The death of Internet prodigy Aaron Swartz has triggered a massive, viral protest that is still in full swing today.
Mike Wheatly provided an elaborate breakdown of the circumstances that led up to Swartz’ apparent suicide last week. It all began when the Reddit co-founder was charged with downloading MIT’s JSTOR archive, a repository that contains several million academic papers. Every single document is free, but the library is only supposed to be accessible for students and faculty.
Swartz’s exploit could be considered a mischievous deed at best and a victimless crime at worse, but the persecution didn’t see it that way. The hacktivist faced as much as 35 years behind bars, and it is widely believed that it is this prospect that led him to take his own life.
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy,” read a statement by his parents. “It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts US attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death”
Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Swartz, is held responsible for his death by tens of thousands of outspoken Internet citizens who have signed a petition calling to remove her from office. Ortiz has not yet issued a response, but her husband did.
Ortiz’s partner, an IBM exec by the name of Ton Dolan, fired back on Twitter by responding to posts by prominent public figures who took notice of the story.
Dolan argues that Swartz was offered a 6-month plea deal, but it’s going to take a lot more than that to convince the public that Ortiz acted appropriately. She filed a total of 13 different charges against the hactivist.
The Aaron Swartz tragedy has sent ripples through social networks, media, and even the corridors of power in Washington. Republican Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren drafted a bill in which she proposes to make computer abuse laws clear, so that prosecutors won’t be able to justify disproportional punishments in the future. Lofgren will name her bill “Aaron’s Law.”
News sources note that the @tomjdolan Twitter account was unverified–and has since vanished from the Internet–but it was connected to his fleshed out LinkedIn account so it’s currently believed that in fact was his account.