The family and friends of Aaron Swartz — the famed Internet hacktivist who took his own life on Friday at the age of 26 — released a public statement on Saturday, placing some of the blame for Swartz’ suicide on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as the Massachusetts States Attorney’s office.
“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 read. “Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death.”
Swartz, long regarded as one of the major proponents of a free and open Internet to further the spread of information, was indicted in July of 2011 on charges of illegally accessing documents on JSTOR, the online digital library which hosts academic journal articles, books and primary sources. His alleged crime involved downloading nearly 5 million articles from the service from MIT’s on-campus network.
He faced upwards of 30 years in prison, along with $1 million in fines.
After Swartz turned over his hard drives, JSTOR decided not to pursue any legal action against him. But States Attorney Carmen Ortiz continued to press on in its prosecution of Swartz, along with the support of MIT behind her.
Said Ortiz in 2011: “Stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars.”
The States Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
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