Swartz's death fuels debate over computer crime

Monday, January 14, 2013
This Dec. 8, 2012 photo provided by ThoughtWorks shows Aaron Swartz, in New York. Swartz, a co-founder of Reddit, hanged himself Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, in New York City. In 2011, he was charged with stealing millions of scientific journals from a computer archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in an attempt to make them freely available. He had pleaded not guilty, and his federal trial was to begin next month. (AP Photo/ThoughtWorks, Pernille Ironside)

NEW YORK -- The death this week of Internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz is rekindling a long-running debate about how harshly authorities should deal with well-meaning people who compromise computer systems.

Swartz struggled for years against a legal system that he felt had not caught up to the information age. Federal prosecutors had tried unsuccessfully to mount a case against him for publishing reams of court documents that normally cost a fee to download.

Swartz's family said that same system helped cause his death by branding as a felon an activist who was more interested in spreading academic information than in the fraud federal prosecutors had charged him with.

They said that Swartz's death by suicide was "the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach."

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