Remembering Aaron Swartz: A timeline of the CFAA

by adrienne debigare

Landmark events and legislation in digital activism

November 8 was International Aaron Swartz Day, in memory of a stalwart of the digital activist community. Swartz was a crusader for the Open Net, and that passion and determination put him at odds with the US government. After breaking into MIT in 2012 and surreptitiously downloading a deluge of academic journal articles, he was arrested and detained by Cambridge Police. In what can only be described as a series of unfortunate events, he was eventually indicted by the federal government under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. 

Before the case could go to trial, Swartz—buried in debt from legal fees and facing decades of potential prison time—took his own life. The Net lost one of its strongest and most charismatic champions. 

International Aaron Swartz Day resulted from the effervescence of Swartz's commitment and charisma. After his death, his friends and loved ones came together to honor his memory and advocate for legal changes through a decentralized un-conference style hackathon. 

This year, I had the privilege of coordinating the event with my colleague Ali Hashmi and The MIT Center for Civic Media. To help myself, and presumably others, make sense of the history of the legislation involved in Swartz's case, I began compiling a timeline of events and legislation that brought us to where we are today. The data is dynamic, and any suggestions or additions would be welcomed and are encouraged!