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Prominent Web activist arrested over data theft

Aaron Swartz is accused of stealing documents from MIT and Jstor, and among the charges against him are wire fraud and computer fraud.

Aerial view of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Web activist Aaron Swartz was arrested in Boston today, accused of stealing 4 million documents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Jstor, an archive of scientific journals and academic papers, The New York Times is reporting.

It isn't clear why Swartz was allegedly after obtaining the documents, but according to a copy of the indictment, the charges against Swartz by the U.S. Attorney include wire fraud, computer fraud, obtaining information from a protected computer, and criminal forfeiture. If convicted, Swartz faces up to 35 years in prison and three years of supervised release, according to a Boston Herald report.

Software developer Dave Winer has posted a copy of the indictment against Swartz on Scribd.

Swartz, 24, sold a company he founded called Infogami to social-news site Reddit. He also founded the nonprofit group Demand Progress, which has a stated mission of changing public policy that the group believes negatively impacts the Internet. According to Demand Progress' Web site, one of the issues it opposes is the Protect IP Act.

Protect IP, a bill that Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judicial Committee, introduced this year, is designed to speed up the process of blocking access to suspected pirate sites in the United States and elsewhere.

The government claims that Swartz broke into a computer wiring closet at MIT between September 2010 and January of this year. He allegedly used that illegal access to tap into a wire, hack into MIT's network, and then access Jstor's library.

"The downloaded content included more than 4 million articles, book reviews, and other content from our publisher partners' academic journals and other publications; it did not include any personally identifying information about Jstor users," Jstor said in a statement.

According to a story on Boing Boing from 2009, the FBI previously investigated Swartz for participating in a project to take publicly owned U.S. court records from the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) database.

Update, 1:44 p.m. PT: Reddit has denied that Swartz was a founder. According to Alexis Ohanian, he and Steve Huffman founded Reddit. They acquired Swartz's company, infogami, six months after launching Reddit.