Aaron Swartz to be honored with freedom of information award

A champion of open access rights to documents on the Internet, the 26-year-old activist under prosecution committed suicide earlier this year.

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Aaron Swartz, the co-founder of Reddit. Courtesy of Fred Benenson/Flickr

Aaron Swartz, the Internet activist who committed suicide earlier this year while under federal prosecution, will be posthumously honored for crusading for open access rights to documents on the Internet.

The activist, who hanged himself in January while facing 13 felony charges of document theft, will receive the 2013 James Madison Award on Friday, Rep. Zoe Lofgren announced today. Administered by the American Library Association, the award recognizes "individuals who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public's right to know national information."

Lofgren, a Democratic congresswoman who represents Silicon Valley, will present the award to his family during a ceremony at Newseum's Knight Conference Center in Washington, D.C. Lofgren, who received the award last year for her efforts to ensure public access to government information, has introduced legislation to reform computer fraud laws linked to his death. "Aaron's Law" aims to change the 1984 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and the wire fraud statute to exclude terms of service violations, for which Swatrz was being prosecuted.

Swartz was arrested in July 2011 and accused of stealing 4 million documents from MIT and Jstor, an archive of scientific journals and academic papers. He had faced up to $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 Internet activist. Swartz's family called his death "the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach."

Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder defended the criminal case, saying the penalties sought represented a "good use of prosecutorial discretion." Holder's comments echo those of Carmen Ortiz, the embattled U.S. attorney in Boston, who oversaw the case directly.