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Reddit and Tech Genius Aaron Schwartz Commits Suicide in Midst of Criminal 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 U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles. – Official Statement from the family and partner of Aaron Swartz

ANYONE WHO’S been on the web writing as long as I have has heard of Aaron Schwartz. Not only was he a technological genius, but there seems to be few successful internet advances to which he wasn’t attached. His aggressive entrepreneurial curiosity is what put him in the headlights of U.S. authorities.

Somewhere in there, Aaron’s recklessness put him right in harm’s way. Aaron snuck into MIT and planted a laptop in a utility closet, used it to download a lot of journal articles (many in the public domain), and then snuck in and retrieved it. This sort of thing is pretty par for the course around MIT, and though Aaron wasn’t an MIT student, he was a fixture in the Cambridge hacker scene, and associated with Harvard, and generally part of that gang, and Aaron hadn’t done anything with the articles (yet), so it seemed likely that it would just fizzle out. Instead, they threw the book at him. Even though MIT and JSTOR (the journal publisher) backed down, the prosecution kept on. – RIP, Aaron Schwartz

There are also reports that Schwartz was battling migraines and depression. If this is true, and as a former migraine sufferer, all I can offer is that the combination is deadly. The unending pain that severe migraines bring become so debilitating that when you put a dogged legal prosecutor hounding you on top of it the combination can lead you to think about unimaginable thoughts and in Schwartz’s case, act on them.

Lawrence Lessig’s Tumblr blog reminds everyone that “Aaron brought Aaron here,” because of the line he crossed.

However, there is no one with knowledge of this case writing about it after Aaron’s tragic suicide that isn’t also saying that the prosecutor was an outright bully, finding someone who could be an example, and hounding him for his crimes.

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10 Responses to Reddit and Tech Genius Aaron Schwartz Commits Suicide in Midst of Criminal Prosecution

  1. Uh-oh January 13, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    Right. These are the same guys who can’t be bothered (or have been told not to bother) to go after the big banks that were gaming the financial system and did actual harm to many people. Somehow I fail to see the financial harm in having a bunch of academic articles (likely not even very interesting) that are usually available from a library for free anyway.

    What a waste.

  2. ladywalker68 January 13, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    What Uh-oh just said…..

    Of course, it is much easier to persecute a little guy who snuck a laptop into and out of a closet and who downloaded some articles.

    The banks and Wall Street guys are “too big” and have “too much” power and are too scary to bother with.

  3. fangio January 13, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    If you read the papers you will find case after case of prosecutorial misconduct in this country. I feel it goes hand in hand with increased police brutality, the rise of the security state and the new militaristic mentality of our law enforcement agencies.

  4. Cujo359 January 13, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    Dean Baker saved me the trouble of stating the obvious today:

    start quote:

    It is difficult not to be outraged by this part of the story. Here is an administration that could find nothing to prosecute at the Wall Street banks who enriched themselves by passing on hundreds of billions of dollars of fraudulent mortgages in mortgage backed securities and complex derivative instruments, but found the time and resources to prosecute a young man who wanted to make academic research freely available to the world.

    end quote

    Research papers are extraordinarily expensive, particularly when you consider that they often reach their freshness date soon after publication. Making these papers so expensive to obtain and read for the average person makes them effectively unreachable for use as sources for blogs or independent journalism.

    Yet our government prosecutes this, and ignores the clearly greater harm of bank fraud.

    And some of us were fools to refuse to vote for more of this? I don’t think so.

  5. mjsmith January 13, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

    MIT.edu, DOJ.gov, W3.org All Currently Down Following Investigation Into Swartz Tragedy

    http://m.techcrunch.com/2013/01/13/mit-edu-doj-gov-w3-gov-all-currently-down-following-investigation-into-swartz-tragedy/#fbcomments

    Sorry about long URL. This story just went up.

  6. Jane Austen January 14, 2013 at 12:10 am #

    I’m so angry and so heart broken over this I can’t even respond. This is the first I’ve heard of his death. Ditto what Uh-oh just said. Something is so wrong with this country when those that almost brought this country to financial ruin can walk away with millions in their pockets and this poor guy…. OMG May he rest in peace and may his family find some sort of peace.

  7. secularhumanizinevoluter January 14, 2013 at 5:38 am #

    Would this be the right time to point out the torturer in Chef along with his Vic torturer are walking around rich and free?

    • jinbaltimore January 14, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

      If you are referring to Obama, then, yes (!), this would be the perfect time. Well-put!

      • Solo January 15, 2013 at 5:24 am #

        So President Obama is a torturer now? You grassy knoll types amuse me!

        • jinbaltimore January 15, 2013 at 11:10 am #

          sorry, not responsible for doing your homework…catch up when you can

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