Swartz "was chiefly friends with activists," Segal says. "He dated an activist. Even his parents have an activist instinct. So I think there was immediately a sense that we had to do something — make something positive happen in light of what had befallen all of us."
There are several critiques of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Courts have interpreted CFAA such that a violation of a product or service's terms of service can trigger criminal penalties. The law also allows prosecution for the sort of small-bore technical workarounds — altering how a program is used for instance — that is standard fare for hackers. And it focuses too heavily on felony penalties, critics say, with little room for misdemeanors.
It's unclear if a revision, known as "Aaron's law," will make it through Congress. Activists are trying to cobble together a progressive left-libertarian right coalition that may not hold. But Segal hopes the push can, at least, shift the dialogue in Washington.
"Right now, there's such a fear of anyone who's labeled a hacker in the halls of power," Segal says. "There is, I think, a complete conflation between some guy in China who's hacking on behalf of the state and somebody like Aaron, who's tinkering to try to make the world a better place."
But the activism that comes out of Swartz's death will not be limited to issues of Internet freedom, Segal says. Ultimately, friends hope to establish an organization in his name that will push for reform in cyberspace, in criminal justice, and in other areas of concern to progressives.
The net, alone, did not bring Swartz to Providence three years ago. The net, alone, did not drive him. And the net, alone, does not drive those he left behind.