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[liberationtech] [silk] Is What Aaron Did, Right?

Eugen Leitl eugen at
Tue Jan 15 05:14:14 PST 2013

----- Forwarded message from Pranesh Prakash <the.solipsist at> -----

From: Pranesh Prakash <the.solipsist at>
Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2013 18:21:44 +0600
To: silklist at
Subject: Re: [silk] Is What Aaron Did, Right?
Reply-To: silklist at

On Tue, Jan 15, 2013 at 3:20 PM, Vijay Anand <vijay at> wrote:
> So, did someone say that we dont use this forum to have debates on
> what goes on in the world anymore? I know there are some authors here
> and some folks from the Academic world.
> What is your take on Aaron? It looks like with Julian, and now Aaron
> (liberating data is the new form of activism) - and not the long route
> of creating an organization and lobbying for years and opening it up,
> but bruteforce opening

This is a rather naive and uninformed summary.  Aaron had been
involved with, and has founded, multiple organizations (including the
Sunlight Foundation, and running and founding the online
advocacy platform Demand Progress) that work on transparency-related
lobbying.  His posts on the difference between democracy,
accountability and transparency are worth[1] reading[2], and


Why is using technology to 'liberate' data in any way a lesser route
than using laws?  This also seems to presume that the tech route and
the 'lobbying' route of changing policy are not complementary, and
that the tech route involves short cuts if not actual breaking of

And what of those cases where the law holds that information *is*
public (case law, for instance) but are independent of the law behind
a paywall like PACER?  What law was broken by that?  Further, what law
(as opposed to a unilaterally-imposed non-negotiable 'Terms of
Service') was broken by downloading those millions of articles from

The Open Access movements have a long history, and a history of more
than a decade in their modern form.  Various organizations around the
world are involved in seeking changes in public policy (including the
Centre for Internet and Society, the organization I work for) and when
it comes to open access to scholarly literature, in the practices of
academics and non-governmental research funders as well.  Aaron was a
part of the open access to law movement (see his work with Carl
Malamud), as well as the open access to scholarly literature movement.

And further, it is incredibly short-sighted to see Julian Assange as
some sort of start of 'data liberation'.

> (and facing the brutality of it when it
> backfires) is what the masses are backing after. It somehow brings me
> mental images of public execution of the old powers during the French
> Revolution - a bit hasty and bloody for my taste.

I've completely lost you here. What exactly conjures up images of
public execution?  The anger of people at the wrongful hounding of
Aaron Swartz looks like baying for blood?  Do you condone such
flagrant misuse of laws by state prosecutors?, and would you rather
that people not get angered by it?

> What are your thoughts?
> PS: No intents to smear the living or the dead. But it looks like that
> we are on the crossroads of information, access to it and ethics here.
> And this issue is only going to grow, not go away.

I'm sorry if I come across as being rude, but Aaron is someone I
admired and looked up to for many years, and his suicide is something
I feel very strongly about.

----- End forwarded message -----
Eugen* Leitl <a href="">leitl</a>
ICBM: 48.07100, 11.36820
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