Aaron Swartz, an early employee of the link-sharing site reddit, is dead at the age of 26, the Associated Press has confirmed. The 26-year-old programmer and internet activist reportedly hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment weeks before he was to appear in court for illegally downloading millions of scholarly articles.
Charged with data theft from the scientific journal archive JSTOR through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology network, Swartz faced up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine. He pleaded “not guilty” to the charges in court on Sept. 24, 2012.
Swartz’ uncle Michael Wolf confirmed “the tragic and heartbreaking news” of his death to The Tech.
His family and partner wrote in an official statement:
Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.
Swartz’ accomplishments included co-writing the RSS technology of aggregating news headlines, audio, and videos that powered reddit and other sites at the age of 14; and founding the software company infogami, which merged with reddit in January 2006. He was was asked to resign from reddit shortly after the company was acquired by Conde Nast in October of that year. Swartz is also a founder of DemandProgress.org, an activist group that fights against internet censorship.
His family added, “Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable—these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.”