The government's perceived right to control information and protect private data networks has become entangled in a tragedy. Aaron Swartz — 26-year-old programming genius and, in a sense, a budding philosopher of the information age — took his own life on Friday.
Swartz co-invented the RSS feed when he was only 14 and went on to help create Reddit. But he was also was accused of illegally downloading research documents from academic service JSTOR, using networks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — an incident that led to a slew of legal troubles.
Had he been found guilty, Swartz would have faced up to 35 years in prison. Family and friends of Swartz say it is the manner of the investigation by the Department of Justice that contributed to his suicide.
MIT announced that the university will investigate its own possible role in Schawartz's death. "It pains me to think that MIT played any role in a series of events that have ended in tragedy," said MIT President Raphael Reif.
Lawrence Lessig, professor of law at Harvard Law School, knew Swartz well.
Lawrence Lessig with Aaron Swartz at the launch party for Creative Commons at O'Reilly's Emerging Technology Conference in 2001. (Rich Gibson/Wikimedia Commons)