Mourners Say Internet Prodigy Was Killed by Government

Facing federal hacking charges, Aaron Swartz was found dead last week of an apparent suicide

By Charlie Wojciechowski and The Associated Press
|  Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013  |  Updated 9:36 PM CDT
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Aaron Swartz, 26, was facing charges that carried a maximum penalty of decades in prison. Charlie Wojciechowski reports.

Aaron Swartz, 26, was facing charges that carried a maximum penalty of decades in prison. Charlie Wojciechowski reports.

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Internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz was "killed by the government," his father told mourners Tuesday during his son's funeral at a synagogue in north suburban Highland Park.

Swartz, who help create Reddit and RSS, the technology behind blogs, podcasts and other web-based subscription services, was found dead Friday in his New York apartment. He was facing federal charges that alleged he illegally gained access to millions of articles from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer archive.

Robert Swartz said his son was "hounded by the government, and MIT refused him."

"He was killed by the government, and MIT betrayed all of its basic principles," he said.

Outside the service, clinical psychologist Dr. Jeanne Beckmman echoed those sentiments.

"The major cause of this man's death was because of bullying by federal prosecutors," she said.

Swartz, 26, was facing charges that carried a maximum penalty of decades in prison. His trial was scheduled to begin in April.

Many of the nearly 350 mourners on hand at the service remarked of the young man's desire to improve the world around him.

"He's somebody that just wanted to make the world better, and he did it in two ways: first, he wrote a lot of software that he made publicly available for everybody to use, that's very important. And also, he believed that scientific publications should be freely available to everybody," said DePaul University computer science professor Massimo DiPierro.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz had no comment about Robert Swartz's remarks, Ortiz spokeswoman Christina DiIorio-Sterling said.

Swartz's family also lashed out against prosecutors Saturday, saying the death was "the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach."

Swartz's case highlighted society's uncertain, evolving view of how to treat people who break into computer systems and share data not to enrich themselves, but to make it available to others.

Tim Berners-Lee, who developed the World Wide Web, and Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, director of the Safra Center for Ethics where Swartz was once a fellow, both spoke at the funeral.

"We felt the indictment was nonsense and that he would be acquitted," Berners-Lee said after the service.

Lawyer Reportedly Told Prosecutor Swartz was Suicidal

Andrew Good, a Boston attorney who represented Swartz in the case last year, said he told federal prosecutors in Massachusetts that Swartz was a suicide risk.

"Their response was, put him in jail, he'll be safe there," Good said.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz declined comment.

"We would like to respect the family's privacy," said Christina DiIorio-Sterling. "We don't think it's appropriate to discuss the case at this time."

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