Aaron Swartz, a brilliant 26-year-old software developer at ThoughtWorks and renowned internet freedom activist, committed suicide on Friday, January 11th. ThoughtWorks mourns this tragic loss to his family, friends, co-workers, and the technology and activist communities.
Aaron’s technical accomplishments are legion. At a very young age, he was positioned to become a wealthy tech mogul, but Aaron selflessly chose a different path. He used technology in brilliant and courageous ways to empower people and democratize access to information, as vehicles for expression, and as tools for organizing movements.
ThoughtWorkers were honored to support Aaron’s family and friends by developing the open-source memorial site, http://rememberaaronsw.com and we hope the broader community will contribute remembrances and code.
Aaron was a leader in our Social Impact Program (SIP). He was the team lead for VictoryKit, an open source project he initiated to empower individuals to start their own internet-based movements around issues. He brought a vast knowledge of technology, activism, politics, economics, and culture, and a keen sense of effective solutions.
We share and support the official statement from the family and partner of Aaron Swartz that decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. Aaron was the target of a vindictive government prosecution by the Department of Justice and a disproportionate reaction. The supposed victim, JSTOR, clearly conveyed that it did not support the charges. MIT, however, did not join JSTOR, and so the US Attorney continued the prosecution. Aaron’s life was heavily burdened by the prospect of 35 years in prison. While we welcome MIT’s investigation, it is reprehensible that it took Aaron’s death to cause MIT’s President Reif to issue Sunday’s statement. MIT could have taken action earlier to remove this unjust pressure on Aaron. What is needed from MIT is an apology to the family and policy changes to guarantee that this injustice never occurs again.
ThoughtWorks also supports the growing calls for accountability for the prosecutorial abuse, directed by lead prosecutor Stephen Heymann under the supervision of US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, that bullied Aaron. We demand an investigation into the Department of Justice’s actions in this case.
Today there is a major battle over the fate of the internet. Will we and future generations have an open, uncensored internet that is a force for democracy – or will the internet be owned and controlled by a few huge companies backed by the heavy hand of governments that serve them? In that battle, Aaron was a champion and inspiration to people across the world. Today, he is a tragic casualty. ThoughtWorks stood by Aaron, and will continue to support his vision.
Please honor Aaron with your commitment to internet freedom and democracy, technological excellence, and social and economic justice.
ThoughtWorks – A software company and community of passionate individuals whose purpose is to revolutionize software design, creation and delivery, while advocating for positive social change. Our clients are people and organizations with ambitious missions; we deliver disruptive thinking and technology to empower them to succeed. In our 20th year, over 2300 ThoughtWorks employees – ‘ThoughtWorkers’ – are currently serving clients from offices in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Singapore, South Africa, Uganda, the U.K., and the U.S.