When 26-year-old Aaron Swartz killed himself on Friday it inspired outrage across the internet. Swartz has been hailed as "one of the greatest minds of the internet generation": he invented RSS at age 14 and co-founded Reddit, among other achievements.
At the time of his death, Swartz faced felony charges for data theft and a potential 35-year jail term. He was being prosecuted for hacking MIT's network and downloading 4.8 million articles from the academic journal service JSTOR with the intention of distributing them for free (the articles were behind a paywall).
Friends and family claim the prosecution was a major factor in Swartz's suicide. His death was "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." JSTOR itself had declined to press charges.
Swartz's suicide has caused outrage among internet activists and others who argue that the prosecution was politically motivated and the sentence he faced much too harsh. Liberal site Think Progress points out that Swartz's potential 35-year sentence exceeds the maximum jail time for seemingly more serious crimes: selling child pornography, knowingly spreading AIDS, and helping al-Qaeda develop a nuclear weapon.