News Release

Internet Activist Swartz’s Death a Product of “Prosecutorial Overreach”


The Guardian reports in “Aaron Swartz’s Family Condemns MIT and U.S. Government After his Death,” which states: “The family of celebrated Internet activist Aaron Swartz has accused prosecutors and MIT officials of being complicit in his death, blaming the apparent suicide on the pursuit of a young man over ‘an alleged crime that had no victims.’

“In a statement released late Saturday, Swartz’s parents, Robert and Susan, siblings Noah and Ben and partner Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman said the Redditt builder’s demise was not just a ‘personal tragedy’ but ‘the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach.’

“They also attacked the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for not supporting the Internet activist in his legal battles and refusing to stand up for ‘its own community’s most cherished principles.’

“The comments came a day after the 26-year-old killed himself in his Brooklyn apartment on Friday night.

“A committed advocate for the freedom of information over the Internet, Swartz had been facing a trial over allegations of hacking related to the downloading of millions of documents from the online research group JSTOR. Swartz pleaded not guilty last year; if convicted, he could have faced a lengthy prison term.

“News of his death resulted in an outpouring of tributes over the Internet. …”

Time magazine notes the president of MIT Sunday night announced an internal investigation to assess MIT’s conduct in the case.

LAWRENCE LESSIG [email], @lessig
Available for a limited number of interviews, Lessig is a professor at Harvard Law School and author of numerous books on Internet freedom. He was a friend of Swartz and is very familiar with his case. Just after Swartz’s death, Lessig wrote the piece “Prosecutor as Bully.”

KEVIN GOSZTOLA [email], @kgosztola
Gosztola wrote the piece “Reactions to the Death of Internet Activist Aaron Swartz,” which states: “JSTOR had settled with Swartz and they were ready to move onward. It was the government that would not let parties put what Swartz did behind them.”

He just wrote the article “How the Government’s Prosecution of Aaron Swartz Pushed Him Toward Death,” and said today: “The government chose to make an example out of him. The government thought there needed to be a case that could become precedent and clearly demonstrate to the public that information was not free. Intellectual property must be respected and individuals cannot be allowed to take advantage of ‘loopholes’ to share knowledge.

“Just as the government sought to make an example out of NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, made an example out of former CIA officer John Kiriakou for ‘leaking’ a name of an agent and is making an example out of Pfc. Bradley Manning for allegedly providing classified and non-classified information to WikiLeaks, it pursued Swartz hoping to convict him and set a precedent that would limit Internet freedom and the free flow of information. Meanwhile, banks like HSBC received no jail time for terrorist financing, not a single person from a Big Bank on Wall Street was prosecuted for major financial crimes that led to the 2008 economic collapse and those in the intelligence community who authorized torture were allowed to roam free.

“Do not expect this to change. The government will continue to take up cases against Internet activists who do no real harm, while looking the other way as white collar criminals and war criminals receive accolades, enjoy prestige and success and benefit from government welfare.” Gosztola is co-author of Truth & Consequences: The U.S. vs. Bradley Manning.

In May, 2012, Swartz gave the keynote address “How We Stopped SOPA [Stop Online Piracy Act]” at the Freedom to Connect conference. [Video]