Talented computer programmer Aaron Swartz’s family says believes MIT and the government should take some responsibility for his apparent suicide.
The family of a internet prodigy, Aaron Schwartz, who hanged himself weeks before he was to go on trial for allegedly stealing from a university computer archive, have accused prosecutors of contributing to his death.
Aaron Swartz, who was 26, first came to public attention at the age of 14 when he helped to create RSS feeds, which gather online content for readers.
He went on to be involved in the starting of social news website Reddit, and then became an activist campaigning for information on the internet to be made freely available to the public.
Aaron Swartz, who suffered from depression, was found dead at his apartment in New York after committing suicide.
In 2011 he had been charged with offenses including computer fraud and wire fraud after allegedly stealing millions of scientific journals from a digital archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and planning to to make them freely available online.
Prosecutors said he hacked into MIT’s system after breaking into a computer wiring closet on the campus, and that he intended to distribute the articles on file-sharing websites.
Aaron Swartz, who was a fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J Safra Center for Ethics, had pleaded not guilty and his trial was to begin next month.
If convicted, he could have faced up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
In a 2008 “manifesto” he wrote: “Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations.”
Prosecutors had declared that “stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars.”
In a statement following his death Swartz’s family said: “Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and proprietorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts US Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death.”
Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig said: “We need a better sense of justice. The question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a ‘felon.'” The US attorney’s office and MIT did not comment.
Aaron Swartz was helping in stopping COICA, the predecessor to the SOPA and PIPA Internet blacklist bills, he founded an organization called Demand Progress, which mobilized over a million online activists and proved to be an invaluable ally in winning that campaign.
Other projects Aaron worked on included the RSS specifications, web.py, tor2web, the Open Library, and the Chrome port of HTTPS Everywhere. Aaron helped launch the Creative Commons. He was a former co-founder at Reddit, and a member of the team that made the site successful. Read Aaron Swartz blog