Brian Knappenberger On Capturing The Life And Death Of Aaron Swartz In The Internet’s Own Boy

Jon Dekel | National Post | April 24, 2014

In 1986, the U.S. Congress, spooked by the fictional film War Games — in which a hacker unwittingly almost kicks off the Third World War by breaking into NORAD’s supercomputer — enacted the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Nearly three decades later, that same anachronistic law became the basis of the overzealous prosecution and ultimate suicide of one of the online world’s most prodigious sons.

By the time of his death in January of 2013, 26-year-old Aaron Swartz had founded of the popular community message board site Reddit, helped create the ubiquitous syndication tool RSS and achieved figurehead status in the online free speech movement by leading the fight to kill the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bill. He was also facing 13 felony charges and 50 years in prison for copying 4.8 million academic articles from the JSTOR database at MIT.

In Hot Docs opening gala film The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, director Brian Knappenberger recounts this tragic tale, painting a sympathetic portrait of a technological wunderkind whose remarkable intelligence and benevolent intentions are cowed by special interest groups and myopic bureaucrats.