Steven Reich, an associate deputy attorney general, briefed congressional staffers Friday on the prosecution of open Internet activist Aaron Swartz, according to the Huffington Post.
Swartz’s suicide in January while he was negotiating with federal prosecutors in Boston over computer fraud charges sparked a public backlash against Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office, with the bipartisan leadership of the House Oversight Committee writing a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder for an explanation of prosecutor tactics.
At Friday’s briefing, Reich told staffers that prosecutors saw malicious intent in Swartz’s downloading of a database of academic papers called JSTOR. He said Swartz’s 2008 “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto” which advocated civil disobedience against copyright laws that lead to the “privatization of knowledge” for the benefit of greedy corporations, the Huffington Post said.
“We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive,” Swartz wrote in the manifesto, according to the Huffington Post. “We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.”
Swartz, age 26 when he died, was indicted in 2011 for using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer network to download the JSTOR materials. Swartz family said they believed the pressure of the prosecution contributed to his death. Ortiz said in a recent interview with WBUR in Boston that Swartz’s death was a tragedy, but suggested that he suffered from mental illness that was beyond their control.
According to the Huffington Post, Reich told staffers Ortiz’s office had offered him a plea bargain that would have resulted in three months in jail (a shorter time period that the six months that had earlier been reported).
Citing two unnamed congressional aides, the Huffington Post wrote: “Some congressional staffers left the briefing with the impression that prosecutors believed they needed to convict Swartz of a felony that would put him in jail for a short sentence in order to justify bringing the charges in the first place.”
Reich defended the prosecutors’ negotiations as reasonable and stressed that Swartz’s prosecution was seen as a way to deter others from similar violations, the Huffington Post said.