IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

US attorney dismisses Internet case against Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz in 2008.
Aaron Swartz in 2008.Reuters file

The U.S. Attorney's office has quietly dismissed charges against Internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz, who reportedly took his own life Friday.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz told that paperwork was filed Monday dropping the charges, and that Ortiz does not want to discuss the case, being dismissed because of Swartz's death.

"We want to respect the family's privacy at this time," DOJ spokesperson Christina DiIorio-Sterling told NBC News via phone. "His death was a tragedy and we don't think it's appropriate to be commenting on  this case at this time."

Swartz, 26, who helped create RSS when he was a teen, and was a passionate advocate for making as much information as possible public on the Web, was indicted in 2011 by the federal government on charges of wire fraud and computer fraud. In an attempt to provide free access to JSTOR, a subscription service for science and literacy journals on MIT's network, he downloaded nearly the entire library of 4.8 million articles and documents to make it publicly available, according to The New York Times.

"Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach," Swartz's family and partner said in a statement over the weekend.

Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's office and at MIT contributed to his death. The U.S. Attorney's office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community's most cherished principles.

MIT said Sunday it is launching its own "analysis" of what happened in the case. "I want to express very clearly that I and all of us at MIT are extremely saddened by the death of this promising young man who touched the lives of so many," said MIT President L. Rafael Reif in an email to those in the MIT community. "It pains me to think that MIT played any role in a series of events that have ended in tragedy."

Meanwhile, a petition has been filed with the White House seeking to remove Ortiz from office "for overreach" in the Swartz case. While it is "too late to do anything for Aaron Swartz," the petition says, the prosecutor who "used the powers granted to them by their office to hound him into a position where he was facing a ruinous trial, life in prison and the ignominy and shame of being a convicted felon" for "an alleged crime that the supposed victims did not wish to prosecute" should be ousted.

An Obama administration initiative called "We the People" says that staffers will respond and consider taking action on any issue that receives at least 25,000 online signatures within 30 days.

Helen A.S. Popkin of NBC News contributed to this report.

This story was updated at 3:30 p.m. ET