Digital boy in an analogue world

Touching on the subject of net neutrality, Knappenberger cited Tim Berners-Lee’s decision not to monetize the web as fundamental to its emergence and development, whilst at the same time acknowledging that over the past couple of years the issue has become of concern to a significant proportion of the online community.

“There’s no question [Aaron] would have fought it. We should all be fighting it. It’s important to anybody who spends any time online that the internet should be fair, it should be a level-playing field and everyone should have equal access. It’s the source of all technical innovations, everything we love comes from the notion that it’s free, that the platform is fair and which ensures that my political message wins on merit. But this critical notion is under threat in the United States.”

However, despite efforts made by the online community and some US politicians, most notably with the drafting of Aaron’s Law to reform and redefine computer and digital copywrite abuses, there has been little legislative success since Swartz’s death.

“There’s a big disconnect in our legislative bodies when it comes to these issues. As the saying goes – it’s NO longer OK to NOT understand the internet – or to not understand the things you are legislating. The internet is not some far off distant home of geeks and hackers… it’s the place where we all live, so everything we care about: freedom of speech, the right to assemble, the right to protest, the right not to be monitored or searched by our government without due process, all of these things have new meaning in the internet age and if you are in Congress you need to understand the internet and technology.”

Aaron’s Law itself has recently stalled, as Knappenberger suggests because big tech companies in the US decided that the current CAFA Law which was written in the 1980s suits their objectives. It allows them to go after their smaller competitors and even their own employees if they are seemed to have taken information that is of value to the corporation.

“The law is so big, so broad and vague and that it basically encompasses everybody. It’s an absurd law and is a sign of the disconnect between congress and reality.”

For Knappenberger, this disconnect is best illustrated by the attitude of the federal prosecutors towards Swartz. They were “baffled and confused” by his motives, unable to comprehend that anyone would download millions of pages of academic journals with no intent to profit from it. This demonstrates how the traditional boundaries of what constitutes a criminal action have been distorted in the internet age and as such the law must reflect this.

In the closing lines of the film, Knappenberger described Swartz as a very real victim of this tension being played out between the new digital domain of the internet and the old ‘analogue’ world that is fighting to contain and define it.

“Aaron was the Internet’s own boy… and the old world killed him.”

The Internet’s Own Boy will be released in cinema’s across the UK by Kaleidoscope Film Distribution

View a recent New York Times Op-Doc by Brian Knappenberger on the importance of understanding the Internet.