The recent suicidal death of internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz, 26, was "the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach," according to Swartz's family. The young computer genius felt that the legal system had not yet caught up to technology and was interested in freeing up information that was often difficult to reach or fee-based.

The ultimate problem was that prosecutors did not see the downloading and publishing of court documents and journal articles for free as innocent behavior. Prosecutors mounted a case against the young man using the same criminal justice laws that they would use to prosecute digital bank robbers and digital malicious crimes.

The problem as many see it though is that the law has trouble distinguishing between online hackers with malicious intent and those intending to free up information without trying to deprive others of money or trade-secrets. Swartz once hacked into the digital journal JSTOR, hosted by MIT, with the intent to make available educational research that is supposedly written for the public accessible to the public.

Once found out, JSTOR later decided not to press charges and ultimately said that while Swartz' methods were not necessarily appreciated, the way in which he accessed the journal was not actually illegal. Since MIT is an open campus with an open computer network, he did not gain unauthorized access to the research.

At issue with the ultimate prosecution for Swartz' many run-ins associated with his making information freely and readily available, was what the prosecution was asking in return for a guilty plea bargain. They wanted him to plead guilty for 13 charges and possibly jail time. In the end, the potential sentence proved too much for the young man and he took matters into his own hands.

The tragedy is that other former prosecutors viewed the plea agreement as too harsh and had there perhaps been a bit more flexibility and openness to coming to an understanding between all parties as to each other's interests and reasoning for such actions, one life may have been spared at the expense of free information.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are accused of a crime and wish to protect your rights and interests, please contact a criminal defense attorney right away. They will be able to assist you in navigating the complex criminal defense system and further explain the legal options at your disposal.

Source:, "Swartz' death fuels debate over computer crime," Lauren Molenburg, Jan. 14, 2013

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