The suicide of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who was due to stand trial on federal hacking charges, sparked anger from friends, family and followers, while the subscription-based journal service he was accused of hacking said it “regretted” ever being drawn into the case.”
Swartz’ federal trial on computer fraud charges was scheduled to begin in April. In 2011, Swartz was arrested after prosecutors alleged he illegally downloaded millions of scientific journals from JSTOR and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
JSTOR, which had stated it did not want to pursue charges against Swartz after he return the articles he had downloaded, posted a statement offering condolences to his family.
“He was a truly gifted person who made important contributions to the development of the internet and the web from which we all benefit,” JSTOR, or Journal Storage, said in a statement. “The case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset.”
Swartz, 26, had pleaded not guilty to the charges. If convicted, he could have faced decades in prison and millions of dollars in fines.
His family and partner issued a statement blaming the prosecution for playing a role in his suicide.
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach,” the statement said.
“Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.”
The family set up a website for people to post their memories of Swartz.
When he was 14 years old, Swartz helped create RSS software, revolutionizing the way people subscribed to and consumed information online.
As an adult, he co-founded Reddit, a social news website, and rallied against Internet censorship through the political action group Demand Progress.
Technology pioneers paid tribute to the man who “had more work to do, and who made the world a better place when he did it.”
“The billions of snippets of sadness and bewilderment spinning across the Net confirm who this amazing boy was to all of us,” Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig wrote.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, posted a poem, calling Swartz, who was 26 years old at the time of his death, “a mentor, a wise elder.”
Blogger Cory Doctorow posted on Boing Boing that Swartz had “an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill, and intelligence about people and issues”.
And in true Aaron Swartz fashion, Doctorow’s lengthy tribute came with a disclaimer: “To the extent possible under law, Cory Doctorow has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to ‘RIP, Aaron Swartz.’”
His funeral is scheduled for Tuesday, in Highland Park, Ill., his family said, and they said that remembrances of Swartz and donations in his name could be made at rememberaaronsw.com.