The family of Infogami founder and Internet genius Aaron Swartz are laying the blame for the 26-year-old’s suicide at the doors of the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Swartz, whose body was found in his Brooklyn, NY apartment Jan. 11, hanged himself just weeks before his trial was to begin after being indicted on wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, recklessly damaging a protected computer, aiding and abetting and criminal forfeiture.
The charges, filed in the summer of 2011, stem from someone illegally accessing subscription-only service JSTOR via the computer network at MIT and downloading 4.8 million articles to distribute freely.
Swartz had pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he would have faced up to $1 million in fines and 35 years in prison.
Swartz was pronounced dead the evening of Jan. 11, according to New York’s chief medical examiner spokeswoman Ellen Borakove. Police arrived on the scene after receiving a 911 call from Swartz’s girlfriend, who found his body.
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach,” reads a statement released by Swartz’s family and girlfriend.
“Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The U.S. 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.”
Swartz, who had battled depression and illness for years, built the website framework web.py and the architecture for the Open Library. He also started his own company, Infogami, which was later used to support the web.py and Open Library sites. Infogami merged with Reddit in November 2005 and he became an equal owner of the company.
Reddit was purchased by Condé Nast Publications in October of 2006 and Swartz was fired not long afterward, although it is said Swartz was instrumental in his own dismissal.
Swartz was also known as a passionate advocate of freedom of information and founded Demand Progress, a not-for-profit group that was active in the battle against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
The sudden death of Swartz, who co-authored RSS code at the age of 14, has shocked the technology world and led to an outpouring of online tributes to the man many called a prodigy.
“Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the scope and accessibility of human knowledge,” reads the statement released by his family and girlfriend.
“He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across generations and continents. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.”
“Today, we grieve for the extraordinary and irreplaceable man that we have lost.”
His family is not grieving alone. The following are just a handful of the tributes, many of which are posted here.
Aaron is dead.
Wanderers in this crazy world, we have lost a mentor, a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down, we have lost one of our own. Nurtures, careers, listeners, feeders, parents all, we have lost a child.
Let us all weep.
People Against the NDAA (PANDA) founder Dan Johnson wrote: “I have never personally met him, but that does not diminish the gratitude I have for his work. In maintaining the freedom of the World Wide Web, he helped to preserve, for now, what is possibly the greatest tool for preserving our great Republic. May he rest in peace, but let us never forget who drove him to this point. The United States Government’s relentless persecution of a patriot, the hallmark of our tyrannical regime, is the reason he is no longer with us.”
Think Computer Corporation CEO Aaron Greenspan: ❝One can no longer claim that the politics of our day does not affect them. It affects us all so much. For every Aaron Swartz there are a thousand or ten thousand or a hundred thousand other cases where the flaws in our democracy led government to the wrong decision. And those flaws and cases are now visible on PlainSite because of Aaron’s work.”
The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald:❝But, to me, much of Swartz’s tragically short life was filled with acts that are genuinely and, in the most literal and noble sense, heroic. I think that’s really worth thinking about today. […] Whatever else is true, Swartz was destroyed by a “justice” system that fully protects the most egregious criminals as long as they are members of or useful to the nation’s most powerful factions, but punishes with incomparable mercilessness and harshness those who lack power and, most of all, those who challenge power.”