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Aaron Swartz's family releases statement, blames overreaching prosecutors for his untimely death

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aaron swartz
aaron swartz

The family of famed Reddit co-founder and political activist Aaron Swartz has released a statement following the 26-year-old's suicide on Friday. Remembering Aaron for his "insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance," the family goes on to say that the federal government's overzealous prosecution contributed to his death.

The government had called for a 35-year sentence after Swartz allegedly used a Python script to offload a large quantity of JSTOR documents from an unlocked maintenance closet at MIT in January of 2011. The federal indictment came after JSTOR dropped its own charges against Swartz, who had legal access to the database.

The family identifies Aaron's death as "not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach." They also call out MIT for refusing to stand up for Aaron, unlike JSTOR, which has since released its own statement.

The family's full statement is included below:

Our beloved brother, son, friend, and partner Aaron Swartz hanged himself on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment. We are in shock, and have not yet come to terms with his passing.

Aaron's insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable—these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We're grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.

Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the scope and accessibility of human knowledge. He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across generations and continents. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.

Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It 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.

Today, we grieve for the extraordinary and irreplaceable man that we have lost.

UPDATE: Aaron's mentor, copyright reform advocate Lawrence Lessig, has also released a statement in his memory, accusing federal prosecutors of creating exaggerated depictions of Aaron and his motivations, saying "anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar." [Emphasis Lessig's]

Photo credit: Quinn Norton