The US Government Hounded Aaron Swartz as a Warning to All Hacktivists

The stress from the ongoing investigation could have been a factor in his suicide

Aaron Swartz's death sparked plenty of discussion and responses. While these sorts of things tend to blow over in a few days, unfortunately, some good may come out of this in the end, perhaps even something enduring.

But it is tragic that the only way to spark a real discussion, even one that lasts a few days, is with something so extreme.

It's even more tragic that it was the US' fear of open information, of people speaking their mind and of a generation that used technology to make its voice heard that ultimately contributed to his suicide.

While plenty of people are trying to portray Swartz as some sort of martyr and use his death as a rallying cry, he would have made a much bigger difference alive.

While his troubles with the government were certainly not the main cause in his decision, they did contribute, as even his family suggested.

Swartz had an incredibly gifted mind that he always put to use for the public good. He helped create the RSS standard at 14. He was also a big influence in the creation of Creative Commons.

He continued to champion for open access to information, which is how his legal troubles began.

The first was over legal documents that, while in the public domain, are not available for free in the US.

He created a scheme to get access to those documents for free, with the intention of making them available to everyone.

While there was an investigation, no charges was brought since the data he "stole" should have been publicly available in the first place.

His more recent legal troubles were similar, he was accused of using MIT's internal network to access academic articles from the JSTOR database.

His goal, again, was to make all of that info available for free. JSTOR said early on that it had no plans to go after Swartz for the "hack" and said it didn't believe he was guilty of anything.

MIT wasn't so forthcoming and the Massachusetts US attorney's office used the occasion to make an example out of Swartz.

While there was no actual crime to speak of, all he did was access the MIT network even though he didn't attend the school, he was facing 36 years in prison and a seven-figure fine.

The attorney's office found the perfect case to put some fright into a generation of hacktivists that is becoming more and more vocal.

The last hope for a settlement or for the charges to be dropped was shattered last week when the attorney's office simply refused any sort of deal. The case was supposed to go to court later this year.

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