Hacktivism & Mistakes

I know that much ink has already been spilled over Aaron Swartz‘s indictment. If you haven’t read any of it, this New York Times article is a good start.

a photograph of Aaron SwartzKevin Driscoll, posting on the Students for Free Culture blog notes that:

“News coverage and online reaction to Swartz’s arrest reveal a painful failure to produce accurate, meaningful analogies for his massive duplication of academic articles.”

Driscoll cites a slew of analogies comparing the bulk download of JSTOR articles to checking books out of a library, or looking up journals. These analogies make Swartz’s actions seem reasonable and dignified, and they’re right. The problem isn’t that we have analogies which make him seem reasonable, it’s that we have no analogies which show just how reasonable he was. All our physical analogies are tied to a world filled with scarcity: we have no means to express just how little cost there is when someone copies academic data. Worse still, our language is lost on the prosecutor, and may well be lost on judges and a jury too.

Swartz’s actions were noble, and foolhardy. If you’re trying to make a backup of JSTOR, this isn’t the right approach. Either take security precautions so that you don’t get caught, or act so brazenly that you’re in good faith. By concealing his face with a bike helmet, using pseudonyms engineered to give him the username “ghost”, and fleeing from police, he’s failed the punk test before this gets anywhere near the court.

Hopefully, he won’t have to spend any time in jail. Still, if there’s one case that puts Guerrilla Open Access in the spotlight, this is it. Perhaps these events will draw much-needed attention to the tragedy our locked-up academic record, and allow for a transition to more open  academic publishing and access.


About flamsmark

I do privacy at Mozilla. Years of security have left me incurably paranoid. Tech, policy, security, privacy, & anonymity are good. Open is better. GPG: 80AF07D3
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