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The Internet's Own Boy 194

Posted by timothy
from the add-your-review-below dept.
theodp (442580) writes "The Internet's Own Boy, the documentary about the life and death of Aaron Swartz, was appropriately released on the net as well as in theaters this weekend, and is getting good reviews from critics and audiences. Which is kind of remarkable, since the Achilles' heel of this documentary, as critic Matt Pais notes in his review, is that "everyone on the other side of this story, from the government officials who advocated for Swartz's prosecution to Swartz's former Reddit colleagues to folks at MIT, declined participation in the film." Still, writer/director Brian Knappenberger manages to deliver a compelling story, combining interesting footage with interviews from Swartz's parents, brothers, girlfriends, and others from his Internet projects/activism who go through the stages of joy, grief, anger, and hope that one sees from loved ones at a wake. "This remains an important David vs. Goliath story," concludes Pais, "of a remarkable brain years ahead of his age with the courage and will to fight Congress-and a system built to impede, rather than encourage, progress and common sense. The Internet's Own Boy will upset you. As it should." And Quinn Norton, who inadvertently gave the film its title ("He was the Internet's own boy," Quinn said after Swartz's death, "and the old world killed him."), offers some words of advice for documentary viewers: "Your ass will be in a seat watching a movie. When it is done, get up, and do something.""
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The Internet's Own Boy

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  • His choices... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Monday June 30, 2014 @08:07AM (#47349089) Homepage Journal
    First, I agree that the data should have been free. I even agree that the investigation into him seemed to be heavy handed.

    However, Schwartz made an odd and poor choice in getting to the data. He could have downloaded the data from his own desk in his own office. Instead he went to the library and entered a wiring closet that was clearly not supposed to be open to the public. If he wanted to further his cause, this was a poor choice.
    • Re:His choices... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Threni (635302) on Monday June 30, 2014 @08:26AM (#47349149)

      He made bad choices, and then reacted extremely badly to the rather predictable consequences. I'm not sure he's much of a poster boy for anything much. It's sad, but I'm not sure what exactly we're supposed to be celebrating here.

      • He made bad choices, and then reacted extremely badly to the rather predictable consequences. I'm not sure he's much of a poster boy for anything much. It's sad, but I'm not sure what exactly we're supposed to be celebrating here.

        Sadly. I agree. He was certainly smart enough to be aware of the consequences of getting caught and of the precedent the Feds have set in similar cases regarding punishment.

        • by CastrTroy (595695)
          Just want to chime in as another vote here. I think it's a very vocal minority that make Aaron Schwartz into the poster boy he is. It helps his case that he was well known personally by a lot of prominent bloggers. I think many of the supporters are too closely connected to him to look at the situation in an objective manner. I don't really blame them. I'd probably be doing something similar if one of my friends had something similar happen to them.
      • by fuzzy2k (1139151)

        I'm not sure what exactly we're supposed to be celebrating here.

        Celebrate that you are alive. But then, I don't see where anyone else is suggestion celebration is called for. Aaron Swartz took his own life, which is a bit more than sad if you knew him. Maybe if your only knowledge of him is posthumous knowledge of his work on Reddit and w/e else, perhaps just a bit of sadness is an appropriate response, but I kind of doubt it. He was threatened with remarkable consequences by, among others, an organization that was apparently not able to keep it's infrastructure secu

    • by NotDrWho (3543773)

      I'm getting a little tired of the lionization of this guy too. I have to wonder if he would be as celebrated in the media if he weren't so young, charismatic, and good-looking. Hackers get busted all the time for doing much less innocuous stuff, and there are plenty of important cases out there with much more import on tech and privacy issues. But it always seems to be the good-looking young guys whose faces end up splashed all over the media as the hacker heroes.

      • by richlv (778496)

        i have no idea what he looked like (and him being male, i don't care). i followed the story, though - and it seems to me that the ones "getting tired" are those who benefit from the current copy-lack-of-rights state

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I don't benefit from IP laws, but I'm tired of hearing about him. There are 38,196 suicides each year in the USA as of 2012, why should this kid stand out(helping with RSS is paltry)? If we're going to get all touchy feely and sad about his suicide - what about those other 38,195 people? Where are their movies? Who is throwing a fit that they aren't with us?

      • Citation required. (Score:2, Insightful)

        by TapeCutter (624760)
        If there are such "important cases" happening as you have claimed, it should be easy to provide an example of one of these "unsung heroes" facing a 50yr sentence, right?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Goes to state of mind, does it not? I don't think for a second he felt that he was looking at getting in too much trouble legally, by what he was doing. Slap on the wrist, pay some fines, maybe probation. Certainly not years, or as the DA threatened, decades behind bars. And that's the crux of it. Where is the balance between reasonable prosecution, acceptable law, and justice? Wherever it is, it certainly wasn't anywhere near this case.

      I think in the end, that's something his actions will ultimately spotli

    • Re:His choices... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Monday June 30, 2014 @08:57AM (#47349301)

      I even agree that the investigation into him seemed to be heavy handed.

      Carmen Ortiz wanted to make a big name for herself with some wealthy media donors in her bid to be elected Governor of Massachusetts.

      Things went a little wrong for her, and someone paid with his life for her political ambitions.

      She's was waiting for all this to be forgotten, until she can campaign again.

      This documentary will make her wait a few more years.

    • Re:His choices... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Monday June 30, 2014 @09:01AM (#47349321)

      Much of the data is free and available elsewhere. All the public domain content, in fact is freely accessible.

      What JSTOR especially provides, and part of what Aaron was reaping wholesale, was its organization and links, basically the indexing and cross-indexing. _That_ is what makes JSTOR so useful, and what people pay JSTOR for: the breadth and searchability of the data. JSTOR is already a non-profit agency, whose fees are quite reasonable for the service they provide. And Aaron kept _breaking_ parts of JSTOR by downloading too much too fast, and overwhelming the servers.

      Activism, or hacktivism, is one thing. Breaking critical research tools for millions of customers worldwide is abuse, and clearly criminal in several ways. I'm afraid that Aaron earned prosecution. The extent of the prosecution seems severe, but as best I can tell, the prosecutors were quite willing to "deal" for a a very low sentence, as long as the deal included a felony conviction. I'm afraid that that haggling over the charges and the sentence is _normal_ for prosecutors.

      • Re:His choices... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by wisnoskij (1206448) on Monday June 30, 2014 @10:12AM (#47349907) Homepage
        non-profit is nothing but an advertising term anymore.
        If you run a for-profit corporation. Your corporation makes money which it spends to expand and invest and to pay salaries, and you might go home with a million dollar salary.
        If you run a non-profit. Your agency makes money which it spends to expand and invest and to pay salaries, and you might go home with a million dollar salary.

        Which does not mean that JSTOR is bad itself.
      • Re:His choices... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Monday June 30, 2014 @10:19AM (#47349985)

        " I'm afraid that that haggling over the charges and the sentence is _normal_ for prosecutors."

        Which is part of the problem. Prosecutors are under a lot of pressure to get a guilty plea, and often resort to intimidation to secure it. Thus the standard deal: Confess and we promise five years, or fight in court and we'll do our best to lock you up for fifty.

      • Re:His choices... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by butalearner (1235200) on Monday June 30, 2014 @10:37AM (#47350095)

        Activism, or hacktivism, is one thing. Breaking critical research tools for millions of customers worldwide is abuse, and clearly criminal in several ways. I'm afraid that Aaron earned prosecution. The extent of the prosecution seems severe, but as best I can tell, the prosecutors were quite willing to "deal" for a a very low sentence, as long as the deal included a felony conviction. I'm afraid that that haggling over the charges and the sentence is _normal_ for prosecutors.

        One thing I learned from Wikipedia that I hadn't heard anywhere else is that, a few years earlier, Swartz first downloaded the Library of Congress's "complete bibliographic data set" (whatever that is), then a bit later downloaded millions of public domain court documents from a paywalled system called PACER. The Library of Congress normally charged fees to access the former, and the latter charged users 8 cents per page back then (now it is 10 cents per page up to $3 per document). Despite gaining the attention of the FBI, he didn't get so much as a slap on the wrist for either one.

        So we have a couple aspects potentially contributing to what happened. First, Swartz probably felt reassured by his past experiences that, even if caught, he wouldn't get in trouble. Second, he didn't make any friends in the government by pulling his first two stunts, so when federal prosecutors realized they could get him, they went overboard. This is just conjecture, of course, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was true.

      • What JSTOR especially provides, and part of what Aaron was reaping wholesale, was its organization and links, basically the indexing and cross-indexing. _That_ is what makes JSTOR so useful, and what people pay JSTOR for: the breadth and searchability of the data.

        This is not true. All of this existed before JSTOR. For example, the big databases for mathematics back in the day were SilverPlatter and then MathSciNet. JSTOR is just a small evolutionary step above these, which publishers starting using fo
    • Re:His choices... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday June 30, 2014 @09:04AM (#47349339)

      First, I agree that the data should have been free. I even agree that the investigation into him seemed to be heavy handed.

      However, Schwartz made an odd and poor choice in getting to the data. He could have downloaded the data from his own desk in his own office. Instead he went to the library and entered a wiring closet that was clearly not supposed to be open to the public. If he wanted to further his cause, this was a poor choice.

      Most atrocities start with a seemingly simple mistake made by the victim. That doesn't justify ruining a mans life over what was essentially a pretty tame prank. I did worse than that... far worse... while I was in college and all I got was banned from the lab for a week. Of course, when I did it, downloading a file wasn't a federal crime yet.

      • His life was never ruined by the prosecutors. His life was ruined by his poor decision to kill himself.
        • His life was never ruined by the prosecutors. His life was ruined by his poor decision to kill himself.

          You've obviously never been targeted by a federal prosecute before. Woe unto you should it ever happen.

           

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by wisnoskij (1206448)
            Nothing was done to him that has not been done and worse to people caught with a few joints in their pockets. Almost 1% of americans go to prison, the vast majority for minor non-violent crimes. They are not only threatened with decades in the can, but actually do not have anyone willing to stand behind them and fight it, and did not stand 1/100th the chance that he did.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      First, I agree that the data should have been free. I even agree that the investigation into him seemed to be heavy handed.
      However, Schwartz made an odd and poor choice in getting to the data. He could have downloaded the data from his own desk in his own office. Instead he went to the library and entered a wiring closet that was clearly not supposed to be open to the public.

      ...at a different institution. He had free access to that database at his desk, but he went to a different school to do his secretly-scrape-the-entire-scholarly-database project.

      He quite obviously knew that what he was doing was wrong.

    • Re:His choices... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by inhuman_4 (1294516) on Monday June 30, 2014 @09:30AM (#47349543)
      For sure he made some poor choices.

      But that doesn't excuse the government response. The justice department had no reason to act in such a heavy handed manner. They quite clearly wanted to make an example of him and were willing to bend the law to do so.

      But the bigger issue here isn't Swartz, it's the fact that this kind of treatment has become common place. Putting a "hacker" in solitary confinement didn't make any sense when they did it to Kevin Mitnik, and it didn't make any sense with Swartz. It's an abuse of power, the tragedy is it took a suicide for people to notice.
      • by sribe (304414)

        It's an abuse of power, the tragedy is it took a suicide for people to notice.

        Something I only learned yesterday, Heymann (Ortiz's boss) had done it before a couple of years prior to Swartz--hounded a 16 year-old with heavy-handed charges until the kid put a bullet through his brain.

    • He could have downloaded the data from his own desk in his own office. Instead he went to the library and entered a wiring closet that was clearly not supposed to be open to the public.

      If you were going to download a lot of data, would you choose a node with many hops to the server or just a few? I would pick the one closest to the server.

      • He could have downloaded the data from his own desk in his own office. Instead he went to the library and entered a wiring closet that was clearly not supposed to be open to the public.

        If you were going to download a lot of data, would you choose a node with many hops to the server or just a few? I would pick the one closest to the server.

        Nice rationalization, but his first few attempts at scraping the database was by downloading via the MIT wifi network, so it's clear that speed of access wasn't his main objective here. It was only after he was repeatedly blocked from doing that by wireless access (being blocked should have been a clue to him) that he snuck into the closet.

        • It was only after he was repeatedly blocked from doing that by wireless access (being blocked should have been a clue to him) that he snuck into the closet.

          OOoooh. Did he sneak in on his belly like a cobra or on tippy-toes like the spy-vs-spy cartoon? Seems like that would just draw undo attention. Or maybe he just walked in, and you are making shit up.

          • He could have downloaded the data from his own desk in his own office. Instead he went to the library and entered a wiring closet that was clearly not supposed to be open to the public.

            If you were going to download a lot of data, would you choose a node with many hops to the server or just a few? I would pick the one closest to the server.

            Nice rationalization, but his first few attempts at scraping the database was by downloading via the MIT wifi network, so it's clear that speed of access wasn't his main objective here. It was only after he was repeatedly blocked from doing that by wireless access (being blocked should have been a clue to him) that he snuck into the closet.

            OOoooh. Did he sneak in on his belly like a cobra or on tippy-toes like the spy-vs-spy cartoon? Seems like that would just draw undo attention. Or maybe he just walked in, and you are making shit up.

            Uh, since you don't seem to know anything about the case, why are you commenting?

            Here are the first couple of links from a google search

            The Washington Post: Jan 12, 2013 - "When MIT cut off access to its wireless network, Swartz snuck into an MIT network closet and plugged his laptop directly into the campus ..."

            What Aaron Swartz did at MIT - Daily Kos
            Jan 13, 2013 - Between November and December 2010, Aaron Swartz accessed this room ...... The closet he snuck his laptop in turned out..."

            Why We Should Remem

            • For the record, that video shows him walking casually into the room, not "sneaking" into it. You might see something nefarious going on, but I don't.
              • For the record, that video shows him walking casually into the room, not "sneaking" into it. You might see something nefarious going on, but I don't.

                I suggest that you e-mail the 784,000 web pages that say Aaron Swartz snuck into the closet, and inform them they're using the English language wrong:
                https://www.google.com/search?... [google.com]

                "sneaking" indicates that he made deliberate attempts not to be caught doing the action. It does not imply that he wore a trenchcoat and a stocking cap.

                • I suggest that you e-mail the 784,000 web pages that say Aaron Swartz snuck into the closet, and inform them they're using the English language wrong:

                  They're not using the English language wrong, they're reporting the facts wrong. Just as the mainstream media did for decades in the War on (Some) Drugs, just as they did in the run-up to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the media is lying and/or negligently passing on the government's story.

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        ... right, because the hops ON HIS LAN were so congested that the wiring closet was faster than the port at his desk because the cable was 3 meters instead of 50 meters long.

        That is about the weakest argument I've ever seen in defending his bullshit.

  • by MtViewGuy (197597) on Monday June 30, 2014 @08:31AM (#47349173)

    The thing that always bothered me about Swartz is why didn't rich benefactors in the tech industry help him not only with his legal issues, but also with his known issues with clinical depression. A strong, vigorous defense team provided by the EFF and getting Swartz psychiatric help could have saved his life.

    • Because it was none of their business?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      EFF had already noted, and supported, Aaron's more legitimate political interests, and welcomed his participation in their political activity. I'd be quite curious if their legal staff had reached out to Aaron with help or suggestions already: they certainly agreed with many of his goals.

      I used to know Mike Godwin, the EFF's first lawyer who helped win the Steve Jackson case against the Secret Service. I can just picture Mike trying to explain the difference between the la-la land in Aaron's head, and what

    • The thing that always bothered me about Swartz is why didn't rich benefactors

      Really? When the prosecutor was tring to shoot for 30 years and crap like wire fraud, that was what bothered you?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      A couple of points:

      1. I went through the process of someone to get legal help for a software case issue when a huge corp was going after them. While I love the EFF, they generally take a case when they think a precedent could be set in favor of their (and generally my) agenda. If Microsoft sues you to make an example, and the law seems pretty clear, the EFF won't help you. As for other stepping in to help with legal fees, based on past articles (haven't seen the doc) apparently part of the issue he was havi

  • by rmdingler (1955220) on Monday June 30, 2014 @08:37AM (#47349207)

    Your ass will be in a seat watching a movie. When it's done, get up and do something.

    Yeah.

    Make a documentary or something.

  • After all, Aaron would have wanted the data to be free.

  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Monday June 30, 2014 @08:39AM (#47349223) Homepage

    Which is kind of remarkable, since the Achilles' heel of this documentary, as critic Matt Pais notes in his review, is that "everyone on the other side of this story, from the government officials who advocated for Swartz's prosecution to Swartz's former Reddit colleagues to folks at MIT, declined participation in the film."

    It seems to be entirely unremarkable that a story told from only one perspective - presumably the one that shows the main "character" in a positive light - should get good reviews.

    Tell it from both sides and you risk leaving the audience with unsatisfyingly ambiguous feelings about the whole affair; it's almost as if life isn't black and white!

    No-one likes that in a movie.

    • The remarkable legal part was that the Aaron Swartz "documents" where sealed under a protective order.
      DOJ, MIT, JSTOR Seek Anonymity In Swartz Case:
      Recall http://yro-beta.slashdot.org/s... [slashdot.org]
    • Tell it from both sides and you risk leaving the audience with unsatisfyingly ambiguous feelings about the whole affair; it's almost as if life isn't black and white!

      No-one likes that in a movie.

      Quite the contrary, had Gibson included the Roman perspective in "Passion" I would have enjoyed that movie a whole lot more.

      Roman Citizen: You taking the chariot out tonight?
      Roman Soldier: Yea, me any my cohort are going to do some drive by crucifixions...

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Monday June 30, 2014 @09:25AM (#47349487)

    And people ask me why I say we're not in any way more free than any other dictatorship. "But we have free speech!" Yeah. But as soon as someone would listen, rest assured that we'll find a way to hang you.

    Or get you to hang yourself, for all we care.

    "But we can have guns!" So? The laws are rigged to ensure the government has the bigger ones AND the media power to ensure you're smeared as the bad guy enough that everyone supports that artillery strike against your cute little fortress.

    You're free to do as you're told.

    • by BitZtream (692029)

      And people ask me why I say we're not in any way more free than any other dictatorship.

      You should answer with 'because I'm an ignorant idiot who has no idea what its like to live in an actual dictatorship'.

      Seriously, you have no fucking clue how great you have it.

      That doesn't mean we shouldn't raise holy hell when the government does something wrong, but to compare the USA to a dictatorship just makes it clear you're just utterly ignorant of the real world.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        That doesn't mean we shouldn't raise holy hell when the government does something wrong, but to compare the USA to a dictatorship just makes it clear you're just utterly ignorant of the real world.

        Almost everywhere, if you obey the rules, you will be just fine. The worst places to be on Earth, if you will not obey every single law, are Seychelles and USA. There are very few states that I can imagine doing what USA did to this boy.

        Also, the "real world" is not CNN. United States doesn't even make top ten on well being or life expectancy.

        Just because you are content with getting to consume more than everyone else on the planet doesn't mean you are not living under an oppressive regime.

        "If there is an u

      • There is actually rather little difference. As long as you don't pose a threat to the state you may pretty much do the same in either, and as soon as you become a nuisance in either state they'll find a way to get rid of you.

        The US are a bit more subtle than, say, China so it's easier to bullshit people who can't read between the lines, but in the end, what remains is that as soon as you are deemed a threat, some way will be found to get rid of you.

  • It's not really a noble act to steal digital documents. Just because you can doesn't mean you should. Sorry about the suicide but that's just how things turn out sometimes, dawin-wise.

  • I made this news timeline [newslines.org] of Swartz a while back. If you see anything missing drop me a note.

  • They all declined participation because they all know they're FUCKING WRONG

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