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Aaron Swartz “has come to symbolize a different debate over how aggressively governments should pursue criminal cases against people … who believe in ‘freeing’ information,” Noam Cohen writes in The New York Times.
Swartz, a coauthor of RSS and a creator of Reddit, killed himself Friday. A lot of the anger surrounding his death has been directed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Anonymous appears to have hacked MIT’s website, leaving a message that said, in part:
“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”
MIT released a statement Sunday saying it will investigate its role in Swartz’s prosecution for stealing academic journal articles via its network.
Swartz and the university settled, but MIT gave evidence it gathered to the U.S. Secret Service, Tim Carmody writes in The Verge.
In a motion to suppress communication and disclosures from MIT sources, Swartz’s attorneys note that MIT turned over evidence it collected to the US Secret Service, who had taken over the investigation two days prior to Swartz’s arrest. … MIT, in the interpretation offered in this motion, was acting as a government agent without due process.
Swartz’s family and partner said in a statement that his death “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.
Danah Boyd recalls her frustrating friendship with Swartz and says “There’s no doubt in my mind that depression was a factor” in his suicide but that he “became a toy for a government set on showing their strength.” She also writes that she fears “the likelihood that Aaron will be turned into a martyr, an abstraction of a geek activist destroyed by the State.” Swartz’s “stubbornness made him breakable,” she writes.
If we want to achieve the values and goals that are core to the geek community, I don’t think that we’ll ever make a difference by creating more martyrs that can be used as examples in a cultural war. As we collectively mourn Aaron’s death and channel our anger into making a difference, I think we need to look for an approach to change-making that doesn’t result in brilliant people being held up as examples so that they can be tormented by power.
Related: GW law professor Orin Kerr says the criminal charges against Swartz “were pretty much legit” | GigaOM collects online tributes to Swartz | Tributes from Dave Winer and Derek Willis, as well as a related Storify by Alex Howard.