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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

'The Internet's Own Boy'

Aaron Swartz

Robert Anton Wilson never got around to writing his Tale of the Tribe book, but for him and for many other libertarian-minded folk, the role of the Internet in modern life has been important.

The late Aaron Swartz, in an interview in The Internet's Own Boy, a new documentary about his life and death, talks about two opposing views of the Internet: The idea that it provides a new method for achieving freedom that will liberate us all, and the notion that it provides a way for the government and others to spy on us all of the time. Both conceptions have a measure of truth, and which prevails will depend on us, Swartz observes.

I watched The Internet's Own Boy on the free, Creative Commons version posted at the Internet Archive. I strongly recommend taking the time to watch it if you are interested in Internet issues. (Kudos to Steve Pratt for also trying to draw attention to it.)  It's a fine documentary, focusing on Swartz's intellectual gifts, his contributions in politics and programming, his efforts to make information available on the Internet, and his death after he downloaded a large number of documents from the MIT computer system and was hit with a federal prosecution and threatened with up to 35 years in prison.

There's an interesting irony in the movie. It's clear that the Obama Administration's Justice Department, obsessed with secrecy and with crushing anyone who represented a challenge to the system, wanted to make an example of Swartz. Instead, although they are likely no worse than many other tyrannical government officials, the movie "makes an example" of Carmen Ortiz and Stephen Heymann, who hounded Swartz to his death over a minor crime. Incidentally, President Obama has gone out of his way to make it clear that while Ortiz and Heymann may be unprincipled thugs, they're his thugs: His attorney general, Eric Holder, told a Congressional committee that the hounding of Swartz was "a good use of prosecutorial discretion."

1 comment:

fuzzbuddy said...

Good documentary!
Here's a youtube video I found interesting. Anil Dash on The Web We Lost: