Following the suicide death of internet prodigy Aaron Swartz last week, many pointed to the overzealous prosecution by U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz as what pushed him over the edge.
Earlier this week, Ortiz’s husband, IBM Executive Tom Dolan, took to Twitter to criticize Swartz’s family for their obituary for the 26-year-old. Dolan tweeted, “Truly incredible that in their own son’s obit they blame others for his death and make no mention of the 6 month offer.”
Swartz was facing up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine for charges of wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and recklessly damaging a protected computer. The charges were brought on after Swartz allegedly downloaded roughly 4 million of JSTOR’s collection of academic journal articles with the intention of providing them for anyone in search of them. As a faculty member at Harvard, Swartz had access to the articles. Both JSTOR and MIT, where he downloaded the documents from a network wiring closet, cried foul.
Shortly after Dolan’s post, Swartz family defenders and supporters became furious and went on the attack. Dolan has since deleted his Twitter account.
Now, as the accusations and finger-pointing continue, Ortiz’s office has released the following statement:
</em> The prosecutors recognized that there was no evidence against Mr. Swartz indicating that he committed his acts for personal financial gain, and they recognized that his conduct – while a violation of the law – did not warrant the severe punishments authorized by Congress and called for by the Sentencing Guidelines in appropriate cases. That is why in the discussions with his counsel about a resolution of the case this office sought an appropriate sentence that matched the alleged conduct – a sentence that we would recommend to the judge of six months in a low security setting. While at the same time, his defense counsel would have been free to recommend a sentence of probation. Ultimately, any sentence imposed would have been up to the judge. At no time did this office ever seek – or ever tell Mr. Swartz’s attorneys that it intended to seek – maximum penalties under the law.
Swartz was a computer programmer, political organizer, and internet activist. While most did not know his name prior to his tragic death, Swartz was the creation of the RSS technology. He was also a major player in the creation of the popular website Reddit. Swartz was also a huge opponent of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, and has been given a great deal of credit for keeping it from passing.