Computer Prodigy Aaron Swartz Dies at 26; Committed Suicide by Hanging

By Rohit KVN | January 13, 2013 5:11 PM IST

American internet activist Aaron H. Swartz was found dead at his New York apartment on Friday. He was 26 years old.

Police found Swartz hanging in his apartment in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. A spokeswoman for the city’s chief medical examiner ruled the death a suicide, reported Reuters.

At the age of 14, Swartz was credited as the co-author of the ‘RSS (Rich Site Summary) 1.0 specifications, which the common internet browsers use every day to subscribe RSS feeds from many news and other resources from the Web.

In his mid-twenties, Swartz had become an American icon of pro-internet freedom favouring free access of information to people.

Through his ‘Demand Progress’, a non-profit organisation, Swartz led a successful campaign to block a bill introduced in 2011 in the US House of Representatives called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

The bill SOPA was introduced to curb certain information sharing websites which were deemed illegal by the government. It claimed that these websites were trafficking intellectual properties illegally, but due to public outcry the bill was withdrawn.

Beleaguered friends and family of the internet activist have expressed shock and anger in various community blogs.

‘World Wide Web’ creator Sir Timothy J Berners-Lee wrote a poem in honour of Swartz at his official forum.

He posted:

“Aaron is dead.

Wanderers in this crazy world,

we have lost a mentor, a wise elder.

Hackers for right, we are one down,

we have lost one of our own.

Nurtures, careers, listeners, feeders,

parents all,

we have lost a child.

Let us all weep.”

Swartz was currently facing a federal lawsuit for hacking JSTOR (Journal STORage), a digital library using MIT (Massachusetts institute of Technology) network to download more than four million articles from the database.

If convicted, he would have faced 35 years of jail term and more than $1 million in fine.

Family and friends have accused JSTOR and MIT for not standing up for Swartz and his cherished principles.

They also said, “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,”

However, JSTOR has released its own statement mourning the death of Aaron Swartz.

They posted:

“We have had inquiries about JSTOR’s view of this sad event given the charges against Aaron and the trial scheduled in April. The case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespeard access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge.”

In 2009, Swartz was accused of illegally downloading and publishing approximately 20 percent of the PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) database of United States federal court documents managed by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. The charges were dropped later.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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