The family of Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit and executive director of the website Demand Progress, is blaming the government for his death. Swartz committed suicide by hanging himself in his apartment last Friday.
Swartz was facing thirteen felony charges relating to the digital theft of millions of academic journals from JSTOR through the use of MIT’s computer network in 2011. His trial was set to begin in February; if convicted, he faced a maximum penalty of 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
The US Justice Department has faced criticism for the pursuit of the case; JSTOR, the alleged victim in the criminal complaint, had refused to press charges against Swartz and even asked the US Attorney’s Office not to prosecute him:
We stopped this downloading activity, and the individual responsible, Mr. Swartz, was identified. We secured from Mr. Swartz the content that was taken, and received confirmation that the content was not and would not be used, copied, transferred, or distributed.
Swartz had a history of depression; friends and family believe the stress and anxiety from the possibility of being sentenced to decades in prison led to a resurgence of his illness and caused him to take his own life. Robert Swartz, Aaron’s father, told those in attendance of his son’s funeral that Swartz had been “killed by the government.” Earlier in the week, the family released a statement condemning Swartz’s prosecution:
Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. 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.
In October of 2012, President Barack Obama participated in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session with Reddit users in an effort to engage with youth voters in the run up to the 2012 presidential election. In response to the president’s interaction with members of the online community Swartz had helped create, one user commented “Coolest president ever? Coolest president ever.”
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