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Hacker, Activist Indicted In Massive Data Theft From MIT Found Dead

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Aaron Swartz. (Photo Credit: Fred Benenson/Wikimedia Commons)

Aaron Swartz. (Photo Credit: Fred Benenson/Wikimedia Commons)

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BOSTON (CBS/AP) – A former fellow at Harvard University’s Center for Ethics, and co-founder of Reddit and activist who fought to make online content free to the public has been found dead.

A spokeswoman for New York’s medical examiner says 26-year-old Aaron Swartz hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment and was found Friday.

In a statement released Saturday, Swartz’s family in Chicago expressed not only grief over his death but also bitterness toward federal prosecutors pursuing the case in Massachusetts against him.

“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death,” they said.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz in Boston couldn’t be reached for comment. She previously has said that “stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars,” The New York Times reported Saturday.

Swartz was a prodigy who as a young teenager helped create RSS. He co-founded the social news website Reddit and directed the political action group Demand Progress that campaigns against Internet censorship.

In 2011, he was arrested in Boston and charged with stealing millions of scientific journals from a computer archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The indictment alleged that Swartz broke into a restricted computer wiring closet in a basement at MIT, accessed MIT’s network without authorization, and stole articles from an archive of digitized academic journals onto his computers and hard drives and intended to distribute them for free on file-sharing web sites.

The network storing the articles, JSTOR, is a not-for-profit archive of scientific journals and academic work.

He was indicted by federal prosecutors on charges of wire fraud, computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer.

Swartz pleaded not guilty. His federal trial was to begin next month. If convicted, he faced up to 35 years in prison.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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