The family and partner of a former Harvard fellow who was indicted for allegedly hacking into a Massachusetts Institute of Technology database blamed federal prosecutors in Boston and the college for his suicide.
Aaron Swartz, the 26-year-old cofounder of Reddit and Internet sharing activist, hanged himself Friday in his New York apartment, according to a statement posted online Saturday by his family and partner.
In the statement, his loved ones take aim at federal authorities and MIT and partially blame them for his suicide.
Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach,” his family and partner said in the statement. “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.”
Messages seeking comment from the US Attorney’s office in Boston and MIT were not immediately returned.
Swartz faced up to 35 years in prison and a fine of $1 million if convicted of the wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information and recklessly damaging a protected computer charges against him.
It was alleged that Swartz broke into a restricted computer wiring closet in a basement at MIT in order to download a major portion of archived digitized academic journals on to his computer.
The journals were a part of JSTOR, a paid subscription database used to access millions of primary sources. Some universities pay as much as $50,000 for an annual subscription.
Prosecutors said that Swartz intended to distribute millions of documents from JSTOR’s archive through other file-sharing sites.
According to Swartz’s website, he was the founder of Demand Progress, a political action committee that campaigns on various online and privacy issues, and a fellow at Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics.
Countless outpourings of sympathy were posted online after news of Swartz’s death broke.
Lawrence Lessig, director of Harvard’s center for ethics, posted on his website that he was Swartz’s friend and spoke with him after being indicted.
“Aaron was always and only working for (at least his conception of) the public good. He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius,” Lessig posted online.