The president of Massachusetts institute of technology (MIT) has asked for an internal investigation into its prosecution of Aaron Swartz who committed suicide aged 26 just one month before he was due to face charges of illegally downloading academic papers using MIT’s networks.
Mr Swartz, described by family as having a “profound commitment to social justice,” started computer programming from an early age, co-authoring an early version of the RSS specification aged 14.
He later went on to be an early developer of news sharing website Reddit before leaving his job to become an advocate of internet freedom as the founder of Demand Progress; a campaign launched against the American Internet Censorship Bills SOPA and PIPA.
The charges, which saw him facing over $1million in fines and up to 35 years in prison, relate to the illegal downloading of millions of academic research documents using MIT’s networks. Swartz pleaded not guilty to the charges at an initial hearing last year.
Swartz’s family has issued a statement accusing the actions of MIT and the Massachusetts US Attorney’s office as contributing factors to his death.
“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and the prosecutorial overreach,” they said.
In a statement released to staff at MIT, president L Rafael Reif, said: “It pains me to think that MIT played any role in a series of events that have ended in tragedy. Now is a time for everyone involved to reflect on their actions, and that includes all of us at MIT.”
Academics have taken to Twitter to release their research for free in a tribute to Mr Swartz, using the hashtag #PDFTribute.