Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit and executive director of the website Demand Progress died on Friday by what police are saying was suicide by hanging. He was 26. Now his family is blaming his death on the government.
Swartz was in the midst of a controversial trial and was facing a possible sentence of decades in jail along with a $1 million fine for allegedly stealing journal articles with the intent to post them online. According to RT,
He faced 13 felony charges, including breaching site terms and intending to share downloaded files through peer-to-peer networks, computer fraud, wire fraud, obtaining information from a protected computer, and criminal forfeiture. He was also accused of evading MIT’s attempts to kick his laptop off the network while downloading millions of documents from JSTOR.
However, the victim of the criminal complaint refused to press charges against him and even spoke to the United States Attorney’s Office to stop prosecution, claiming that they had reclaimed the works Swartz had attempted to download.
“We stopped this downloading activity, and the individual responsible, Mr. Swartz, was identified. We secured from Mr. Swartz the content that was taken, and received confirmation that the content was not and would not be used, copied, transferred, or distributed,” the company said in its statement on the prosecution.
Demand Progress Executive Director David Segar said in a statement “This makes no sense. It’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”
“It’s even more strange because the alleged victim has settled any claims against Aaron, explained they’ve suffered no loss or damage, and asked the government not to prosecute,” Segal said.
During the funeral, Robert Swartz said that his son was “hounded by the government, and MIT refused him.”
“He was killed by the government, and MIT betrayed all of its basic principles,” he continued.
But Swartz’s family looked to put the blame some place and believe that the government’s continued pressure on Swartz attributed to his death. In a statement released Sunday, the family said,
“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 US Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death.”
The charges against Swartz stemmed from allegedly breaching JSTOR‘s Terms of Service:
“JSTOR authorizes users to download a limited number of journal articles at a time,” the latest indictment said. “Before being given access to JSTOR’s digital archive, each user must agree and acknowledge that they cannot download or export content from JSTOR’s computer servers with automated programs such as web robots, spiders, and scrapers.”
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“The case would have tested the reach of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was created to reduce the cracking of computer systems and federal domains-related offenses. The law, which was passed in 1984, enhances the government’s ability to prosecute hackers who accessed computers to steal information or disrupt computer functionality.”
But according to plaintiff attorney Max Kennerly, Swartz may not have violated the law at all.
“It is by no means clear that Swartz has actually violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Recently, the Fourth Circuit joined the Ninth Circuit in alleging that violating the terms of service does not constitute a crime under the CFAA. In contrast, the Fifth, Seventh and Eleventh Circuits have held that it can be a crime. Swartz’ case is in the First Circuit. This is the classic sort of Circuit Split that prompts Supreme Court review,” Kennerly said on his blog.