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Charges dropped against internet activist Swartz

Date
Tributes flooding in ... Aaron Swartz.

Tributes flooding in ... Aaron Swartz.

A hacktivist group has attacked a university website to post a tribute to internet wunderkind Aaron Swartz, as US prosecutors said they were dropping charges against him following his death.

Charges dropped ... Aaron Swartz.

Charges dropped ... Aaron Swartz.

Anonymous claimed credit for the attack on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology website, which was temporarily shut down, via Twitter with the hashtag #JusticeForAaronSwartz. The group wrote of their heavy-heartedness following the apparent suicide of Swartz, who was 26.

"We do not consign blame or responsibility upon MIT for what has happened, 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," read the message.

US federal prosecutors have meanwhile dropped charges against Swartz. Such filings are routine when a defendant dies before trial.

US Attorney Carmen Ortiz and the lead prosecutor on the case, Assistant US Attorney Stephen Heymann, filed a three-line notice of dismissal in court Monday.

Swartz was indicted in 2011 on 13 counts, including wire fraud and computer fraud. Prosecutors alleged he illegally gained access to millions of academic articles through the academic database JSTOR. His trial was scheduled to begin in April, and faced the possibility of millions of dollars in fines and up to 35 years in prison.

Swartz's family says his suicide was "the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach".

The case was seen as a showdown pitting the government and commercial interests against Internet "freedom fighters."

MIT President L. Rafael Reif appointed Hal Abelson, a professor of computer science and engineering and a founding director of Creative Commons and the Free Software Foundation, to "lead a thorough analysis of MIT's involvement".

His death is being used to question governments' aggressive criminal prosecution of internet activists.

Tributes

As news spread over the weekend of Swartz's death, the web collectively mourned for a brilliant young technologist and activist who wanted to set the world's information free yet could never escape his own demons.

One friend confided: "I'm not surprised that this is how his life ended, and I bet many others feel the same way. So sad, he had so much potential and not enough joy in his life."

Swartz was just 14 when he helped create RSS, a tool that distributes online content, but he was best known as an activist for free and open access to the world's information.

"Everything he did was aimed at world-changing and at activism," said friend and historian Rick Perlstein.

Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law School professor and fellow internet activist, wrote in a blog post that the criminal case against Swartz was misguided. Swartz "consulted me as a friend and lawyer" in the MIT case, and he didn't seek to profit from downloading academic papers, Lessig wrote.

"From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterise what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way," Lessig said. "The outrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of the prosecutor's behaviour."

Other academics took to Twitter to honour Swartz by posting free versions of their publications online, using the identifying hashtag #pdftribute.

Marissa Mayer, chief executive of Yahoo, said on Twitter that she met Swartz 11 years ago when she was an executive at Google.

"We had found his blog and were blown away by his age [16] and insights," she said.

A funeral will be held on January 15 at a synagogue in Highland Park, Illinois, near Chicago, according to the Swartz family statement. He is survived by his parents, Robert and Susan; younger brothers Noah and Ben; and his partner, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, according to a statement.

Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg/AP

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