US District Court Drops Charges Against Aaron Swartz

By: Boston.com Email
By: Boston.com Email

The US District Court in Boston has dropped the charges against Aaron Swartz, a web entrepreneur and political activist who committed suicide Friday, according to a court document filed this morning.

Swartz's attorney, Elliot Peters, said in an email that the dropped charges were "too little too late."

"[The dismissal] would have been welcome this time last week," he wrote.

In July 2011, Swartz was charged in US District Court in Boston for hacking into the JSTOR archive system on MIT's network in 2010. He allegedly downloaded more than 4 million articles, some of which were behind a paywall.

According to authorities, Swartz, who was a fellow at Harvard University's Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, planned to distribute the information for free on file-sharing websites.

US Attorney Carmen Ortiz and Assistant US Attorney Stephen Heymann, filed the two sentence notice of dismissal.

The court document says the case is being dismissed due to Swartz’s death on Jan. 11.

Swartz, 26, hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment, according to the New York Medical ­Examiner’s Office and a statement from his family and partner.

In the days following Swartz’s death, online users have called for government action.

A petition for the government’s removal of Ortiz was created Saturday on the White House website. The petition, "remove United States District Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz" has garnered more than 14,000 signatures.

The petition states that “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.”

And Sunday night, several subdomains of the university’s website had been turned into memorial pages for Swartz. The hacker collective Anonymous claimed responsibility for the action.

In a cached version of the hacked page, Anonymous writes that “the government’s prosecution of Swartz was a grotesque miscarriage of justice, a distorted and perverse shadow of the justice that Aaron died fighting for – freeing the publicly-funded scientific literature from a publishing system that makes it inaccessible to most of those who paid for it.”

Anonymous calls for government reform of copyright and intellectual property right law, as well as computer crime law.

The hacker collective praises Swartz, calling his actions “political activism” with tragic consequences.

At the bottom of the page, Anonymous apologizes to MIT for hacking into their website, and says they do not blame MIT for Swartz’s death.

"We do not consign blame or responsibility upon MIT for what has happened," they wrote. "But call for all those feel heavy-hearted in their proximity to this awful loss to acknowledge instead the responsibility they have — that we all have — to build and safeguard a future that would make Aaron proud, and honour the ideals and dedication that burnt so brightly within him by embodying them in thought and word and action."

Read more from Boston.com


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