Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hackers take over goverment website to avenge Swartz

CBS News reports today that Anonymous is out for revenge for the death of the young computer programmer who helped write the software for Reddit ("a social news and entertainment website where registered users submit content in the form of either a link or a text") and as a 14-year-old boy wrote the software for RSS ("Rich Site Summary: a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works, such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video, in a standardized format"):

The hacker-activist group Anonymous says it hijacked the website of the U.S. Sentencing Commission to avenge the death of Aaron Swartz, an Internet activist who committed suicide. The website of the commission, an independent agency of the judicial branch, was taken over early Saturday and replaced with a message warning that when Swartz killed himself two weeks ago "a line was crossed."

From what I have read about the crimes of Mr. Swartz, it does not seem that they were all that serious. Yet he faced a long time behind bars (up to 35 years) and a large fine ($1 million) for illegally downloading research documents (which Swartz said were paid for with taxpayer funding) from an MIT library system, most of which MIT has since made freely available to the public.

On that score, I understand the anger of the supporters of Swartz.

However, I don't buy the notion that he committed suicide because he was being oppressed by the government. Millions of people all over the world face far more serious oppression and don't kill themselves. The problem for Aaron Swartz was that he suffered from depression, and that is why he took his life. Untreated, he likely would have killed himself had he faced no prosecution for anything.

What Aaron Swartz wrote about his own mental anguish is telling:

"Everything gets colored by the sadness. You feel as if streaks of pain are running through your head, you thrash your body, you search for some escape but find none."

Complicating matters is the fact that his father refuses to accept that fact that his son's depression was psychiatric mental illness. Robert Swartz mistakenly thinks Aaron killed himself entirely because of the unfairness of federal prosecutors (never mind whether he did the crime he was accused of).

"He had never been diagnosed as having depression; he was never on medication for having depression. So the notion, the narrative that people are going to say -- is that he’s somebody who just has depression -- is just wrong. You’d be depressed too if you were under a 13-count federal indictment and you go see your mother, who’s in a coma."

It seems likely to me that had Aaron Swartz been diagnosed and prescribed medication for his depression, he would be alive today. Robert Swartz cannot see what is obvious to me.

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