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Feds drop charges against late Internet activist Aaron Swartz

January 14, 2013|By Jessica Guynn
  • Federal prosecutors in Boston have dropped charges against Internet activist Aaron Swartz after his death.
Federal prosecutors in Boston have dropped charges against Internet activist… (Michael Francis McElroy…)

Federal prosecutors in Boston have dropped charges against Internet activist Aaron Swartz.

Swartz, 26, was found dead Friday in his New York apartment. He apparently had hanged himself.

Prosecutors filed the notice of dismissal on Monday.

Swartz's family blamed his death on "prosecutorial overreach."

The U.S. attorney's office could not be reached for comment.

Federal prosecutors alleged Swartz used MIT's computers to illegally access millions of academic articles through the JSTOR database, a subscription service for scholarly articles. He was indicted in 2011 and was scheduled to go to trial on 13 counts including computer fraud. Swartz faced the possibility of millions of dollars in fines and up to 35 years in prison.

The case was seen as a showdown pitting the government and commercial interests against Internet "freedom fighters."

MIT President L. Rafael Reif on Sunday appointed Hal Abelson, a professor of computer science and engineering and a founding director of Creative Commons and the Free Software Foundation, to "lead a thorough analysis of MIT’s involvement."

As news spread over the weekend of Swartz's death, the Web collectively mourned for a brilliant young technologist and activist who wanted to set the world's information free yet could never escape his own demons.

Confided one friend: "I'm not surprised that this is how his life ended, and I bet many others feel the same way. So sad, he had so much potential and not enough joy in his life."

Swartz was just 14 when he helped create RSS, a tool that distributes online content. He was one of the founders of the social news site Reddit, which was bought by Conde Nast. But he was best known as an activist for free and open access to the world's information.

"Everything he did was aimed at world-changing and at activism," said friend and historian Rick Perlstein.

Now his death is being used to question government's aggressive criminal prosecution of Internet activists.

Anonymous allegedly hacked MIT's website and left a tribute for Swartz: "We do not consign blame or responsibility upon MIT for what has happened, but call for all those feel heavy-hearted in their proximity to this awful loss to acknowledge instead the responsibility they have — that we all have — to build and safeguard a future that would make Aaron proud."

ALSO:

Aaron Swartz dies at 26; Internet folk hero founded Reddit

Follow me on Twitter @jguynn

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