MIT, prosecutors blamed in suicide

  • January 13, 2013 - 7:58 PM

The family of Aaron Swartz, a computer programmer, entrepreneur and activist who died last week, blamed his apparent suicide on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and U.S. prosecutors who accused him of crimes including wire and computer fraud.

Swartz, who helped devise software to deliver information to users from the Internet, was found dead on Saturday. He hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment, according to a family statement. He was 26.

As a teenager, Swartz helped create a technology called Really Simple Sindication, or RSS, which lets Web users gain access to online information. He was indicted in July 2011 for allegedly gaining access to and downloading millions of articles and documents from a subscription-only service.

"Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy," his family wrote in the statement. "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."

Swartz was indicted in 2011 on federal charges of gaining illegal access to JSTOR, a subscription-only service for scientific and literary journals and downloading 4.8 million articles and documents -- nearly the entire library.

The U.S. Attorney's office pursued "an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison," and MIT refused to stand up for Aaron, the family said.

Canadian author Cory Doctorow, who knew Swartz, wrote that Swartz wrote publicly about his struggle with depression and may have taken his life because he feared imprisonment.


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