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Aaron Swartz’s colleagues call his death tragic injustice

AarSwartz posing for January 2009 phoMiami Beach. AP Photo/The New York Times Michael Francis McElroy

Aaron Swartz, posing for a January 2009 photo in Miami Beach. AP Photo/The New York Times, Michael Francis McElroy

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ThoughtWorks’ statement

“Aaron was the target of a vindictive government prosecution by the Department of Justice and a disproportionate reaction. The supposed victim, JSTOR (the archive from which Swartz stole the documents), clearly conveyed that it did not support the charges. MIT, however, did not join JSTOR, and so the U.S. Attorney continued the prosecution.

“Aaron’s life was heavily burdened by the prospect of 35 years in prison. While we welcome MIT’s investigation, it is reprehensible that it took Aaron’s death to cause MIT’s President Reif to issue Sunday’s statement.

“MIT could have taken action earlier to remove this unjust pressure on Aaron. What is needed from MIT is an apology to the family and policy changes to guarantee that this injustice never occurs again.

“ThoughtWorks also supports the growing calls for accountability for the prosecutorial abuse, directed by lead prosecutor Stephen Heymann under the supervision of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, that bullied Aaron. We demand an investigation into the Department of Justice’s actions in this case.

“Today, there is a major battle over the fate of the Internet. Will we and future generations have an open, uncensored internet that is a force for democracy – or will the internet be owned and controlled by a few huge companies backed by the heavy hand of governments that serve them?

“In that battle, Aaron was a champion and inspiration to people across the world. Today, he is a tragic casualty. ThoughtWorks stood by Aaron, and will continue to support his vision.”

Updated: January 15, 2013 5:12PM



Colleagues at Chicago-based consultancy ThoughtWorks described computer genius and Highland Park native Aaron Swartz as a thoughtful, kind young man who could explain complex ideas to anyone and who wanted open access to knowledge.

“We loved [Swartz] a lot, and we were privileged to have known him,” said Gary DeGregorio, a vice president of ThoughtWorks, the Chicago-based consultancy where Swartz worked as a lead software developer since April.

“He was one of the most soft-spoken, kindest and yet very technically brilliant intellects we’ve come to know,” said DeGregorio, a resident of Old Town and principal of the firm’s East Coast market.

Swartz, 26, who co-founded popular social media site Reddit and at age 14 helped created RSS, hanged himself in his New York apartment. He faced 35 years in prison on charges he stole 4.8 million scholarly journal articles and documents from subscription-only archive JSTOR. The articles were stored on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer network. He had pleaded not guilty and faced trial in April.

On Sunday, MIT President L. Rafael Reif said the university will start an internal investigation into its role in Swartz’s prosecution.

Hours after his statement, MIT’s website was hacked and some web pages were turned into a memorial to Swartz. MIT, which Swartz’s family and friends blamed for not standing up for him and even egging on the prosecution, confirmed Monday that its home page went down Sunday because of a “denial of service” attack.

The hacking community known as Anonymous claimed responsibility for the attack in a Twitter post. The statement on the hacked pages described Swartz’ prosecution as “a grotesque miscarriage of justice” and called for a reform of computer-crime and copyright laws.

In a postscript, the hackers wrote, “We do not consign blame or responsibility upon MIT for what has happened, but call for all those feel heavy-hearted in their proximity to this awful loss to acknowledge instead the responsibility they have — that we all have — to build and safeguard a future that would make Aaron proud, and honor the ideals and dedication that burnt so brightly within him by embodying them in thought and word and action.”

ThoughtWorks lent its support to calls for an investigation into the prosecutors’ case and decried MIT’s role and supported Swartz’s family and partner’s belief that MIT and the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office “contributed to his death.”

A statement the firm issued Monday said in part: “Today, there is a major battle over the fate of the Internet. Will we and future generations have an open, uncensored Internet that is a force for democracy — or will the Internet be owned and controlled by a few huge companies backed by the heavy hand of governments that serve them?

“In that battle, Aaron was a champion and inspiration to people across the world. Today, he is a tragic casualty. ThoughtWorks stood by Aaron, and will continue to support his vision.”

Swartz had spent the past six months working in the New York office on a project he initiated called VictoryKit — software designed to let people start their own Internet-based movements about issues that concerned them. The code was open-sourced so developers could freely access its capabilities.

Swartz brought his idea to ThoughtWorks because the company is known for its social impact program, which works with major nonprofits such as GetUp!, UNICEF and the Grameen Foun

“His project was to enable individuals to start campaigns, to be heard by their politicians in a way an uneducated person might not be able to do before,” said Tiffany Lentz, a principal and general manager the New York office. “He was able to communicate his idea to folks like myself, a neophyte in the activist space, and that takes great communication skills.”

The project comprised software that let people describe their mission and connect with others online to rally them to the cause.

Lentz and DeGregorio said Swartz didn’t talk much about his prosecution on his lawyer’s advice, but he felt strongly that information should be freely available because information is the equivalent of power in today’s world.

ThoughtWorks will hold a “day of remembrance” for Swartz on Tuesday morning at its office during the time of his funeral.



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