Hundreds of mourners filled the Great Hall at New York's Cooper Union on January 19th to honor the life of Aaron Swartz, the Internet activist who took his own life earlier this month at age 26.
Swartz was well-known in technology circles for helping develop the RSS web feed format and the popular site Reddit, among other accomplishments. At the time of his death, he was facing 13 felony charges and up to 50 years in prison: Prosecutors had accused him of using MIT's network to download too many scholarly articles from an academic database called JSTOR.
Swartz's friends and family have said they believe he was driven to his death by a justice system that hounded him needlessly over an alleged crime with no real victims. "[He was] forced by the government to spend every fiber of his being on this damnable, senseless trial," his partner Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman said at the memorial, "with no guarantee that he could exonerate himself at the end of it."
Swartz's tragic death has already begun forcing lawmakers to start rethinking our draconian computer laws. And House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-California) even promised an investigation of the Justice Department prosecutors who did their best to send a young Internet pioneer to prison.
Two zealous federal prosecutors handled Swartz's case: U.S. district attorney Carmen Ortiz and assistant attorney Stephen Heymann. In the days after his death, writers, tech experts, and many of Swartz's friends have called out Heymann and Ortiz for prosecutorial overreach. A White House petition demanding the removal of Ortiz garnered well over 25,000 signatures, reaching the level which guarantees an eventual response from the Obama administration.
Some of Swartz's advocates believe the prosecution sought excessive punishment to set an example in the age of Wikileaks and Anonymous.
"This was, in my opinion, part of a coordinated campaign to scare young Internet activists," says Roy Singham, ThoughtWorks chairman and a friend of Swartz.
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