Aaron Swartz Indicted, Charged With Data Theft

Nick Bilton, writing for the NYT Bits blog:

Aaron Swartz, a 24-year-old programmer and online political activist, was indicted Tuesday in Boston on charges that he stole over four million documents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and JSTOR, an archive of scientific journals and academic papers.

The charges were filed by the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Carmen M. Ortiz, and could result in up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

In a press release, Ms. Ortiz’s office said that Mr. Swartz broke into a restricted area of M.I.T. and entered a computer wiring closet. Mr. Swartz apparently then accessed the M.I.T. computer network and stole millions of documents from JSTOR.

Demand Progress, the political activism group Swartz founded, has a response:

“This makes no sense,” said Demand Progress Executive Director David Segal; “it’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”

“It’s even more strange because the alleged victim has settled any claims against Aaron, explained they’ve suffered no loss or damage, and asked the government not to prosecute,” Segal added.

They don’t address the charge that Swartz “broke into a restricted area of M.I.T. and entered a computer wiring closet”, but the fact that MIT/JSTOR apparently asked the government not to prosecute seems compelling.

Update: Via Jason Levine, here’s a copy of the indictment. The damning bit:

On January 4, 2011, Aaron Swartz was observed entering the restricted basement network wiring closet to replace an external hard drive attached to his computer. On January 6, 2011, Swartz returned to the wiring closet to remove his computer equipment. This time he attempted to evade identification at the entrance to the restricted area. As Swartz entered the wiring closet, he held his bicycle helmet like a mask to shield his face, looking through ventilation holes in the helmet. Swartz then removed his computer equipment from the closet, put it in his backpack, and left, again masking his face with the bicycle helmet before peering through a crack in the double doors and cautiously stepping out.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

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