Small vigil for Internet activist Aaron Swartz held outside Boston federal court

Shava Nerad and Ron Newman take part in a small vigil for Internet activist Aaron Swartz outside federal court in Boston Tuesday.

While the online outpourings of sadness and frustration numbered in the thousands since Internet activist and alleged hacker Aaron Swartz hanged himself Friday, a vigil planned for this afternoon in Boston attracted four people.

Swartz, the 26-year-old who helped create RSS and cofounder of Demand Progress, was slated to go to trial in April for allegedly hacking into a Massachusetts Institute of Technology system and downloading millions of JSTOR articles with the intent of freely distributing them online.

Shava Nerad, a former software engineer from Salem, organized the vigil outside the federal court in South Boston that also houses the offices of Carmen Ortiz, the US attorney for the District of Massachusetts.

“I would like to see see a review in Ortiz’s office of how exactly this case got blown out of proportion,” said Nerad.

A White House petition calling for the removal of Ortiz gained more than 25,000 signatures as of this afternoon.

Swartz was indicted in 2011 for the alleged MIT hack and was investigated for his 2008 downloading of millions of documents from the government-run federal court filing archive, according to his FBI file that he posted online. The archive charges subscribers 8 cents per page.

“I felt it was important for people to make clear that the US overreached here,” said Ron Newman, an MIT alum who lives in Somerville. He held a sign that read “Who killed Aaron Swartz” during the vigil.

A spokeswoman for the US attorney’s office told Reuters this week that they wanted to respect the family’s privacy and did not feel it was appropriate to comment.

Ortiz’s office formally dismissed the charges against Swartz yesterday.

The Globe reported this week that Swartz and his lawyer rejected a plea deal with prosecutors that would have put him behind bars for six months. The charges against him carried prison terms that would have sent him to jail for 35 years.

“I think he felt betrayed by the system he was going to reform,” said Nerad.


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