Lawmakers Press Holder to Explain Prosecution of Reddit's Swartz

Saturday, 11 Jan 2014 11:31 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Lawmakers are demanding answers from Attorney General Eric Holder over the Justice Department's conduct toward late Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide one year ago, after he was slammed with federal charges over breaking into a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer network.

A bipartisan group of eight lawmakers from the House and Senate wrote to Holder on Friday, one day before the first anniversary of Swartz' suicide, calling him a "brilliant technologist and activist" and demanding that Holder explain how the Justice Department's conduct toward the 26-year-old was "appropriate," reports The Hill.

Lawmakers said they asked for details a year ago over the department's treatment, but got no answers, "not even the sentencing memoranda that surely were prepared in a case such as this."

Swartz's family maintain he killed himself because of the overzealous federal prosecutors in his case. He was facing up to 35 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines after he was charged with wire and computer fraud, among other charges, for breaking into the MIT servers and downloading nearly 5 million documents from the JSTOR academic service.

The eight lawmakers, Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; and Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.; James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.; Alan Grayson, D-Fla.; Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.; and Jared Polis, D-Colo., also said they "respectfully disagree" with Holder's claims that the case represented “a good use of prosecutorial discretion.”

Beyond his legal troubles, Swartz was considered a computer genius who as a teenager helped create the publishing program RSS, which allows people to subscribe to website, blog, and news site updates. Swartz co-founded the social news website Reddit, which was later sold to Conde Nast, as well as the political action group Demand Progress, which campaigns against Internet censorship.

Meanwhile, web visionaries Saturday remembered Swartz and his legacy, reports Wired.com.

Story continues below video.



"I think Aaron was trying to make the world work – he was trying to fix it," World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee said. "So he was a bit ahead of his time."

And Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig, who noted "he was just doing what he thought was right to produce a world that was better."

Director Brian Knappenberger, whose documentary "The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz" will debut at the Sundance Film Festival later this month, drew parallels between Swartz and National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

"Now we are all submerged in a massively networked world where every important part of our lives has an online component to it,” Knappenberger said. "Geeks and hackers already knew this but, thanks to Edward Snowden, now everyone realizes it."


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