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Feds: Harvard fellow hacked millions of papers
BOSTON (AP) - A Harvard University fellow who was studying ethics was charged with hacking into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s computer network to steal nearly 5 million academic articles.
Aaron Swartz, 24, of Cambridge, was accused of stealing the documents from JSTOR, a popular research subscription service that offers digitized copies of more than 1,000 academic journals and documents, some dating back to the 17th century.
In an indictment released Tuesday, prosecutors say Swartz stole 4.8 million articles between September 2010 and January after breaking into a computer wiring closet on MIT's campus. Swartz, a student at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, downloaded so many documents during one October day that some of JSTOR’s computer servers crashed, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors say Swartz intended to distribute the articles on file-sharing websites.
Swartz turned himself in Tuesday and was arraigned in U.S. District Court, where he pleaded not guilty to charges including wire fraud, computer fraud and unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer. He was released on $100,000 unsecured bond and faces up to 35 years in prison, if convicted.
“Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars,” U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said in a statement. “It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away.”
A spokeswoman for JSTOR said Tuesday that Swartz had agreed to return all the articles so the company can ensure they aren’t distributed.
“We don’t own any of this content. We really have to responsible stewards of it,” said spokeswoman Heidi McGregor. “We worked hard to find out what was going on. We worked hard to get the data back.”
Swartz is an online activist who founded the website Demand Progress, which says it “works to win progressive policy changes for ordinary people.”
The site describes Swartz as “the author of numerous articles on a variety of topics, especially the corrupting influence of big money on institutions including nonprofits, the media, politics, and public opinion.” It said he and another researcher once downloaded and analyzed more than 440,000 law review articles to determine their funding sources.
Demand Progress’s executive director David Segal said on the website that the charges against Swartz don’t make sense.
“It’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library,” he said.
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