Photo: Flickr via Joi Ito
U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa is blasting prosecutors for what he says was an overzealous prosecution of famed Internet activist Aaron Swartz.After Swartz killed himself in his New York apartment, his family said a too-aggressive criminal hacking prosecution spurred the 26-year-old to take his own life.
Now Issa has joined the bandwagon, saying members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that he chairs suspect U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz was motivated to prosecute Swartz at least in part by ambition, the Boston Herald reported Wednesday.
“We suspect, we know, some of it had to do with ambition. Big prosecutions,” Issa reportedly said at a Washington D.C. memorial for Swartz. “Smart people being brought down. That’s regrettable. Because the best and brightest in our prosecution, U.S. attorneys, should care about disposing of small cases quickly and big cases properly. And this is not a big case.”
The oversight committee has agreed to open an inquiry into the case against Swartz and is looking for answers from the Justice Department about whether the severity of the case against the activist actually fit the crime, The Boston Globe reported Tuesday.
Swartz was facing jail time stemming from criminal hacking charges after he snuck into MIT and downloaded massive amounts of academic papers from the digital library JSTOR.
But his lawyers have said the school’s network was open and since Swartz was “no fraudster,” U.S. attorneys were being unduly harsh with their client.
“We are going to work out restraints on this kind of abuse in the future,” Issa said, according to the Herald. “And that restraint will be intended to ensure that harmless acts are treated appropriately. Even if in fact they remain against the law, they have to be treated as harmless acts.”
Issa isn’t the first lawmaker to attack Ortiz and her team for the way they handled Swartz’s case.
Top Senate Republican John Cornyn has suggested the government treated Swartz so harshly because it was trying to get back at him for making too many Freedom of Information Act requests.
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