Slacktory

Aaron-Swartz-with-bike-helmet-mask

Ohhhh man. Plenty of new shit has come to light in the case of Aaron Swartz, Reddit co-founder (or just ex-employee), who was indicted today for the alleged theft of four million JSTOR documents via an MIT computer. But the best detail, taken from the filed indictment:

On January 6, 2011, Swartz returned to the wiring closet to remove his computer equipment.  This time he attempted to evade identification at the entrance to the restricted area. As Swartz entered the wiring closet, he held his bicycle helmet like a mask to shield his face, looking through ventilation holes in the helmet. Swartz then removed his computer equipment from the closet, put it in his backpack, and left, again masking his face with the bicycle helmet before peering through a crack in the double doors and cautiously stepping out.

Background: JSTOR is a database of millions of scholarly articles. Most colleges subscribe and offer unlimited “free” access to their students. Federal prosecutors have accused Swartz of downloading a huge chunk (maybe all) of the database last fall, through a computer he wasn’t authorized to use. At the time, they say, he was going to Harvard and had nothing to do with MIT.

Sidenote: While many Redditors keep tabs on who’s running the company, whenever a post about Swartz gets popular, most commenters don’t seem to know about him. Someone calls him a Reddit co-founder, then someone else clarifies that he started a company that got folded into Reddit, and sometimes someone remembers that Swartz was given the co-founder title as part of the deal.

Foreground: While Swartz hasn’t publicly stated his motives in this alleged heist, prosecutors and some Redditors theorize that he planned to publish the JSTOR database. Some of those Redditors (just some!) are already hailing him as an info-liberating hero. DemandProgress, a political non-profit founded (for real) by Swartz, assumes that Swartz only wanted the docs for himself, arguing that technically what he did was like checking out all the books in a library at once.

Circumstantial evidence: According to his FBI file (which he’s published on his personal site), Swartz ran a project similar to the alleged JSTOR hack in 2008, when he downloaded over 18 million articles from the public PACER database of court records. These articles normally cost eight cents per page, but they were free when accessed from one of seventeen federal libraries. Swartz put them online for free.

But mainly I wanted you to know he wore a bike helmet as a mask. HACKERS!

Original photo of Swartz by Fred Benenson via Wikipedia.
Link: Daring Fireball
Link: Reddit

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