On I attended Aaron Swartz's memorial service at the Internet Archive in San Francisco and made a brief statement. See the first half:
This post covers the second half of my speech, again with more details.
I mentioned earlier (in part 1) that I had the opportunity to watch Aaron become a brilliant hacker, and I wanted to say a few things about what that means.
A hacker is someone who passionately explores something, gains a deep understanding of it, pushes the limits of that knowledge, and then builds upon it.
Hacking is the essence of being a scientist, of being an engineer. Being a hacker is at the essence of advancing humanity.
The law that Aaron was bullied with was the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), sadly and ironically enacted the same year that Aaron Swartz was born (1986). The CFAA is ridiculously broad and has been used to harass individuals for a diverse set of actions such as:
- Deleting files from your work computer before quitting (2006)
- Disobeying a website TOS (terms of service) agreement (2008)
- Increasing the capabilities of a computer you own beyond what it came with (2011)
- Re-using contacts you happened to make while at a previous employer (2011)
- Whistle-blowing (2010)
- And of course mass-downloading scientific journal articles on an open network (2011)
As the above list of recent cases demonstrates, the CFAA is an often abused and horribly obsolete law. Worst of all in my opinion, the CFAA criminalizes exploration and curiosity.
Curiosity is not a crime. Curiosity is at the heart of learning, education, and science (US math & science education lags behind several East Asian countries and some European nations).
Amending the CFAA is insufficient. The CFAA must be repealed.