Aaron Swartz: a fight to free information

Adam Hemsley

The suicide of Aaron Swartz, aged 26, exposes the hypocrisy of the US justice system and highlights attacks on freedom of information.

Swartz, co-founder of the social news website Reddit, was facing over 50 years imprisonment and fines up to $1 million on 13 felony counts for downloading four million academic journals with the intention of opening them up to the public.

JSTOR, the digital library from which the journals were downloaded, didn’t pursue charges.

But despite being allegedly guilty only of copyright infringement and breaking a terms of service agreement, the US government brought felony charges of wire and computer fraud against Swartz that could have seen a prison sentence of over half a century.

Swartz was involved in groups such as Change Congress and Demand Progress which campaigned against the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) and the Protect IP Act (Pipa), US government attempts to censor the internet under the guise of fighting online piracy.

A statement by the Swartz family said that the tragedy of his death was not just personal but the “product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.”

Swartz’s belief that information should be free and open to all people contradicted the restrictive and secretive nature of capitalism.

After the banking crash of 2008, the bankers and speculators who committed history’s largest act of fraud walked away without even a slap on the wrist.

But an activist who challenged the system was hounded by an unjust legal system and took his own life.

Aaron Swartz’s death raises the importance of the campaign to keep the internet and all forms of information free from censorship.

SOPA in the US and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Act (Acta) in Europe have been defeated but could return in different forms.

Socialists must raise awareness of control of the internet by big business and capitalist governments.

To ensure that free information is provided on the internet, control over it should be taken from big corporations and run by elected representatives of the community.

We should fight to replace capitalism with socialism, a system that has nothing to hide from people because it is built around their direct running of it. Then, truly free access to information can be achieved.