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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Aaron Swartz, Online Activist Tied to Reddit, Indicted for Hacking

Posted By on Tue, Jul 19, 2011 at 3:40 PM

Aaron Swartz
  • Aaron Swartz

An Internet activist involved in the early days of the popular San Francisco-based news-sharing site Reddit has been indicted in Massachusetts on charges that that he stole millions of files by hacking into an academic database at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Aaron Swartz, 24, is alleged to have stolen more than 4 million documents from JSTOR, an electronic archive of scientific and scholarly articles. The charges against him include wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer. If convicted, he could face up to 35 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.

"Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data, or dollars. It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away," Carmen Ortiz, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said in a statement.

Federal prosecutors allege that Swartz illegally downloaded academic documents for the purpose of distributing them online by breaking into a computer-wiring closet in a basement at MIT. (According to the indictment, Swartz was actually a fellow at Harvard's Center for Ethics at the time.)

Swartz is the founder of Demand Progress, a leftist website. The site describes him as a founder of Reddit, though that is apparently being disputed by Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, who claims he and Steve Huffman acquired Swartz's startup, Infogami, six months after Reddit launched in 2005.

In a statement released online, Demand Progress denounced the charges.

"This makes no sense," David Segal, the group's executive editor, said in the statement. "It's like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library."

Swartz was arraigned in federal court this morning in Boston and released on a $100,000 bond.

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