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Aaron Swartz

AUTHORITY has always had a difficulty with those unique human beings who see things differently from the majority. These fantastic individuals struggle against the well-oiled wheels of the bureaucratic machine because they have amazing insight, remarkable fortitude when they believe their cause is just and that rare spark of genius that sets them aside from others.
One such was Alan Turing, the Bletchley Park code-breaker who turned the tide of the Second World War by solving the Nazi enigma code. As featured in another article in this edition of The Hampton Guide, Turing went on to lay the foundations for the modern computer industry but was eventually arrested and convicted of gross indecency because he was homosexual.
Turing committed suicide by eating a poisoned apple in June 1954, unable to cope with the vilification, which accompanied his conviction.
Leaping forward to the modern day, another computer genius – Aaron Swartz, an American activist who defied the United States Government– also took his own life in January 2013 following a case brought against him by the FBI for data theft.
Aaron Swartz was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1986, the eldest son of Susan and Robert Swartz.Aaron was given his first computer at the age of just three and he quickly demonstrated a flair for coding and software creation that was way beyond his years. At 13 he won an ArsDigita prize, which was awarded to young people who create useful, educational, collaborative non-commercial websites.
In an extraordinary career, he founded a number of defining internet sites, many of which were devoted to ensuring public access to huge swathes of material.
Swartz once said that it was iniquitous that people in the United States should have access to information yet people in the third world who did not possess the financial resources to ‘buy into’ the same material were denied it.
Indeed, copyright issues became a cornerstone of the young man’s political activism.
His key clash with authority came about as a result of his attempt to make the millions of federal documents held by an organisation called PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) available to the public free of charge. He managed to download more than 2.7million documents but his activities came to the attention of the US Government and the FBI began building a case against Swartz. It was an incredible move given that the information was supposed to be openly accessible to the public but PACER were charging people for the right to view it.
Swartz was threatened with a $1million fine and up to 50 years in jail but he always maintained that he had broken no laws. Eventually the pressure and stress got to him and on January 11, 2013, he was found hanged in his Brooklyn apartment.
The parallels between Swartz and Turing are many – both were geniuses in their chosen field, both contributed enormously to their country’s freedom and both were hounded to the point where they took their own lives.

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What's On...

Events, shows, concerts, sporting occassions - month by month in your area -
What's On
Dec 7-Jan 7
Alice in Winterland Rose Theatre, Kingston A dazzling production based on Lewis Carroll?s timeless books (www.rosetheatrekingston.org)
Dec 16
Carols by Candlelight Landmark Arts Centre, Ferry Road, Teddington Celebrate Christmas with a programme of seasonal music, words and song (www.landmarkartscentre.org)
Dec 16-23
Courtyard Carol Singing at Hampton Court Palace Hampton Court Selected dates (www.hrp.org.uk)
Dec 26-27
Horse Racing Kempton Park, Sunbury Including the King George VI Chase (www.kempton.co.uk)