Tags: swartz | hacking | scandal | jstor

Oversight Panel Seeks Answers on Swartz Hacking Charges, Suicide

Tuesday, 29 Jan 2013 03:34 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is apparently challenging the government's decision to go after Internet pioneer Aaron Swartz on federal computer hacking charges that threatened to send him to prison for decades.

Swartz committed suicide earlier this month after fighting the charges for some two years.

According to the Huffington Post, panel Chairman Darrell Issa and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings raised some pointed questions about the case in a letter Monday to Attorney General Eric Holder after computer and criminal justice experts called the prosecution excessive and unwarranted.

Swartz, who founded Reddit, was facing charges of hacking and downloading massive amounts of academic journal articles from the online database JSTOR at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He had legal access to all the articles, but was accused of violating the database's terms of service by downloading too many at once. Officials at MIT were opposed to his prosecution, but the government refused to back down, according to the Huffington Post.

Issa, a leading advocate of Online freedoms and one of the first Republican lawmakers to speak out against the Stop Online Piracy Act, began his investigation into Swartz's case earlier this month.

In the letter, he and Cummings pointedly asked Holder if Swartz's own opposition to the piracy act may have influenced the decision to prosecute him. The two requested a face-to-face briefing from Justice Department officials on the case.

"I'm pleased that it's a joint effort, by the way," Cummings told the Huffington Post, suggesting that the bipartisan letter will put pressure on Justice Department officials. "There's more than one issue here. Is the law too vague? Why was he being charged the way he was when the university decided they were not going to prosecute? Did that have any bearing?"
Meanwhile, Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney who headed the prosecution team in the Swartz case, insisted her office's actions were appropriate.

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