Aaraon Swartz, the brilliant but troubled young activist and programmer has died, in an apparent suicide. While details were still emerging, the Internet this morning was abuzz with news of his tragic passing on January 11. He was just 26 years old.
"There is no way to express the sadness of this day," blogged Lawrence Lessig, said to be one of Swartz's mentors. "There will be many words, eventually, to express its anger. This story will infuriate you. For now, to the co-creator of RSS, of the Creative Commons architecture, of part of Reddit, and of endless love and inspiration and friendships, rest. We are all incredibly sorry to have let you down."
Swartz was reported to have suffered from depression, and other physical ailments. He was also still sorting out legal problems from 2011, in which federal agents charged Swartz with multiple counts, including wire fraud, computer fraud, and unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, for allegedly hacking the Massachussetts Institute of Technology’s network and downloading as many as four million documents from the nonprofit journal aggregator JSTOR. If convicted, Swartz had faced up to 35 years in prison and a fine up to $1 million. According to the indictment, Swartz allegedly broke into a computer wiring closet at MIT to gain access to the JSTOR atchive. Although MIT and JSTOR said they'd resolved “any claims against Aaron, and explained they’d suffered no loss or damage, the government pressed its case.
A former fellow at Harvard University’s Center for Ethics, Swartz was a popular figure in Internet circles, and an outspoken advocate for libraries and free access to information. As a teenager, his company was acquired by social news site Reddit, and he worked there until roughly 2007. He is also the founder of Demand Progress, a non-profit political action group.
"Aaron accomplished some incredible things in his life," wrote PW contributing editor, BoinBoing's Cory Doctorow, in a heartfelt remembrance. "To the world: we have all lost someone today who had more work to do, and who made the world a better place when he did it."