that they con­sid­ered Aaron a dan­ger­ous rad­i­cal for unspec­i­fied rea­sons. One of the pri­ma­ry rea­sons is prob­a­bly the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto. This is a good doc­u­ment, and as many oth­ers I respect it and I admire it. The Guerilla Open Access Manifesto is not as rad­i­cal as the US pros­e­cu­tors might con­sid­er it. But their fear is telling, so let us say it out loud: we should hon­or it and we should extend it.

Let’s not only lib­er­ate the doc­u­ments of the world, let us act in sol­i­dar­i­ty to lib­er­ate all of human­i­ty. Let us cre­ate infra­struc­ture that resists mass sur­veil­lance. Let us enable peo­ple to leak doc­u­ments. And let us also work to infil­trate those orga­ni­za­tions that betrayed us. There is a divi­sion of labor, and we all bring dif­fer­ent skills to the table. Let us all use them in ser­vice of a bet­ter world, in ser­vice of justice. 

We must have total trans­paren­cy about the inves­ti­ga­tion into Aaron. Why was the Department of Justice grind­ing their axe with Aaron? Was it real­ly because of JSTOR and the past anger about PACER? That is absurd and unbe­liev­able. It is dis­pro­por­tion­ate and it is unjust. 

One con­crete thing that needs to hap­pen is for the FOIA case to be prop­er­ly resolved. We must find a way to speed up the pro­cess­ing about FOIAs regard­ing Aaron. Rather than hun­dreds of doc­u­ments at a time, we should have all 85,000 at once and not medi­at­ed by MIT, who is par­tial­ly respon­si­ble for the out­come we have today.

And we must not drop the pres­sure. If you are invit­ed to MIT, I encour­age you to decline and to explain that you do so because of MIT’s treat­ment of Aaron Swartz. Not just Aaron, but those like Star Simpson and Bunnie, who MIT would’ve loved to be like Aaron if the cards had played a lit­tle differently. 

Here are some things you can do to sup­port the lega­cy and spir­it of Aaron. We can sup­port the devel­op­ment of some of Aaron’s projects like SecureDrop. Kevin, Garrett, Micah, and oth­ers are car­ry­ing that torch with, they’re still with us today. You can come and work with many peo­ple at the Tor Project on Tor Browser and Tor Messenger and oth­er soft­ware to be of use to dis­sem­i­nate and to push out infor­ma­tion, impor­tant infor­ma­tion to peo­ple that might have oth­er­wise not hap­pened with­out that soft­ware. And you can come and help us make few soft­ware for free­dom, just as Aaron did.

And there are oth­er projects that need assis­tance. OnionShare, Let’s Encrypt, GlobalLeaks, Pawn[?], Subgraph, Signal, the Transparency Toolkit, and many more.

But it isn’t just soft­ware. There are so many things that can be done. You can write to pris­on­ers of con­science of Aaron’s gen­er­a­tion, of my gen­er­a­tion, of your gen­er­a­tion. Do Jeremy Hammond, Barret Brown, and Chelsea Manning have to die before we work to cor­rect the injus­tices that they face dai­ly? We can and we should free them.

Here are some things to sup­port each oth­er dur­ing the hard times, those with us now and those sure to come in the future. We should sup­port WikiLeaks, and orga­ni­za­tion under attack for pub­lish­ing infor­ma­tion in the pub­lic inter­est. We should sup­port the EFF. They sup­port peo­ple who arethe edge. We should sup­port the ACLU. When oth­ers called Edward Snowden a trai­tor, the ACLU gave him legal sup­port. We should sup­port the Courage Foundation. They are the ones that helped Edward Snowden to seek and to receive asy­lum and do the same with oth­ers that are direct­ly under threat today and those under threat tomor­row. And we should sup­port the Library Freedom Project. They work to edu­cate, to deploy, and to resist, by deploy­ing alter­na­tives in pub­lic spaces for every­one today. And togeth­er, we are already build­ing, deploy­ing, sup­port­ing, and using infra­struc­ture which is nor mere­ly a mat­ter of protest but is an act of resis­tance in itself by being a prac­ti­cal alternative. 

There is a legal les­son that we actu­al­ly must learn in a very hard way, as many com­mu­ni­ties have learned it already, and it is one where the lawyers in the audi­ence who rep­re­sent me are already cring­ing from what I’ve said but they’ll cringe hard­er next. We must resist grand juries. We must not bow down. We must band togeth­er. And togeth­er we can refuse to be iso­lat­ed. We must resist it every step of the way, nev­er giv­ing them any­thing, ever, at all, when they wish to per­se­cute us for our polit­i­cal beliefs. And if you feel there is no oth­er choice, drag it out and make it public.

Consider that the core of Aaron’s lega­cy is not sim­ply about infor­ma­tion or about writ­ing soft­ware. It is about jus­tice, about fair­ness through trans­paren­cy, through account­abil­i­ty, through con­sid­er­a­tion. So then let us con­sid­er our empire and most of all we must con­sid­er our com­plic­i­ty. It is up to us to act and to change things, to fight for the user but also to con­sid­er the world in which he lives. To think as tech­nol­o­gists, but to think far beyond only the tech­nol­o­gy and into our com­mon[?] humanity.

How is this les­son applied to gen­der and racial equal­i­ty? Aaron wasn’t a big­ot, he was thought­ful. He was not a homo­pho­bic per­son, he was accept­ing. He wasn’t a racist, he was unprej­u­diced. Aaron was kind and com­pas­sion­ate. He fought for free speech. He worked and he sup­port­ed your anonymi­ty direct­ly with actions, and he worked to free our culture’s knowl­edge. We must be forward-thinking, not just about one or two bat­tles, not just about one or two legal cas­es. Rather in a broad­er sense, towards a move­ment of move­ments. The Internet is a ter­rain of strug­gle and it will help shape all of the oth­er ter­rains of strug­gle to come, and Aaron helped to shape that ter­rain for us, so that we could shape it for others.

Part of what Aaron car­ried was an under­stand­ing that it wasn’t just that some­thing need­ed to be done. He car­ried with him the idea that very spe­cif­ic things need­ed to hap­pen, and for very good rea­sons, to ben­e­fit all of those alive and all of those yet to live. He cared deeply about free soft­ware, and he cared deeply about the free cul­ture move­ment. He worked to advance many oth­er issues. Let us car­ry on that work, what­ev­er the cost, wher­ev­er they may take us. 

Aaron was head­strong and hilar­i­ous. He was young. Today he would’ve been 29. Use your time wise­ly. May you have more time than him, and may you use it as wise­ly as he did. 

Good night.

Further Reference

The Aaron Swartz Day web site.


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