I wish we had all been this pissed off about Aaron Swartz's bitterly unfair government charges when he was still alive.—
Jeff Atwood (@codinghorror) January 12, 2013
“Why” is always the first question that comes to mind when hearing about a suicide, and Reddit co-founder had a history of blogging about his depression. A brilliant student who co-created the RSS specification at 14, Swartz was also the founder of a political action group called Demand Progress and is largely credited with defeating SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act. The man who argued for the freedom of information on the web, though, was facing federal trial this spring on charges of computer fraud and illegally obtaining documents from protected computers.
Swartz was found dead yesterday, and news of his death had many pointing the finger at the federal government and its prosecution of Swartz over the alleged theft of millions of online academic documents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2011. Some estimated that Swartz was facing up to 50 years in prison and millions in fines, even though JSTOR, the non-profit hosting the files, chose not to file charges.
Swartz’s family issued an official statement Saturday evening, wasting no time in connecting the government’s case against Swartz to his death.
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 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.
Here’s video of Swartz speaking about SOPA at the Freedom to Connect conference in Washington, D.C.: