Family blames MIT, prosecutors for Swartz’s suicide
New York: The family of internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz has blamed the US’ criminal justice system and prosecutorial overreach for his suicide.
Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz, 26, was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment on Friday night, just weeks before he was to stand trial for theft of scholarly articles from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Swartz’s trial was due in April for stealing millions of academic journal articles from the subscription-only JSTOR service at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Though Aaron had mentioned about depression in one his posts, his friends and family suggest that he was driven to suicide mainly by the fear of looming trial and decades in prison that he risked.
"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," his family said in a statement.
Swartz was only the latest face of a decades-old movement in the computer science world to push more information into the public domain. His 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.
Swartz faced years in prison after federal prosecutors alleged that he illegally gained access to millions of academic articles through the academic database JSTOR. He allegedly hid a computer in a computer utility closet at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and downloaded the articles before being caught by campus and local police in 2011.
Swartz was an early advocate of freer access to data. He helped create Creative Commons, a system used by Wikipedia and others to encourage information sharing by helping people to set limits about how their work can be shared. He also helped create the website Reddit and RSS, the technology behind blogs, podcasts and other web-based subscription services.
That work put Swartz at the forefront of a vocal, influential community in the computer science field that believes advocates like him should be protected from the full force of laws used to prosecute thieves and gangsters, said Kelly Caine, a professor at Clemson University who studies people's attitudes toward technology and privacy.
For Swartz's family, the matter was clearer-cut, said Peters, his lawyer.
"Our consistent response was, this case should be resolved in a way that doesn't destroy Aaron's life and takes into account who he really is, and what he was doing."
With Agency Inputs