After Swartz

After his failed Congressional bid in 2010, former Rhode Island state representative David Segal teamed up with tech progidy Aaron Swartz to form liberal advocacy group Demand Progress.

Soon thereafter, a federal grand jury indicted Swartz for breaking into a computer wiring closet at MIT and downloading millions of academic articles he planned to distribute for free on the web.

Swartz committed suicide last month, touching off a national debate on cyberspace, the law, and prosecutorial overreach. And in a piece that will appear in this week's Phoenix, I write about Segal and others pushing to overhaul the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (1984) at the heart of the Swartz prosecution.

But I want to write, here, about something else Segal said. The press, he argued, has painted a too-narrow picture of Swartz's activism. If Internet freedom was a central concern, he said, the hacker's politics grew more sophisticated over time.

Swartz was deeply concerned with issues of social and economic justice, Segal said. Indeed, when the pair formed Demand Progress, they imagined taking on a broad portfolio of issues.

It was only after their opposition to SOPA/PIPA predecessor Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act went viral that Demand Progress decided to focus, at least in near term, on Internet activism.

So while Segal and others in Swartz's orbit are moving to overhaul the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act now, they are also discussing an organization in Swartz's name that would be expansive in mission - focusing not just on Internet freedom, but criminal justice reform and other progressive concerns.

Swartz's legacy is a complicated one, no doubt. But it may also be more expansive than we know. 

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