Issa, Cummings press Holder for answers about Aaron Swartz trial

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Members of the House of Representatives are joining in with the Senate to press the Justice Department about the intensity with which federal prosecutors pursued a conviction against the late Internet activist Aaron Swartz.

Swartz, Internet pioneer and co-founder of the digital rights group Demand Progress, committed suicide early January after battling with battling the Justice Department for more than a year and a half over allegations he illegally downloaded approximately 4 million scientific documents at MIT’s campus, with the goal of making the information freely and publicly available.

His family and partner blamed MIT and the Justice Department for bullying Swartz to his death. Swartz, who had suffered from a severe bout with depression, was set to face trial in April 2013. (RELATED: University under fire for handling of Swartz downloads)

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Monday, House oversight committee Chairman Darrell Issa and ranking member Elijiah Cummings requested a briefing with Holder, asking him to explain the aggressiveness with which the U.S. Attorney’s office pursued the case.

Swartz faced a maximum penalty of a $1 million fine and 50 years in prison.

The congressman, recognizing that the case is no longer active, also requested Holder make arrangements for the briefing “no later than February 4, 2013.” 

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn sent a similar letter to Holder’s office earlier this month.

Among the questions asked by Issa and Cummings: “Was Mr. Swartz’s opposition to SOPA or his association with any advocacy groups among the factors considered?”

The DOJ had argued that SOPA and PIPA would have granted the agency the legal means to take down foreign websites it believed facilitated copyright infringement.

With the takedown of the file-sharing cyberlocker, MegaUpload, however, the DOJ demonstrated that it already possessed the legal means to take down foreign websites at will with the help of a federal judge.

Viewing the act — along with the arrest of MegaUpload owner Kim Dotcom and several of his international associate — as censorship and infringement upon the freedom of information, Anonymous launched a retaliatory attack against various U.S. government websites.

California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren also introduced “Aaron’s Law” after Swartz’s death to curb the reach of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was one of the laws he was charged with violating.

Read the letter from Issa and Cummings:

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