The U.S. Legal System And Its Chief Prosecutor Accused Of Contributing To Aaron Swartz's Death

Did the authorities go in too hard against the Internet activist?

The noise surrounding the death of Aaron Swartz is not abating. Four days after the Internet campaigner's body was found in his Brooklyn apartment, Columbia law school professor and Free Press campaigner Tim Wu wrote a blog post for the New Yorker magazine accusing the U.S. legal system of having failed the young man. He noted that back in the 1970s, future Apple cofounders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak hacked the AT&T phone system to make free calls. Wu noted that had the two been prosecuted in the same way Swartz was, "we might never have had Apple computers." "The great ones," he writes, "almost always operate at the edge."

Swartz's lawyer, Elliot Peters, told the Huffington Post that U.S. prosecutors wanted the 26-year-old's scalp. According to Peters, Stephen Heymann, the assistant U.S. attorney, was threatening Swartz with a longer prison sentence if he didn't accept his plea deal offers. Heymann's philosophy, according to Peters, was that "the closer [you got] to trial, the plea offers only got worse. But the offer he was making was so unreasonable that having it get worse didn't concern me much." Buzzfeed is reporting that Heymann may have contributed to the death of another hacker, Jonathan James, back in 2008. Heymann's boss, Carmen Ortiz, also received criticism from the Daily Beast. On Monday, the Justice Department dropped their charges against Swartz.

Swartz's funeral, due to take place in Chicago later today, could be the scene of a confrontation. Members of hackers group Anonymous have launched Operation Angel, or #OpAngel, to prevent members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who have said they will picket the computer programmer's funeral, from disturbing the service.

[Image by Flickr user dsearls]

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