US court filing reveals impact Swartz’s suicide had on prosecution
Members of the legal team responsible for prosecution of Aaron Swartz have claimed they received threatening letters, emails and some had their social network accounts hacked following the death of the Internet freedom activist.
The US Department of Justice filing claimed the lives of US attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz, assistant attorney Stephen Heymann and others were made miserable after hackers identified them and posted their personal details online, the practice sometimes known as “doxing”.
Swartz, co-creator of the RSS feed format and co-founder of the Reddit social news platform, took his own life in January, aged just 26. He was facing trial for alleged copyright infringement and many of his supporters blamed the US justice system for pushing him to suicide.
Mob justice for Swartz?
In 2011, Swartz was arrested by federal authorities, who accused him of downloading excessive amounts of material from the academic article resource JSTOR, in protest at the restrictions it placed on access to valuable research. JSTOR settled its dispute with Swartz later that year, but the Department of Justice continued to pursue the case.
However, Ortiz had later denied her office was in any way responsible for Swartz’s death, since the prosecution recommended a six-month sentence in a minimal security prison, instead of 35 years suggested by the US law, and the judge could have reduced this term even further.
Not everyone has accepted this explanation. Following Swartz’s death, hackers attacked JSTOR, MIT, the US Federal Reserve, the Sentencing Council and the DoJ website. A petition to remove Oritz from the office quickly gained the 25,000 signatures needed to demand an official response from the White House.
According to Wired, Ortiz and lead prosecutor Stephen Heymann have become the target of “harassing and threatening messages” and their personal information, including home address, personal telephone number, and the names of family members and friends, was posted online. Heymann also received a postcard with a picture of his father’s head in a guillotine.
“In my capacity as First Assistant, I have been shown various harassing and threatening messages directed at AUSA Heymann,” Jack Pirozzolo, First Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, wrote in the filing. “One such email I have seen states, among other things:
‘ROFLMAO just saw you were totally dox’d over the weekend by Anonymous. How does it feel to become an enemy of the state? FYI, you might want to move out of the country and change your name . . .’”
Following Swartz’s death, member of the House of Representatives Zoe Lofgren has proposed the ‘Aaron’s Law’ bill, to exclude Terms of Service violations from the 1984 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the wire fraud statute.
How well do you know Anonymous? Take our quiz!