Monday, January 14, 2013

Aaron Swartz's Family Condemns MIT and U.S. Government



Internet activist killed himself a month before going
on trial for what family calls 'an alleged crime that
had no victims'

Matt Williams
The Guardian
January 13, 2013
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/jan/13/aaron-swartz-family-mit-government

The family of celebrated internet activist Aaron Swartz
has accused prosecutors and MIT officials of being
complicit in his death, blaming the apparent suicide on
the pursuit of a young man over "an alleged crime that
had no victims".

In a statement released late Saturday, Swartz's parents,
Robert and Susan, siblings Noah and Ben and partner
Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman said the Redditt builder's
demise was not just a "personal tragedy" but "the
product of a criminal justice system rife with
intimidation and prosecutorial overreach".

They also attacked the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT) for not supporting the internet
activist in his legal battles and refusing to stand up
for "its own community's most cherished principles".

The comments came a day after the 26-year-old killed
himself in his Brooklyn apartment on Friday night.

A committed advocate for the freedom of information over
the internet, Swartz had been facing a trial over
allegations of hacking related to the downloading of
millions of documents from the online research group
JSTOR. Swartz pleaded not guilty last year; if
convicted, he could have faced a lengthy prison term.

News of his death resulted in an outpouring of tributes
over the internet. Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited
with inventing the world wide web, tweeted: "Aaron dead.
World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder. Hackers for
right, we are one down. Parents all, we have lost a
child. Let us weep."

Swartz dedicated much of his time to fighting online
censorship and his court case had become a cause célèbre
for many similar-minded figures.

The trial was due to begin next month. He faced 13
felony charges including computer and wire fraud.
Prosecutors accused him of stealing millions of
scientific journals from a computer archive at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology with the intent of
making them freely available.

If convicted he could have faced decades behind bars,
alongside a fortune in fines.

A spokeswoman for the US attorney's office in
Massachusetts said it was inappropriate to comment on
the case at this time. Meanwhile MIT said a statement
would be made by the institution's president later on
Sunday.

Prior to the MIT case, Swartz had aided in the release
of court documents free of charge, rather than through
the pay-per-download government website PACER. It is
thought that a fifth of all data was made available
through a programme Swartz wrote in 2008, before
officials shut it down. The FBI investigated, but never
charged Swartz over the PACER case.

The organisation Demand Progress, which Swartz helped to
found, had compared the activities of which he was
accused to "trying to put someone in jail for allegedly
checking too many books out of the library".

David Moon, programme director at Demand Progress, told
the Guardian that he was "shocked and saddened" by the
news of his colleague's death.

He added that the organisation would pay "proper homage
to Aaron at the appropriate time" but for the time being
it was "simply spending the moment reflecting on his
life and work".

Alongside his activism, Swartz, a prodigious computer
talent, helped create the RSS protocol which
revloutionised content delivery across the web. He was
also an early architect of Reddit, the popular social
media platform.

As news of Swartz's death spread online Saturday,
numerous tributes were posted. The author and web expert
Cory Doctorow, who was a friend of Swartz, posted an
article on BoingBoing. Doctorow wrote that Swartz may
have been afraid of the idea of imprisonment but that he
had also suffered with bouts of depression. He also paid
tribute to the young activist's achievements and
dedication to his causes. "We have all lost someone
today who had more work to do, and who made the world a
better place when he did it," he wrote.

In their tribute, Swartz's family wrote that the
internet activist had left behind gifts that "made the
world, and our lives, far brighter".

They added: "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.
His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts
across generations and continents."

Swartz regularly blogged about his own life on the
website aaronsw.com. In a post written in January 2007,
he discussed the nature of suicide.

"There is a moment, immediately before life becomes no
longer worth living, when the world appears to slow down
and all its myriad details suddenly become brightly,
achingly apparent," he wrote.

His funeral is due to take place on Tuesday in Illinois.

This article was amended on 13 January 2013. It
originally stated that prosecutors accused Swartz of
stealing scientific journals from a computer archive and
making them freely available. Swartz in fact never made
the articles available to the public.

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