House panel demands answers regarding Swartz prosecution

Letter to Attorney General Eric Holder says committee has "many questions" about the Justice Department's handling of the prosecution of the Internet activist, who committed suicide earlier this month.

Aaron Swartz Fred Benson/Creative Commons: Flickr

Saying they had "many questions" about the prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide earlier this month, two key members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have requested a briefing with the Justice Department.

Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent a letter today to Attorney General Eric Holder that outlines seven questions the lawmakers have for prosecutors concerning the prosecution of Swartz.

"Many questions have been raised about the appropriate level of punishment sought by prosecutors for Mr. Swartz's alleged offenses, and how the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, cited in 11 of 13 counts against Mr. Swartz, should apply under similar circumstances," the pair say in the letter, which requests a briefing no later than February 4.

Swartz, who championed open access rights to documents on the Internet, hanged himself on January 11 , two years to the day after he was arrested on charges of stealing 4 million documents from MIT and Jstor, an archive of scientific journals and academic papers.

He had faced $4 million in fines and more than 50 years in prison if convicted. Critics of the prosecutors in the case accused the feds of unfairly trying to make an example out of the 26-year-old Swartz.

The lawmakers' letter asks how the office decided to prosecute Swartz and whether the activist's opposition to SOPA had any bearing. The letter also asks whether the Justice Department uncovered any evidence that Swartz was involved in any other hackings and what specific plea deals were offered by the department.

CNET has contacted the Justice Department for comment and will update this report when we hear back.

Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, who was overseeing prosecution of Swartz, has defended her office's handling of the case .

"The career prosecutors handling this matter took on the difficult task of enforcing a law they had taken an oath to uphold, and did so reasonably," Ortiz said in a statement earlier this month.

The computer fraud laws referenced by Reps. Issa and Cummings have been targeted for reform by a Democratic congresswoman from Silicon Valley. Rep. Zoe Lofgren announced earlier this month that she had authored a bill called "Aaron's Law" that aims to change the 1984 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the wire fraud statute to exclude terms of service violations.

Letter to DOJ on Aaron Swartz

 

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