Online Activist Aaron Swartz Dead Of Apparent Suicide
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
The 26-year-old Swartz, who according to CNN helped create the RSS specification when he was just 14, had hanged himself at home, a spokeswoman from the New York medical examiner’s office told reporters.
He is often credited as being one of the founding members of the social news website Reddit, which was later sold to publishing giant Conde Nast, and also founded the political action group Demand Progress, which campaigned against online censorship, according to the AP.
“A committed advocate for the freedom of information over the internet, Swartz had been facing a trial over allegations of hacking related to the downloading of millions of documents from the online research group JSTOR,” said Paul Harris and Matt Williams of the Guardian.
He pleaded not guilty to charges of computer fraud, and his trial was set to start in April, according to Reuters reporters Alex Dobuzinskis and P.J. Huffstutter. Had he been convicted, he could have faced “decades” in prison, as well as hefty fines, the AP added.
Two years prior to his arrest, Swartz was reportedly investigated by the FBI in association with the online release of over 18 million pages of US federal court documents. No charges were filed in that case.
On the positive end, Swartz and Demand Progress were among the catalysts leading attempts to block the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in 2011, which they claimed “would have allowed court orders to curb access to certain websites deemed to be engaging in illegal sharing of intellectual property,” Reuters said.
“Swartz and other activists objected on the grounds it would give the government too many broad powers to censor and squelch legitimate Web communication,” Dobuzinskis and Huffstutter added. The bill was eventually withdrawn due to the efforts of advocacy groups like Demand Progress.
His death was confirmed by his attorney, Elliot R. Peters, in an email to the MIT university newspaper The Tech, said BBC News. In that email, Peters simply wrote, “The tragic and heartbreaking information you received is, regrettably, true.”
Upon hearing of his death, Swartz’s friend, author and blogger Cory Doctorow, said that he had “an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill and intelligence about people and issues,” according to Reuters.
CNN also noted that Doctorow wrote Swartz had “problems with depression for many years,” and that “whatever problems Aaron was facing, killing himself didn’t solve them. Whatever problems Aaron was facing, they will go unsolved forever.”