House lawmakers are criticizing federal prosecutors involved with the Aaron Swartz case, who killed himself in New York City after the U.S. Government refused to give the internet activist a plea deal. Earlier in the week the Justice Department officially dropped the case. Lawmakers blasted prosecutors for pushing aggressive hacking charges against Swartz, and vowed to look into the details of the case.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told The Hill that his Oversight panel will look into whether federal prosecutors acted inappropriately. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) also criticized the Justice Department's handling of the case. All three lawmakers, who fought aggressively against the Stop Online Piracy Act (and who worked with Swartz and his Demand Progress organization to rally internet users against lawmakers that supported it), serve on the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Justice Department.
In 2011 federal prosecutors charged Swartz for allegedly hacking the computer network at MIT and downloading 4.8 million documents from JSTOR, a subscription service for academic articles. If convicted he would have faced up to 35 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million. His trial was scheduled to begin in April. Swartz is known for helping to create the RSS specification, co-founding the Creative Commons, co-founding Reddit, and founding the Internet advocacy group Demand Progress.
"The charges were ridiculous and trumped-up," Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) told The Hill. "It's absurd that he was made a scapegoat. I would hope that this doesn't happen to anyone else."
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said the government's handling of the case was "pretty outrageous."
"Based on what I know, I think the Department of Justice was way out of line on the case," she told The Hill.
In the wake of Swartz's death, some advocates have asked Congress to re-examine the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, because they believe the language of the law is too vague and allows for draconian punishments. Polis is willing to consider changes to the law, and has called on Attorney General Eric Holder to set guidelines that would limit prosecutors in the punishments they can seek.
"Prosecutors shouldn't have the kind of discretion to seek absurd penalties for minor crimes," Polis said.
Lofgren said that she is not sure if the Judiciary Committee will update the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act this year, but she said it is "certainly something I am looking at."
Source: The Hill