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New York - Internet Guru Online Activist, Programmer Swartz Dies In NY

Published on: January 12, 2013 07:41 PM
By: AP
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In this Jan. 30, 2009 photo, Internet activist Aaron Swartz poses for a photo in Miami Beach, Fla. Swartz was found dead Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, in his Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment, according to Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for New York's medical examiner. Swartz, 26, was scheduled to face trial on hacking charges in a few weeks. (AP Photo/The New York Times, Michael Francis McElroy)In this Jan. 30, 2009 photo, Internet activist Aaron Swartz poses for a photo in Miami Beach, Fla. Swartz was found dead Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, in his Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment, according to Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for New York's medical examiner. Swartz, 26, was scheduled to face trial on hacking charges in a few weeks. (AP Photo/The New York Times, Michael Francis McElroy)

New York - A co-founder of Reddit and activist who fought to make online content free to the public has been found dead, authorities confirmed Saturday, prompting an outpouring of grief from prominent voices on the intersection of free speech and the Web.

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Aaron Swartz, 26, hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment weeks before he was to go on trial on accusations that he stole millions of journal articles from an electronic archive in an attempt to make them freely available. If convicted, he faced decades in prison and a fortune in fines.

He was pronounced dead Friday evening at home in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, said Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for New York’s chief medical examiner. Police went to the apartment after receiving a 911 call from Swartz’s girlfriend, who found him.

“Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable_these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter,” Swartz’s family said in a statement Saturday. “We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.”

Swartz was “an extraordinary hacker and activist,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international nonprofit digital rights group based in California wrote in a tribute on its home page.

He “did more than almost anyone to make the Internet a thriving ecosystem for open knowledge, and to keep it that way,” the tribute said.

Swartz was a prodigy who as a young teenager helped create RSS, a family of Web feed formats used to gather updates from blogs, news headlines, audio and video for users. He co-founded the social news website Reddit, which was later sold to Conde Nast, as well as the political action group Demand Progress, which campaigns against Internet censorship.

But Swartz struggled with depression.

“Surely there have been times when you’ve been sad,” he wrote in a 2007 blog post. “Perhaps a loved one has abandoned you or a plan has gone horribly awry. Your face falls. Perhaps you cry. You feel worthless.”

Swartz wrote that “depressed mood is like that, only it doesn’t come for any reason and it doesn’t go for any either.”

Among Internet gurus, Swartz was considered a pioneer of efforts to make online information freely available.

“Playing Mozart’s Requiem in honor of a brave and brilliant man,” tweeted Carl Malamud, an Internet public domain advocate who believes in free access to legally obtained files.

Swartz aided Malamud’s own effort to post federal court documents for free online, rather than the few cents per page that the government charges through its electronic archive, PACER. In 2008, The New York Times reported, Swartz wrote a program to legally download the files using free access via public libraries. About 20 percent of all the court papers were made available until the government shut down the library access.

The FBI investigated but did not charge Swartz, he wrote on his own website.

Three years later, Swartz was arrested in Boston and charged with stealing millions of articles from a computer archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prosecutors said he broke into a computer wiring closet on campus and used his laptop for the downloads.

Experts puzzled over the arrest and argued that the result of the actions Swartz was accused of was the same as his PACER program: more information publicly available.

The prosecution “makes no sense,” Demand Progress Executive Director David Segal said in a statement at the time. “It’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”

Swartz pleaded not guilty to charges including wire fraud. His federal trial was to begin next month.

According to a federal indictment, Swartz stole the documents from JSTOR, a subscription service used by MIT that offers digitized copies of articles from academic journals. Prosecutors said he intended to distribute the articles on file-sharing websites.

He faced 13 felony charges, including breaching site terms and intending to share downloaded files through peer-to-peer networks, computer fraud, wire fraud, obtaining information from a protected computer, and criminal forfeiture.

JSTOR did not press charges once it reclaimed the articles from Swartz, and some legal experts considered the case unfounded, saying that MIT allows guests access to the articles and Swartz, a fellow at Harvard’s Safra Center for Ethics, was a guest.

Criticizing the government’s actions in the pending prosecution, Harvard law professor and Safra Center faculty director Lawrence Lessig called himself a friend of Swartz’s and wrote Saturday that “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.’”

Swartz’s family blamed prosecutors for his suicide.

“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy,” the family statement said. “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.”

JSTOR announced this week that it would make “more than 4.5 million articles” publicly available for free.


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Read Comments (13)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Jan 12, 2013 at 07:47 PM SandraM Says:

“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy,” the family statement said. “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.”

Unfortunately, he is not the first victim, nor will he be the last. Once a great symbol of liberty, the US is evolving into a top-heavy big brother nanny state. What a shame.

2

 Jan 12, 2013 at 08:53 PM Aryeh Says:

BDE. He was simply trying to enact a small modicum of justice where there was none.

3

 Jan 12, 2013 at 11:43 PM A-P-C Says:

Poor guy. Depression is a terrible illness.

4

 Jan 13, 2013 at 12:22 AM lazerx Says:

BD"E, so sad

5

 Jan 13, 2013 at 01:41 AM ShmuelG Says:

Seems the guy habitually stole other people's property, including at least one break in, in order to distribute it for free. I know to some he is a sympathetic Robin Hood-like character, but of course is a gonif, pure and simple. I would have rather he lived and was punished for his crimes. He chose differently.

6

 Jan 13, 2013 at 07:16 AM DonielS Says:

Tragic. However, a crime is a crime, no matter how trivial and how altruistic the motives are.

7

 Jan 13, 2013 at 08:59 AM Anonymous Says:

Hopefully, our other youngsters who followed him will not end the same way.

8

 Jan 13, 2013 at 09:20 AM SandraM Says:

Reply to #6  
DonielS Says:

Tragic. However, a crime is a crime, no matter how trivial and how altruistic the motives are.

Yes. But not every crime deserves a 25 or 35 year sentence...The Justice system killed this young genius. The impact of the families and the extended families must also be considered.

The US has more people in jail per capita, than ANY other civilized country in the whole universe. While Americans only represent about 5 percent of the world's population, nearly one-quarter of the entire world's inmates have been incarcerated in the United States in recent years!

Yet, despite all this, it is by far not the safest nor the most honest country. Clearly these excessive jail sentences do little other than put a feather in the cap of the prosecutors and give fuel to the overly large jail industry in the US.

I hope this young man's death serves as wake up call to the US - once the great universal hallmark of libery - which is very quickly morphing into one of least free countries of the G20.

9

 Jan 13, 2013 at 10:12 AM CherryKnish Says:

I agree with Sandra M. Terrible injustice done to this young man & his family.
I'll bet the Wikileaks people who gave away all kinds of government secrets didn't get treated as badly as he did.

10

 Jan 13, 2013 at 10:36 AM BLONDI Says:

why couldnt they have asked his help in developing an anti hacking program? if he knew the tricks to hacking, then he would have been able to develop something to deny access to hackers...there was a story yrs ago in the readers digest, where they did just that with an arab youth who also was able to hack into wealthy accounts, and they wanted him to develop a security program, bde, what a shame for the loss

11

 Jan 13, 2013 at 03:33 PM Erlich Says:

Treat depression in the Jewish community. I believe Shaul in Tanach suffered from depression.

12

 Jan 13, 2013 at 05:31 PM Gangsta Says:

#10 BLONDI
I'm right with you! You literally took the words out of my mouth that was was going to post... Why fight the geniuses in a field that had proven to know the flaws better than our current, so called, experts? Rather than fight them, embrace them! Look at the movie "Catch Me If You Can" as an I.E., it is based on a true story, they used him to better the system of the flaws in counterfeit checks. Now instead of using Aaron Swartz to help, it may take them years to learn what Aaron would have showed them in no time, if they had offered him a plea bargain to come work for them and who knows how much a genius like Aaron at just the age of 26 could have contributed to our society and/or government over his life time. This is not only a loss to the ones close to him, but potentially to all society and/or government, if they had only channeled and embraced his young geniuses talent correctly, after all his intentions were good so to make a deal with someone of that nature should have been relatively easy. Huge loss, shame shame ON OUR GOVERNMENT

13

 Jan 14, 2013 at 02:03 PM ShmuelG Says:

Reply to #8  
SandraM Says:

Yes. But not every crime deserves a 25 or 35 year sentence...The Justice system killed this young genius. The impact of the families and the extended families must also be considered.

The US has more people in jail per capita, than ANY other civilized country in the whole universe. While Americans only represent about 5 percent of the world's population, nearly one-quarter of the entire world's inmates have been incarcerated in the United States in recent years!

Yet, despite all this, it is by far not the safest nor the most honest country. Clearly these excessive jail sentences do little other than put a feather in the cap of the prosecutors and give fuel to the overly large jail industry in the US.

I hope this young man's death serves as wake up call to the US - once the great universal hallmark of libery - which is very quickly morphing into one of least free countries of the G20.

No, the Justice system did not kill him. He killed himself. His crimes and not willing to pay the price for them are the likeliest causes of his suicide.

Yes, we do have more people imprisoned than all other civilized countries. Coincidentally, we also have the highest percentage of black population of the whole civilized world. So?

14

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