RIP Aaron Swartz, a friend and ally of libraries and open information


Aaron Swartz, a friend and ally of libraries and open information, was deeply committed to and passionate about internet freedom and making information and knowledge as available as possible. To those ends, he worked on many projects in his short but influential life. He was 26.

Aaron educated a large segment of the population about the dangers of PIPA and SOPA and led highly effective campaigns in opposition. As a result, he engaged millions in the political process and put Congress on notice that Internet censorship will be vigorously opposed by the voting (and soon-to-be-voting) public. In 2007, at the age of 20, he founded Open Library, an ongoing project to provide information free-of-charge on every book ever published. In 2008 he penned “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto.” Aaron helped develop RSS, “Really Simple Syndication,” which significantly changed how people get online content. He also helped develop the Creative Commons alternative to copyright, which encourages authors and publishers to share content.

Outrage is growing over the U.S. Justice Department’s heavy handed prosecution of Aaron who committed suicide last week just weeks before he was to go on trial. He had been unfairly targeted for using computers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to download academic articles provided by the nonprofit research service JSTOR. According to writer and activist Daniel Sieradski, “Swartz’s case raises serious questions not only about prosecutorial overreach and the overly vague nature of computer crimes legislation. It also forces us to ask how we as a society approach the issue of copyright infringement — particularly whether the weight to which we give the economic interests of copyright cartels should be greater than our obligation to educate society and improve ourselves by making scholarship openly accessible.”[1]

Watch Freedom to Connect: Aaron Swartz (1986-2013) on Victory to Save Open Internet, Fight Online Censors via Democracy Now.


open standards, open designs, free software, free hardware, and decentralization


I was watching a Democracy Now segment this morning, “We Do Not Live in a Free Country”: Jacob Applebaum on Being Target of Widespread Gov’t Surveillance, and was inspired to learn more about (the adorable) Applebaum and his work as a hacker, activist, computer security researcher, and chief developer of the TOR project. Personal tidbits aside, here are some tools/technologies he has helped bring to my attention. In an era of rampant state surveillance and cyber spying (see FBI Seizes Riseup Email Network Server and CISPA Critics Warn Cybersecurity Bill Will Increase Domestic Surveillance and Violate Privacy Rights) I am ever grateful to the brilliant nerds (and I mean this most lovingly), who know how to build these.

TOR, an anonymity network, ensures every person “has the right to read without restriction and the right to speak freely with no exception” [1]. TOR client software routes Internet traffic through a worldwide volunteer network of servers in order to conceal a user’s location or usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis. Using TOR makes it more difficult to trace Internet activity, including visits to Web sites, online posts, instant messages and other communication forms, back to the user, and is “intended to protect users’ personal freedom, privacy, and ability to conduct confidential business by keeping their internet activities from being monitored” [2]. The TOR client is free software and use of the TOR network is free of charge.

During the Linux Conference Australia (LCA) 2012, Jacob mentioned TextSecure, which allows encrypted text messaging between Android phones. He also mentioned FreedomBox, the GNOME project, the Ada Initiative (what does freedom mean, he asked, if half of our population is oppressed?), and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. At the end of his talk, he said, securing freedom will require “a dedication to open standards, open designs, free software, free hardware, and decentralization” [3].


1. “We Do Not Live in a Free Country”: Jacob Applebaum on Being Target of Widespread Gov’t Surveillance

2. Wikipedia

3. LCA: Jacob Applebaum on Surveillance and Censorship

UPDATE 4/19/2013 via DemocracyNow

House Passes CISPA Despite Obama Veto Threat 

House lawmakers have passed a controversial cybersecurity bill that allows companies to share customer information with the government. The Obama administration has threatened a veto of CISPA, or the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, following public pressure from critics who say it would violate privacy rights. CISPA passed the House last year but was filibustered in the Senate. Companies including AT&T and Comcast have backed it, while critics including the American Civil Liberties Union mobilized against CISPA, saying it would “create a loophole in all existing privacy laws, allowing companies to share Internet users’ data with the National Security Agency, part of the Department of Defense, and the biggest spy agency in the world — without any legal oversight.”

Freedom of Information Day


Freedom of Information (FOI) Day is an annual event on or near March 16, the birthday of James Madison, who is widely regarded as the Father of the Constitution and as the foremost advocate for openness in government. The observance underscores the importance of freedom of the press, speech, information, and the public’s right to know.

In New York: Freedom of Information Day will be observed at the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) of The New York Public Library (188 Madison Ave.) on Wednesday March 18, with a presentation and discussion from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. in Conference Room 15 on the lower level of the library. This year’s guest speaker is Rashmi Vasisht, who manages program development for the New York State Attorney General’s Intergovernmental and Community Affairs Bureau. She will discuss the Attorney General’s initiatives promoting New York citizens’ right to know and to monitor governmental decision-making. The title of her presentation is: “Project Sunlight: Public Integrity and Information in New York State.”

This event is free and open to the public. Seating is limited and
reservations may be made by e-mailing siblreservations@nypl or by calling SIBL at 212-592-7000 (option 3), Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., starting March 4. Walk-ins will also be welcome as space permits.


Freedom of Information Links:

First Amendment Center

Journalists for Open Government

Sunshine Week