Aaron Swartz prosecutor ‘drove another hacker to suicide in 2008′

Source:  Mail Online

  • Jonathan James committed suicide two weeks after Secret Service raided his home in a case led by U.S. attorney Stephen Heymann
  • Internet activist Swartz, 26, committed suicide on January 11 at his Brooklyn home as he faced 30 years in jail
  • Prosecutors turned down Swartz’s lawyer over plea deal on January 9
  • Internet activist faced decades in prison over hacking charges for allegedly downloading more than four million academic journals
  • Hundreds of academics post copyright-protected journals for free in tribute to Swartz
  • Hacker group Anonymous crash MIT website over prosecution of Swartz, described as a ‘grotesque miscarriage of justice’

The prosecutor who is being accused of acting ‘over zealously’ in his pursuit of online pioneer Aaron Swartz, who killed himself at the weekend, played a role in another young hacker’s suicide in 2008, it was claimed today.

Assistant United States Attorney Stephen Heymann had reportedly been insisting on jail time for Swartz and was refusing to negotiate a plea deal on the 30 years in jail he faced for stealing academic papers.

In 2008, another young hacker also committed suicide after being named in a case Heymann was leading.

Jonathan James killed himself aged 24 two weeks after the Secret Service raided his house as part of its investigation into the TJX Hacker case – which is known as the largest identity hack in history.

aaron swartz jonathan jamesaaron swartz jonathan james
Victims: Both Aaron Swartz, left, and Jonathan James killed themselves in the middle of cases led by assistant U.S. attorney Stephen Heymann

His friend Christopher Scott was charged with breaching retail networks, and James was reportedly the co-conspirator ‘J.J.’ mentioned in the indictment.

James said he had nothing to do with the retail hack but believed that the feds would try to pin it on him, according to Buzz Feed.

In his suicide note, James said he had no faith in the justice system, which he believed were trying to tie him to a crime he did not commit.

‘I have no faith in the “justice” system. Perhaps my actions today, and this letter, will send a stronger message to the public.

‘Either way, I have lost control over this situation, and this is my only way to regain control.

‘Remember, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s whether I win or lose, and sitting in jail for 20, ten, or even five years for a crime I didn’t commit is not me winning. I die free.’

James was the first juvenile put into confinement for a federal cyber crime case.

Aaron Swartz was charged last September with wire fraud, computer fraud and unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer after he allegedly tried to steal millions of scholarly papers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in January 2011.

It is thought that the stress and strain of the looming federal trial contributed to the depression which is being blamed for Swartz taking his own life on January 11 at his Brooklyn, New York apartment.

Swartz’s lawyer had originally approached federal prosecutors in fall 2012 about a deal and was turned down even though JSTOR – the online database Swarts hacked into – declined to pursue charges.

His friends have accused Heymann of contributing to Swartz’s suicide, with his unwillingness to compromise on his prosecution.

Scroll down to watch video and full statement from family

Remorse: MIT president L Rafael Reif said he was pained to think that the school had any role in Swartz's tragic deathRemorse: MIT president L Rafael Reif said he was pained to think that the school had any role in Swartz’s tragic death

Defiance: Anonymous publicizes the move by hundreds of academics to post their copyright-protected articles online for free following the suicide of Internet activist Aaron SwartzDefiance: Anonymous publicizes the move by hundreds of academics to post their copyright-protected articles online for free following the suicide of Internet activist Aaron Swartz

‘Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach,’ his family said in a statement.

‘Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death.’

Speaking to Huffington Post yesterday, Swartz’s attorney Elliot Peters accused Massachusetts assistant U.S. attorney Stephen Heymann of pursuing federal charges against Swartz to gain publicity.

He said Heymann was looking for ‘some juicy looking computer crime cases and Aaron’s case, sadly for Aaron, fit the bill. He thought he was going to receive press and he was going to be a tough guy and read his name in the newspaper.’

Peters said Heymann was threatening Swartz with potentially longer prison sentences if Swartz didn’t accept his plea deal offers.

‘He was very intransigent,’ Peters said of Heymann. ‘It was his philosophy that as you got closer 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.’

Heymann did not respond to requests for comment.

A petition has been put up online demanding that Heymann be fired because of his ‘overzealous prosecution of an allegedly minor and non-violent electronic crime led to the suicide of Aaron Swartz’.

Heymann and colleague Carmen Ortiz filed to dismiss the charges against Mr Swartz in a Boston court yesterday.

The three-line notice says the case is being dismissed because of Swartz’s death. Such filings are routine when a defendant dies before trial.

The Massachusetts U.S. attorney’s office told MailOnline that they would not discuss the case out of respect for the family’s privacy. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s president spoke of his sadness over Swartz’s suicide and said there would be ‘thorough analysis’ into the school’s role in the federal case against the 26-year-old computer programmer.

MIT president L. Rafael Reif said: ‘I want to express very clearly that I and all of us at MIT are extremely saddened by the death of this promising young man, who touched the lives of so many.

‘It pains me to think that MIT played any role in a series of events that have ended in tragedy.’

swartzThe statement came as hundreds of academics posted links to copyright-protected journals online in tribute to Internet activist Swartz.

The movement appears to have started on Swartz’s own site Reddit and was echoed by Anonymous on Twitter, who wrote: ‘Please share: Academics posting their papers online in tribute to Aaron Swartz using hashtag #pdftribute #ICYMI.’

The 26-year-old’s funeral is to be held on Tuesday at the Central Avenue Synagogue in his home town of Highland Park, Illinois.

Even officials at JSTOR – an archive of academic journals to which universities, including MIT, pay large amounts of money for access – slammed the harsh tactics of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston.

Prosecutors had released incriminating images which allegedly showed Swartz illegally downloading material from JSTOR in 2011.

Cameras were installed after investigators at MIT began to suspect that someone was illegally downloading material – which they traced to a basement wiring closet where a laptop and external hard drive were found hooked up directly to a network.

The laptop and the hard drive were hidden from view by a cardboard box.

Swartz can be seen entering the closet three days in a row. Using his white bicycle helmet as a mask on January 6, 2011, Swartz attempts to cover his face from the cameras as he tries to retrieve the computer equipment that he left weeks before.

Aaron Swartz covers his face with his bicycle helmet as he enters a small electrical closet at the MIT to retrieve his computer hardware Aaron Swartz covers his face with his bicycle helmet as he enters a small electrical closet at the MIT to retrieve his computer hardware

Aaron Swartz was caught soon afterwards this video was recorded on January 6th 2011 with a laptop and a hard drive that contained secured and lucrative academic journals that had been hackedAaron Swartz was caught soon afterwards this video was recorded on January 6th 2011 with a laptop and a hard drive that contained secured and lucrative academic journals that had been hacked

At 2.11 pm, Swartz was ID’d on a bicycle on Massachusetts Avenue by an MIT police officer, according to his report.

That report states that when he encountered Captain Albert Pierce of the MIT Police Department, Swartz jumped off his bike and ran down Lee Street.

He made it approximately 400 feet before being handcuffed and charged with breaking and entering.

According to an indictment last July, Swartz’s laptop had been using MIT’s network to rapidly download articles from JSTOR.

The indictment describes these events as the final phase of Swartz’s three-month JSTOR downloading operation, bringing his total count of acquired articles to 4.8 million. MIT valued that information at $50,000, according to the Cambridge Police incident report.

Aaron Swartz was found hanging from his belt near his bedroom window, sources in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York said. The death was pronounced as a suicide by the city's medical examinerAaron Swartz was found hanging from his belt near his bedroom window, sources in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York said. The death was pronounced as a suicide by the city’s medical examiner

Swartz’s intention, the indictment claimed, was to upload all of the documents to a peer-to-peer file-sharing site, where anyone could access them for free.

Before his suicide Swartz faced up to 35-years in prison and was out on $100,000 bail.

His legal team still were holding out hope for a crucial hearing which they hoped could still halt proceedings of 13-felony counts against him.

Swartz’s friend Larry Lessig, a Harvard University professor and internet law expert, blamed the federal prosecutor, who he called a ‘bully,’ on his blog and said that Swartz had been ‘driven to the edge’ by the government’s aggressive and disproportionate handling of the case.

 
Intimidated: The family of Aaron Swartz, left, and his partner Taren Stinebricker-Kaufmann, right, blame MIT and federal prosecutors for his deathIntimidated: The family of Aaron Swartz, left, and his partner Taren Stinebricker-Kaufmann, right, blame MIT and federal prosecutors for his death
Intimidated: The family of Aaron Swartz, left, and his partner Taren Stinebricker-Kaufmann, right, blame MIT and federal prosecutors for his death

‘Our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed,’ Lessig wrote.

In the statement, Swartz’ family described him as ‘extraordinary and irreplaceable.’

They said his ‘insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable’ made the world and their lives ‘far brighter.’

The online activist and co-founder of the popular social media site Reddit took his life just weeks before going on trial for the federal hacking charges.

The news of Swartz’s untimely death was confirmed to MIT’s The Tech by both his uncle and his lawyer on Saturday morning.  

Tragic end: Aaron Swartz, a programmer and Internet activist who co-founded a company that would eventually grow into Reddit, committed suicide Friday in New York City

Tragic end: Aaron Swartz, a programmer and Internet activist who co-founded a company that would eventually grow into Reddit, committed suicide Friday in New York City

Swartz’s uncle, Michael Wolf, told the New York Times that the programmer’s body was discovered by his girlfriend at his home in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn at around 9.30am. He left no suicide note.

Swartz was a gifted programmer who helped develop the RSS at the age of 14. He then went on to start a company that would eventually merge with Reddit, as well as Demand Progress, a political action group that campaigns against internet censorship.

In the past, Swartz hinted at a battle with depression, according to Gawker.

In a 2007 speech, the internet advocate described himself as being ‘miserable’ after moving to San Francisco when his company was purchased by the publishing giant Conde Nast.

‘I couldn’t stand San Francisco. I couldn’t stand office life,’ he said at the time. ‘I took a long Christmas vacation. I got sick. I thought of suicide. I ran from the police. And when I got back on Monday morning, I was asked to resign.’

In a blog post from later that year, Swartz went into further detail regarding his bout with depression.

‘Your face falls. Perhaps you cry. You feel worthless. You wonder whether it’s worth going on,’ he wrote.

‘Everything you think about seems bleak – the things you’ve done, the things you hope to do, the people around you.

‘You want to lie in bed and keep the lights off. Depressed mood is like that, only it doesn’t come for any reason and it doesn’t go for any either. Go outside and get some fresh air or cuddle with a loved one and you don’t feel any better, only more upset at being unable to feel the joy that everyone else seems to feel. Everything gets colored by the sadness.’

Big business: Reddit was later sold to the publishing giant Conde Nast, but in 2011 it became operationally independent again

Big business: Reddit was later sold to the publishing giant Conde Nast, but in 2011 it became operationally independent again

In September 2012, Swartz was charged with 13 counts of felony hacking stemming from his July 2011 arrest and subsequent indictment by the Department of Justice for allegedly stealing MIT papers from JSTOR.

Two years earlier, Swartz allegedly connected a laptop to MIT’s systems through a basement network wiring cupboard.

He registered as a guest under the fictitious name, Gary Host – a hacking in-joke in which the first initial and last name spell ‘ghost.’

He then used a software program to ‘rapidly download an extraordinary volume of articles from JSTOR,’ according to the indictment.

In the following months, MIT and JSTOR tried to block the recurring and massive downloads, on occasion denying all MIT users access to JSTOR.

But Swartz allegedly got around it, in part, by disguising the computer source of the demands for data.

In November and December, Swartz is said to have made 2 million downloads from JSTOR, 100 times the number made during the same period by all legitimate JSTOR users at MIT.

Whiz kid: At age 14, Swartz co-authored an early version of RSS and later he started Infogami, a company that would eventually merge with RedditWhiz kid: At age 14, Swartz, right, co-authored an early version of RSS and later he started Infogami, a company that would eventually merge with Reddit

It is alleged that on January 6, Swartz went to the wiring closet to remove the laptop, attempting to shield his identity by holding a bike helmet in front of his face and seeing his way through its ventilation holes.

He fled when MIT police tried to question him that day, it is claimed.

The Internet wunderkind pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, but spent the next several months struggling to come up with the money to cover legal fees and continue his fight against the Justice Department, the site ZDnet reported.

Ironically, Swartz’s suicide came just two days after JSTOR announced that ii will be releasing more than 4.5 million articles to the public.

‘Our goal is for everyone around the world to be able to use the content we have put online and are preserving,’ JSTOR Managing Director Laura Brown said in a statement.

On Saturday, Swartz’s mother has posted a statement on the site YCombinator:

‘Thank you all for your kind words and thoughts. Aaron has been depressed about his case/upcoming trial, but we had no idea what he was going through was this painful.

Legal troubles: In 2011, the Reddit co-founder was arrested and charged with hacking into MIT's JSTOR online journal archive and stealing more than four million academic papers Legal troubles: In 2011, the Reddit co-founder was arrested and charged with hacking into MIT’s JSTOR online journal archive and stealing more than four million academic papers

‘Aaron was a terrific young man. He contributed a lot to the world in his short life and I regret the loss of all the things he had yet to accomplish. As you can imagine, we all miss him dearly. The grief is unfathomable.’

Swartz’s friend Cory Doctorow, of Boing Boing, published a touching tribute in his honor early  a tribute early Saturday morning after learning of his death.

‘I’m so sorry for Aaron, and sorry about Aaron. My sincere condolences to his parents, whom I never met, but who loved their brilliant, magnificently weird son and made sure he always had chaperonage when he went abroad on his adventures,’ he wrote in part.

‘We have all lost someone today who had more work to do, and who made the world a better place when he did it.’

In his piece, Doctorow speculated that it is possible that what drove his friend to suicide is the prospect of incarceration, and all that comes with it.

‘Imprisonment is one of my most visceral terrors, and it’s at least credible that fear of losing his liberty, of being subjected to violence (and perhaps sexual violence) in prison, was what drove Aaron to take this step,’ he wrote. 

swartz1

Swartz passionately defended right to internet freedom 

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2 comments on “Aaron Swartz prosecutor ‘drove another hacker to suicide in 2008′

  1. Pingback: Aaron Swartz Didn’t Have to Die. Presumptive Arrogance, Power and Intransigence Garroted Him | Your Daily Dose of Spice – News From Across The Globe

  2. Pingback: Aaron Swartz Didn’t Have to Die. Presumptive Arrogance, Power and Intransigence Garroted Him | Get All Answers

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