Net Neutrality, Demand Progress, and the Legacy of Aaron Swartz

Born out of the tumult and activist energy around the fight against SOPA in 2011, Demand Progress has continued their record of grassroots advocacy and innovative policy solutions to the present day. Their ‘About’ section is a highlight reel of their work in the most important privacy and surveillance fights of the past few years. Today, they are once again at the forefront of action, coordinating the Team Internet events protesting the proposed changes to net neutrality. Other current efforts include holding Trump accountable and blocking NSA surveillance tactics.

Along with their impressive and inspiring record, there is one other thing that makes Demand Progress special. They know both the impact and the consequences that these laws can have on individuals. Aaron Swartz helped to co-found Demand Progress in 2010, but by early 2011 he had been arrested and would eventually be charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for allegedly illegally downloading mass amounts of articles from the website, JSTOR.

Facing mounting legal fees, and both jail time, and a potentially debilitating monetary fine if found guilty, Swartz killed himself in January 2013. While federal prosecutors and others have tried to suggest that their offer a plea bargain (which included six months in a federal prison) assuages them from responsibility for Swartz’s suicide, many have rejected this notion. In honor of its founder, Demand Progress has succeeded in handicapping the expansion of the CFAA, the law that the government used to prosecute Swartz.

Visit Demand Progress’ website to see how you can get involved and continue to fight for internet freedom. Even if this campaign succeeds, there will doubtless be future challenges, both for the independence of information and many other spheres. Demand Progress is one of the organizations helping to lead the fight and shape the future legislative legacy.

Before his death, Swartz ruminated on the idea of success and legacy. He came to the conclusion that ‘The real question is not what effect your work had, but what things would be like had you never done it.’ Unquestionably, society is better for the work of Demand Progress, Aaron Swartz, and those following in their footsteps to continue the fight.

There are a myriad of resources available online about Swartz and his role in internet freedom. For further reading, Slate’s Justin Peters published The Idealist: Aaron Swartz and the Rise of Free Culture on the Internet.

To read Swartz in his own words, visit his website or The Boy Who Could Change the World: The Writings of Aaron Swartz, an anthology of his writings and contributions by those who knew him.

Dylan Kristine is a runner, frequent-flyer, and amateur historian transplanted from New England. When she is living her best life, her t-shirts are snarky, her coffee is endless, and she is talking about her favorite president, John Adams.

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