Big Idea for 2014: Open Data (the Legacy of Aaron Swartz)

The idea that Aaron Swartz fought for is that the public should have access to federal court documents as well as access to scholarly research that was being put behind paywalls.

On this blog we are looking at the ideas that had the greatest impact in 2013 and testing them out to see what their impact will be in 2014 and beyond. A good place to start is this post by Neurobonkers, a tribute to the late Aaron Swartz, from January, 2013. 


Neurobonkers wrote:

This is the first obituary I have ever written, as this is the first death of a public figure who I have never known, that has profoundly saddened me as the death of Aaron Swartz has done. With Swartz' talent, he could have made huge amounts of money for himself. Instead he selflessly spent his time campaigning for freedom of information and risked everything on his mission to liberate data. 

The ideas that Swartz fought for were wide-ranging, but they all fall under the proud banner that information wants to be free. What landed Swartz in trouble with the authorities was his belief that the public should have access to federal court documents as well as access to scholarly research that was being put behind paywalls. Read Neurobonker's original post for a full examination of this idea here

So what came of this idea? Swartz committed suicide, and his family released a statement blaming intimidation and prosecutorial overreach for his death. And yet, Swartz's big idea has lived on. As Neurobonkers reported a few days after his original post, the Internet was beginning to finish the job that Swartz started, as academics began posting their research papers online for free using the Twitter hashtag #PDFTribute

At the time of his death, Swartz was developing a system called DeadDrop that would allow whistleblowers to anonymously leak documents to journalists. This project has since been taken over by The Freedom of the Press Foundation. It is called SecureDrop

In addition, numerous events, including this one, have been organized to carry out the work and legacy of Aaron Swartz into 2014 and beyond. 

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