Lawmakers demand answers from DOJ on Swartz’s harsh prosecution

Around the one year anniversary of Aaron Swartz's death, lawmakers have requested that the Department of Justice (DOJ) provide court documents about the computer programmer and activists' “aggressive prosecution.”

Prior to his suicide on Jan. 11, 2013, Swartz faced up to 35 years in prison after being accused of accessing Massachusetts Institute of Technology's network to steal academic papers so they could be distributed for free.

And a year later, lawmakers that questioned the treatment of Swartz, still say they haven't received answers, in the form of court documents, regarding Swartz's case.

On Friday, eight lawmakers – Sens. John Cornyn, R, Texas; Ron Wyden, D, Ore.; Jeff Flake, R, Ariz.; and Reps. Alan Grayson, D, Fla.; Zoe Lofgren, D, Calif.; Darrell Issa, R, Calif., Jared Polis, D, Colo., and James Sensenbrenner, R,Wis. Ndash; wrote a letter (PDF) to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the head of the Justice Department.

According to the letter, the requested sentencing memoranda for Swartz's case has yet to be received by lawmakers, as well as “the basis for the U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz's determination that her office's conduct was ‘appropriate.'”

Around the time of Swartz suicide, a petition was filed to remove Ortiz from office, as she was the prosecutor in Swartz's case.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who also penned her name to the letter, helped lead a call for reform to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), an outdated federal anti-hacking law that has led to aggressive prosecutions of individuals like Swartz.

In 2011, Swartz was charged under a provision of the CFAA when he accessed the network of the MIT to allegedly download more than four million articles from JSTOR, a database of academic journals. He never intended to sell them, only to make them freely available as part of an act of civil disobedience.

“In March, you testified that Mr. Swartz's case was ‘a good use of prosecutorial discretion,” lawmakers wrote in the letter to Attorney General Holder.  “We respectfully disagree. We hope your response to this letter is fulsome, which would help re-build confidence about the willingness of the Department [of Justice] to examine itself where prosecutorial conduct is concerned.”

On Friday, just before the anniversary of Swartz's death, the hacktivist group Anonymous reminded the public of the activist's case and suicide by hacking MIT's website and defacing its Cogeneration Project home page, which appears to still be down as of Monday afternoon EST.

The hacktivists reportedly wrote in bold font on the hacked site, “The day we fight back.”

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