Aaron Swartz

آرون سوارتز

ID:19139 Section: Person

Updated:Tuesday 14th October 2014

Aaron Swartz Definition

(Wikipedia) - Aaron Swartz For other people with similar names, see Aaron Swartz (actor) or Aaron Schwartz (disambiguation). Aaron Swartz Born Died Cause of death Occupation Title Religion Awards Website
Aaron Swartz at a Creative Commons event on December 13, 2008
Aaron H. Swartz (1986-11-08)November 8, 1986 Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
January 11, 2013(2013-01-11) (aged 26) New York City
Suicide by hanging
Software developer, writer, Internet activist
Fellow, Harvard University Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics

None (atheist)

American Library Association''s James Madison Award (posthumously)

EFF Pioneer Award 2013 (posthumously)
aaronsw.com rememberaaronsw.com

Aaron Hillel Swartz (November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013) was an American computer programmer, writer, political organizer and Internet Hacktivist.

Swartz was involved in the development of the web feed format RSS and the Markdown publishing format, the organization Creative Commons, the website framework web.py and the social news site, Reddit, in which he became a partner after its merger with his company, Infogami.

Swartz''s work also focused on sociology, civic awareness and activism. He helped launch the Progressive Change Campaign Committee in 2009 to learn more about effective online activism. In 2010 he became a research fellow at Harvard University''s Safra Research Lab on Institutional Corruption, directed by Lawrence Lessig. He founded the online group Demand Progress, known for its campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act.

On January 6, 2011, Swartz was arrested by MIT police on state breaking-and-entering charges, after systematically downloading academic journal articles from JSTOR. Federal prosecutors later charged him with two counts of wire fraud and 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, carrying a cumulative maximum penalty of $1 million in fines, 35 years in prison, asset forfeiture, restitution and supervised release.

Swartz declined a plea bargain under which he would serve six months in federal prison. Two days after the prosecution rejected a counter-offer by Swartz, he was found dead in his Brooklyn, New York apartment, where he had hanged himself.

In June 2013, Swartz was posthumously inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.

  • 1 Life and works
    • 1.1 W3C
    • 1.2 Markdown
    • 1.3 Infogami, Reddit, Jottit
    • 1.4 Activism
      • 1.4.1 Stop Online Piracy Act
    • 1.5 Wikipedia
    • 1.6 Tor2web
    • 1.7 Library of Congress
    • 1.8 PACER
    • 1.9 Wikileaks
    • 1.10 DeadDrop
  • 2 JSTOR
    • 2.1 Arrest and prosecution
  • 3 Death, funeral and memorial gatherings
  • 4 Aftermath
    • 4.1 Family response and criticism
    • 4.2 In the press and the arts
      • 4.2.1 The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
    • 4.3 Open Access
    • 4.4 Hacks
    • 4.5 MIT and the Abelson investigation
    • 4.6 Petition to the White House
    • 4.7 Congress
      • 4.7.1 Congressional investigations
      • 4.7.2 Amendment to Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
      • 4.7.3 Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act
    • 4.8 Commemorations
  • 5 Publications
  • 6 Notes
  • 7 References
  • 8 Further reading
  • 9 Documentary video
  • 10 External links

Life and worksSwartz in 2002 (age 15) with Lawrence Lessig at the launch party for Creative CommonsPlay mediaSwartz describes the nature of the shift from centralized one-to-many systems to the decentralized many-to-many topography of network communication. San Francisco, April 2007 (9:29)

Swartz was born in Chicago, Illinois, the eldest son of Jewish parents Susan and Robert Swartz. His father had founded the software firm Mark Williams Company. Swartz immersed himself in the study of computers, programming, the Internet, and Internet culture. He attended North Shore Country Day School, a small private school near Chicago, until 9th grade. Swartz left high school in the 10th grade, and enrolled in courses at a Chicago area college.

At age 13, Swartz won an ArsDigita Prize, given to young people who create "useful, educational, and collaborative" noncommercial websites. At age 14, he became a member of the working group that authored the RSS 1.0 web syndication specification.


In 2001, Swartz joined the RDFCore working group at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), where he authored RFC 3870, Application/RDF+XML Media Type Registration. The document described a new media type, "RDF/XML", designed to support the Semantic Web.


Swartz was co-creator, with John Gruber, of Markdown, a simplified markup standard derived from HTML, and author of its html2text translator. Markdown remains in widespread use.

Infogami, Reddit, Jottit

Swartz attended Stanford University. After the summer of his freshman year, he attended Y Combinator''s first Summer Founders Program where he started the software company Infogami. Infogami''s wiki platform was used to support the Internet Archive''s Open Library project and the web.py web framework that Swartz had created, but he felt he needed co-founders to proceed further. Y-Combinator organizers suggested that Infogami merge with Reddit, which it did in November 2005. Reddit at first found it difficult to make money from the project, but the site later gained in popularity, with millions of users visiting it each month.

In October 2006, Reddit was acquired by Condé Nast Publications, the owner of Wired magazine. Swartz moved with his company to San Francisco to work on Wired. Swartz found office life uncongenial, and he ultimately left the company.

In September 2007, Swartz joined with Simon Carstensen to launch Jottit.


In 2008, Swartz founded Watchdog.net, "the good government site with teeth," to aggregate and visualize data about politicians. In the same year, he wrote a widely circulated Guerilla Open Access Manifesto.

In 2009, wanting to learn about effective activism, Swartz helped launch the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. He wrote on his blog, "I spend my days experimenting with new ways to get progressive policies enacted and progressive politicians elected." Swartz led the first activism event of his career with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, delivering thousands of "Honor Kennedy" petition signatures to Massachusetts legislators asking them to fulfill former Senator Ted Kennedy''s last wish by appointing a senator to vote for health care reform.

In 2010, Swartz co-founded Demand Progress, a political advocacy group that organizes people online to "take action by contacting Congress and other leaders, funding pressure tactics, and spreading the word" about civil liberties, government reform, and other issues.

During academic year 2010–11, Swartz conducted research studies on political corruption as a Lab Fellow in Harvard University''s Edmond J. Safra Research Lab on Institutional Corruption.

Author Cory Doctorow, in his novel, Homeland, "dr on advice from Swartz in setting out how his protagonist could use the information now available about voters to create a grass-roots anti-establishment political campaign." In an afterword to the novel, Swartz wrote, "these tools can be used by anyone motivated and talented enough.... Now it''s up to you to change the system. ... Let me know if I can help."

Stop Online Piracy ActSwartz in 2012 protesting against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)

Swartz was instrumental in the campaign to prevent passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which sought to combat Internet copyright violations but was criticized on the basis that it would have made it easier for the U.S. government to shut down web sites accused of violating copyright and would have placed intolerable burdens on Internet providers. Following the defeat of the bill, Swartz was the keynote speaker at the F2C:Freedom to Connect 2012 event in Washington, D.C., on May 21, 2012. His speech was titled "How We Stopped SOPA" and he informed the audience:

This bill ... shut down whole websites. Essentially, it stopped Americans from communicating entirely with certain groups.... I called all my friends, and we stayed up all night setting up a website for this new group, Demand Progress, with an online petition opposing this noxious bill.... We ... 300,000 signers.... We met with the staff of members of Congress and pleaded with them.... And then it passed unanimously.... And then, suddenly, the process stopped. Senator Ron Wyden ... put a hold on the bill.

He added, "We won this fight because everyone made themselves the hero of their own story. Everyone took it as their job to save this crucial freedom." He was referring to a series of protests against the bill by numerous websites that was described by the Electronic Frontier Foundation as the biggest in Internet history, with over 115,000 sites altering their webpages. Swartz also presented on this topic at an event organized by ThoughtWorks.

WikipediaSwartz at 2009 Boston Wikipedia Meetup

Swartz volunteered as an editor at Wikipedia, and in 2006, he ran unsuccessfully for the Wikimedia Foundation''s Board of Trustees. Also in 2006, Swartz wrote an analysis of how Wikipedia articles are written, and concluded that the bulk of the actual content comes from tens of thousands of occasional contributors, or "outsiders", each of whom may not make many other contributions to the site, while a core group of 500 to 1,000 regular editors tend to correct spelling and other formatting errors. According to Swartz: "the formatters aid the contributors, not the other way around."

His conclusions, based on the analysis of edit histories of several randomly selected articles, contradicted the opinion of Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, who believed the core group of regular editors were providing most of the content while thousands of others contributed to formatting issues. Swartz came to his conclusions by counting the total number of characters added by an editor to a particular article—while Wales counted the total number of edits.

Tor2web For more details on this topic, see Tor2web.

In 2008, Swartz together with Virgil Griffith designed and implemented Tor2web, an HTTP proxy for Tor hidden services. The proxy was designed to allow easy access to Tor by means of a common browser.

Library of Congress

Around 2006, Swartz acquired the Library of Congress''s complete bibliographic dataset: the library charged fees to access this, but as a government document, it was not copyright-protected within the USA. By posting the data on OpenLibrary, Swartz made it freely available. The Library of Congress project was met with approval by the Copyright Office.


In 2008, Swartz downloaded and released about 2.7 million federal court documents stored in the PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) database managed by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.

The Huffington Post characterized his actions this way: "Swartz downloaded public court documents from the PACER system in an effort to make them available outside of the expensive service. The move drew the attention of the FBI, which ultimately decided not to press charges as the documents, were, in fact, public."

PACER was charging 8 cents per page for information that Carl Malamud, who founded the nonprofit group Public.Resource.Org, contended should be free, because federal documents are not covered by copyright. The fees were "plowed back to the courts to finance technology, but the system a budget surplus of some $150 million, according to court reports," reported The New York Times. PACER used technology that was "designed in the bygone days of screechy telephone modems ... put the nation''s legal system behind a wall of cash and kludge." Malamud appealed to fellow activists, urging them to visit one of 17 libraries conducting a free trial of the PACER system, download court documents, and send them to him for public distribution.

After reading Malamud''s call for action, Swartz used a Perl computer script running on Amazon cloud servers to download the documents, using credentials belonging to a Sacramento library. From September 4 to 20, 2008, it accessed documents and uploaded them to a cloud computing service. He released the documents to Malamud''s organization.

On September 29, 2008, the GPO suspended the free trial, "pending an evaluation" of the program. Swartz''s actions were subsequently investigated by the FBI. The case was closed after two months with no charges filed. Swartz learned the details of the investigation as a result of filing a FOIA request with the FBI and described their response as the "usual mess of confusions that shows the FBI''s lack of sense of humor." PACER still charges per page, but customers using Firefox have the option of saving the documents for free public access with a plug-in called RECAP.

At a 2013 memorial for Swartz, Malamud recalled their work with PACER. They brought millions of U.S. District Court records out from behind PACER''s "pay wall", he said, and found them full of privacy violations, including medical records and the names of minor children and confidential informants.

We sent our results to the Chief Judges of 31 District Courts ... They redacted those documents and they yelled at the lawyers that filed them ... The Judicial Conference changed their privacy rules. ... the bureaucrats who ran the Administrative Office of the United States Courts ... we were thieves that took $1.6 million of their property. So they called the FBI ... found nothing wrong ...

Writing in Ars Technica, Timothy Lee, who later made use of the documents obtained by Swartz as a co-creator of RECAP, offered some insight into discrepancies in reporting on just how much data Swartz had downloaded: "In a back-of-the-envelope calculation a few days before the offsite crawl was shut down, Swartz guessed he got around 25 percent of the documents in PACER. The New York Times similarly reported Swartz had downloaded "an estimated 20 percent of the entire database". Based on the facts that Swartz downloaded 2.7 million documents while PACER, at the time, contained 500 million, Lee concluded that Swartz downloaded less than one percent of the database.


On December 27, 2010, Swartz filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to learn about the treatment of Chelsea Manning, alleged source for Wikileaks.

DeadDrop For more details on this topic, see SecureDrop.

In 2011–2012, Swartz and Kevin Poulsen designed and implemented DeadDrop, a system that allows anonymous informants to send electronic documents without fear of disclosure. In May 2013, the first instance of the software was launched by The New Yorker under the name Strongbox. The Freedom of the Press Foundation has since taken over development of the software, which has been renamed SecureDrop.

JSTOR Main article: United States v. Aaron Swartz

According to state and federal authorities, Swartz used JSTOR, a digital repository, to download a large number of academic journal articles through MIT''s computer network over the course of a few weeks in late 2010 and early 2011. At the time, Swartz was a research fellow at Harvard University, which provided him with a JSTOR account. Visitors to MIT''s "open campus" were authorized to access JSTOR through its network.

The authorities said Swartz downloaded the documents through a laptop connected to a networking switch in a controlled-access wiring closet at MIT. The door to the closet was kept unlocked, according to press reports.

Arrest and prosecution

On the night of January 6, 2011, Swartz was arrested near the Harvard campus by MIT police and a U.S. Secret Service agent. He was arraigned in Cambridge District Court on two state charges of breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony.

On July 11, 2011, Swartz was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and recklessly damaging a protected computer.

On November 17, 2011, Swartz was indicted by a Middlesex County Superior Court grand jury on state charges of breaking and entering with intent, grand larceny and unauthorized access to a computer network. On December 16, 2011, state prosecutors filed a notice that they were dropping the two original charges; the charges listed in the November 17, 2011 indictment were dropped on March 8, 2012. According to a spokesperson for the Middlesex County prosecutor, the state charges were dropped in order to permit the federal prosecution to proceed unimpeded.

On September 12, 2012, federal prosecutors filed a superseding indictment adding nine more felony counts, which increased Swartz''s maximum criminal exposure to 50 years of imprisonment and $1 million in fines. During plea negotiations with Swartz''s attorneys, the prosecutors offered to recommend a sentence of six months in a low-security prison, if Swartz would plead guilty to 13 federal crimes. Swartz and his lead attorney rejected that deal, opting instead for a trial in which prosecutors would have been forced to justify their pursuit of Swartz.

The federal prosecution involved what was characterized by numerous critics such as former White House Counsel John Dean as an "overcharging" 13-count indictment and "overzealous" prosecution for alleged computer crimes, brought by the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz. Facing almost certain incarceration for alleged offenses about which the victims, M.I.T. and JSTOR, declined to pursue civil litigation, Swartz committed suicide on January 11, 2013.

After his death, federal prosecutors dropped the charges. On December 4, 2013, due to a Freedom of Information Act suit by the investigations editor of Wired magazine, several documents related to the case were released by the Secret Service, including a video of Swartz entering the MIT network closet.

Death, funeral and memorial gatherings External video
Aaron Swartz Memorial at The Great Hall of Cooper Union, (transcript)
Aaron Swartz Memorial at the Internet Archive, (partial transcript)
DC Memorial: Darrel Issa , Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Alan Grayson

On the evening of January 11, 2013, Swartz was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment by his girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman. A spokeswoman for New York''s Medical Examiner reported that he had hanged himself. No suicide note was found.

Swartz''s family and his partner created a memorial website on which they issued a statement, saying, "He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place."

Days before Swartz''s funeral, Lawrence Lessig eulogized his friend and sometime client in an essay, Prosecutor as Bully. He decried the disproportionality of Swartz''s prosecution and said, "The question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a ''felon''. For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept."

Cory Doctorow wrote, "Aaron had an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill, and intelligence about people and issues. I think he could have revolutionized American (and worldwide) politics. His legacy may still yet do so."

Swartz''s funeral services were held on January 15, 2013, at Central Avenue Synagogue in Highland Park, Illinois. Tim Berners-Lee, co-creator of the World Wide Web, delivered a eulogy.

The same day, the Wall Street Journal published a story based in part on an interview with Stinebrickner-Kauffman. She told the Journal that Swartz lacked the money to pay for a trial and "it was too hard for him to ... make that part of his life go public" by asking for help. He was also distressed, she said, because two of his friends had just been subpoenaed and because he no longer believed that MIT would try to stop the prosecution.

On January 19, hundreds attended a memorial at Cooper Union. Speakers included Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Open Source advocate Doc Searls, Creative Commons'' Glenn Otis Brown, journalist Quinn Norton, Roy Singham of ThoughtWorks, and David Segal of Demand Progress.

On January 24, there was a memorial at the Internet Archive with speakers including Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Alex Stamos, Brewster Kahle and Carl Malamud.

On February 4, a memorial was held in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill. Speakers included Senator Ron Wyden and Representatives Darrell Issa, Alan Grayson and Jared Polis. Other lawmakers in attendance included Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Jan Schakowsky. "Stick it to the man," said Issa. "Access to information is a human right." A historic photo of Warren and Issa sitting together before an image of Swartz was posted on Twitter.

A memorial also took place on March 12, 2013 at the MIT Media Lab.

Swartz''s family recommended GiveWell for donations in his memory, an organization that Swartz admired, had collaborated with, and was the sole beneficiary of his will.

Aftermath Family response and criticism

Aaron''s death is not simply a personal tragedy, it is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney''s office and at MIT contributed to his death.

Statement by family and partner of Aaron Swartz

On January 12, Swartz''s family and partner issued a statement, criticizing the prosecutors and MIT.

Speaking at his son''s funeral, Robert Swartz said, "Aaron was killed by the government, and MIT betrayed all of its basic principles."

Mitch Kapor posted the statement on Twitter. Tom Dolan, husband of U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz, whose office prosecuted Swartz''s case, replied with criticism of the Swartz family: "Truly incredible that in their own son''s obit they blame others for his death and make no mention of the 6-month offer." This comment triggered widespread criticism; Esquire writer Charlie Pierce replied, "the glibness with which her husband and her defenders toss off a ‘mere'' six months in federal prison, low-security or not, is a further indication that something is seriously out of whack with the way our prosecutors think these days."

In the press and the artsAaron Swartz mural by Brooklyn graffiti artist BAMN

The Huffington Post reported that "Ortiz has faced significant backlash for pursuing the case against Swartz, including a petition to the White House to have her fired." Other news outlets reported similarly.

Reuters news agency called Swartz "an online icon" who "help to make a virtual mountain of information freely available to the public, including an estimated 19 million pages of federal court documents." The Associated Press (AP) reported that Swartz''s case "highlights society''s uncertain, evolving view of how to treat people who break into computer systems and share data not to enrich themselves, but to make it available to others," and that JSTOR''s lawyer, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Mary Jo White, had asked the lead prosecutor to drop the charges.

As discussed by editor Hrag Vartanian in Hyperallergic, Brooklyn, NY muralist BAMN ("By Any Means Necessary") created a mural of Swartz. "Swartz was an amazing human being who fought tirelessly for our right to a free and open Internet," the artist explained. "He was much more than just the ‘Reddit guy''."

Gawker noted the extensive coverage of Swartz''s prosecution and suicide, writing "the suicide of a 26-year-old computer genius is the kind of story magazines were made to cover: complex but instantly engaging, offering a window into an unusual world."

In 2013, Kenneth Goldsmith dedicated his "Printing out the Internet" exhibition to Swartz.

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz Main article: The Internet''s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

On January 11, 2014, marking the first anniversary of his death, a sneak preview was released from The Internet''s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, a documentary about Swartz, the NSA and SOPA. The film was officially released at the January 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Democracy Now! covered the release of the documentary, as well as Swartz''s life and legal case, in a sprawling interview with director Brian Knappenberger, Swartz''s father and brother, and his attorney. The documentary is released under a Creative Commons License; it debuted in theaters and on-demand in June 2014.

Mashable called the documentary "a powerful homage to Aaron Swartz". Its debut at Sundance received a standing ovation. Mashable printed, "With the help of experts, The Internet''s Own Boy makes a clear argument: Swartz unjustly became a victim of the rights and freedoms for which he stood." The Hollywood Reporter described it as a "heartbreaking" story of a "tech wunderkind persecuted by the US government", and a must-see "for anyone who knows enough to care about the way laws govern information transfer in the digital age".

Open Access

In 2002, Swartz had stated that when he died he wanted all the contents of his hard drives made publicly available. A long-time supporter of Open Access, Swartz wrote in his Guerilla Open Access Manifesto:

The world''s entire scientific ... heritage ... is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations.... The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it.

Supporters of Swartz responded to news of his death with an effort called #PDFTribute to promote Open Access. On January 12, Eva Vivalt, a development economist at the World Bank, began posting her academic articles online using the hashtag #pdftribute as a tribute to Swartz. Scholars posted links to their works.

Swartz''s death prompted calls for more open access to scholarly data.

The Think Computer Foundation and the Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP) at Princeton University announced scholarships awarded in memory of Aaron Swartz.

In 2013, Aaron Swartz was posthumously awarded the American Library Association''s James Madison Award for being an "outspoken advocate for public participation in government and unrestricted access to peer-reviewed scholarly articles."

In March, the editor and editorial board of the Journal of Library Administration resigned en masse, citing a dispute with the journal''s publisher, Routledge. One board member wrote of a "crisis of conscience about publishing in a journal that was not open access" after the death of Aaron Swartz.


On January 13, 2013, members of Anonymous hacked two websites on the MIT domain, replacing them with tributes to Swartz that called on members of the Internet community to use his death as a rallying point for the open access movement. The banner included a list of demands for improvements in the U.S. copyright system, along with Swartz''s Guerilla Open Access Manifesto.

On the night of January 18, 2013, MIT''s e-mail system was taken out of action for ten hours. On January 22, e-mail sent to MIT was redirected by hackers Aush0k and TibitXimer to the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology. All other traffic to MIT was redirected to a computer at Harvard University that was publishing a statement headed "R.I.P Aaron Swartz," with text from a 2009 posting by Swartz, accompanied by a chiptunes version of The Star-Spangled Banner. MIT regained full control after about seven hours.

In the early hours of January 26, 2013, the U.S. Sentencing Commission website, USSC.gov, was hacked by Anonymous. The home page was replaced with an embedded YouTube video, Anonymous Operation Last Resort. The video statement said Swartz "faced an impossible choice".

A hacker downloaded "hundreds of thousands" of scientific-journal articles from a Swiss publisher''s website and republished them on the open Web in Swartz''s honor a week before the first anniversary of his death.

MIT and the Abelson investigation

MIT maintains an open-campus policy along with an "open network." Two days after Swartz''s death, MIT President L. Rafael Reif commissioned professor Hal Abelson to lead an analysis of MIT''s options and decisions relating to Swartz''s "legal struggles." To help guide the fact-finding stage of the review, MIT created a website where community members could suggest questions and issues for the review to address.

Swartz''s attorneys have requested that all pretrial discovery documents be made public, a move which MIT opposed. Swartz allies have criticized MIT for its opposition to releasing the evidence without redactions.

On July 26, 2013, the Abelson panel submitted a 182-page report to MIT president, L. Rafael Reif, who authorized its public release on July 30. The panel reported that MIT had not supported charges against Swartz and cleared the institution of wrongdoing. However, its report also noted that despite MIT''s advocacy for open access culture at the institutional level and beyond, the university never extended that support to Swartz. The report revealed, for example, that while MIT considered the possibility of issuing a public statement about its position on the case, it never materialized.

Petition to the White House

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