Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, requesting an explanation for what seemed like a “remarkably aggressive” prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide Jan. 11 while facing hacking charges.
“There may be disagreement on the exact merits of the case against him, but charging a young man like Mr. Swartz with federal offenses punishable by over 35 years of federal imprisonment seems remarkably aggressive — particularly when it appears that one of the principal aggrieved parties, the academic subscription service JSTOR, did not support a criminal prosecution,” wrote Franken, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Franken’s note expresses a similar sentiment to a letter sent in January by Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), a fellow member of the Judiciary Committee. Franken asked that he be copied on the DOJ’s response to Cornyn.
Also in January, two House Members not known for bipartisan agreement — House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) — wrote to Holder asking for explanations about the manner in which prosecutors pursued Swartz.
Swartz was under criminal investigation for unauthorized downloading of a huge number of academic articles from a publicly supported online database, JSTOR. JSTOR opposed his prosecution, but the office of Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz went ahead anyway.
Prosecutors reportedly used typical tactics – ratcheting up pressure on their target by threatening to push for years in prison if he went to trial. Instead, Ortiz has said her office was prepared to settle for a six-month prison term if he pleaded guilty.