Aaron Swartz, Carmen Ortiz, Lanny Breuer and the Digital Revolution

Yesterday, as I wrote about institutionalized racism in America, I asked the question, "Is there something we should be learning from Sandy Hook or the death of Aaron Swartz?" Perhaps part of the answer is that we are in the midst of a digital revolution, and sometimes heroes die during revolutions.

Typically, people talk about the digital revolution the way they talk about the industrial revolution, moving from one mode of production and distribution to another. Yet with any revolution, there is upheaval. There are winners and there are losers. Are we seeking to make the digital revolution as equitable as possible? What happens to the losers? How do they fight to avoid losing any privileges they had prior to the revolution?

I think these are all important questions to ask as we think about Aaron Swartz, for it seems that much of what he fought for was to make the digital revolution as equitable as possible. How do we make information as accessible to all people as possible?

If we look at PACER or JSTOR, we see similar patterns. There were means of production and distribution that made sense in the time of the printing press. Much of the information in court papers and academic journals was produced using taxpayer money and should be available to everyone for little more than the cost of production. Prior to the digital revolution, there was one cost structure for producing and distribution information in systems like PACER or via JSTOR. As the cost of production and distribution of electronic reports plummeted, some people were benefiting from the cost differences and others were being left out.

The prosecution of Aaron Swartz was an effort by the losers in the digital revolution to cling to power. The idea of Aaron Swartz as the epitome of the digital native, confronting U.S. District Attorney Carmen Ortiz, an up and coming political figure defending the status quo as the epitome of the digital immigrant is a compelling narrative.

And, it has played out in the digital political battlegrounds. The online petition site, We The People, set up by the Obama Administration, has a petition calling for the removal of United States District Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz. In the first three days it received over thirty thousand signatures, more than the threshold of twenty-five thousand signatures necessary for the administration to consider it.

The battle continues on, online. This afternoon, the Boston Globe ran the article, Reports: U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s husband attacks Swartz family on Twitter.

The article shows images of tweets, alleged to be from the husband of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, where he goes after some of the thought leaders in the digital revolution such as Mitch Kapor and Dan Gillmor. Yes, the battle lines have been drawn and President Obama is caught right in the middle.

Meanwhile, another blog post says, OK, But Can We Also Fire Lanny Breuer?. Perhaps U.S. Attorney Ortiz was just an ambitious foot soldier caught in the cross fire. Perhaps the General that needs to be taken out is the Department of Justice's Criminal Division head, Lanny Breuer.

We are seeing Congressional approval rates plummet, the approval rating of the Supreme Court slip, and one has to wonder what happens to the approval ratings of the Justice Department as the Swartz affair just adds more damage to a tarnished agency.

Yes, we are in the midst of a digital revolution. It is about changes in the modes of production and distribution, but it is shaking up power structures and real people, good people, are getting hurt in the cross fire.

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