Over the weekend, netizens were shocked when news broke out that Aaron Swartz, Reddit co-founder, hactivist, tech genius and freedom fighter, had committed suicide.
Swartz’s supporters were grief-stricken and angered over the fact that his life-long goal of keeping the internet free led to him being labeled as a felon and was legally bullied and pressured by MIT and Massachusetts’ District Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. Because of this, there is now a petition for the removal of Ortiz from office for overstepping her boundaries which is believed to be the cause of Swartz’s untimely death.
We The People addressed the petition to the Obama Administration stating that:
“It is too late to do anything for Aaron Swartz, but the who used the powers granted to them by their office to hound him into a position where he was facing a ruinous trial, life in prison and the ignominy and shame of being a convicted felon; for an alleged crime that the supposed victims did not wish to prosecute.
“A prosecutor who does not understand proportionality and who regularly uses the threat of unjust and overreaching charges to extort plea bargains from defendants regardless of their guilt is a danger to the life and liberty of anyone who might cross her path.”
The petition needs 25,000 signatures before February 11, 2013 but it has already exceeded the goal and currently has 29,878 signatures since the petition was created on January 12, 2013. You need a whitehouse.gov account to be able to sign the petition.
Swartz’s ordeal started when he was accused of stealing over four million documents from MIT and JSTOR which he planned to release on file sharing sites for free. He was charged with wire fraud, computer fraud, acquiring info on a protected computer and criminal forfeiture and faces a $1 million fine, and 35 years in prison if found guilty.
Ortiz stated that stealing was stealing, no matter what method you use and regardless of the fact that the stolen item was of physical or digital in nature.
Swartz $1M trial was to start next month.
MIT appointed Hal Abelson, founding director of Creative Commons, a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share, an organization that Swartz was an early contributor of, coding early licenses, to investigate the university’s involvement in Swartz’s prosecution which is deemed as the primary factor why he took his life.
People are divided as to whether Swartz should be deemed as a hero or a felon. To many, Swartz was a modern day Robin Hood – taking from the rich and giving it to the poor. He never sold what he took. He didn’t get rich for what he did. Compared to other hackers, who have made millions as they wreaked havoc in the interwebs, Swartz did not deserve to be treated as such and be labeled as a felon.
Swartz was laid in his final resting place at North Suburban Lubavitch Chabad Central Avenue Synagogue in Highland Park, Ill. today. Though the controversial Westboro Baptist Church planned to protest at his funeral, they backed off when Anonymous and numerous Swartz supporters threatened to derail their picket line if they refused to back off. Anonymous also hacked into MIT’s page hours after they pledged to investigate the situation and posted a memorial for Swartz.
To read more about Aaron Swartz, here are some of SiliconANGLE’s tribute to the young internet hero: