NYC memorial set for information activist Swartz

NEW YORK (AP) - Friends and supporters of Aaron Swartz planned to pay tribute Saturday to the free-information activist and online prodigy, who killed himself last week as he faced trial on hacking charges.

A hero to data-access advocates but a thief in the eyes of prosecutors, Swartz was to be remembered at a public memorial late Saturday afternoon. He was found dead Jan. 11 in a suicide that has intensified debate over how authorities should treat hackers whose goal is to expand public knowledge, not make personal profits.

Swartz, 26, hanged himself in his apartment the month before he was to go on trial in Boston. Federal prosecutors accused him of breaking into a computer wiring closet at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010 and tapping into the university’s computer network to get millions of paid-access scholarly articles, which he planned to make available for free.

Whatever he aimed to do with the data, “stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar,” Boston U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said before Swartz‘ death.

But his family, admirers and some legal experts blasted the case as overreaching that drove Swartz to his death. His father, Robert Swartz, has said his son “was killed by the government.”

The digital archive that holds the articles, JSTOR, has said it regretted being drawn into the criminal case and didn’t pursue any claims against Swartz after he returned the data in 2011. Days before his death, the nonprofit JSTOR announced that it planned to make more than 4.5 million articles available for free.

Swartz had pleaded not guilty to some 13 felony charges. They carried the potential for decades in prison and enormous fines, though prosecutors have said they never intended to seek the maximum penalties.

A shaken Ortiz said this week she was “terribly upset about what happened,” appearing near tears at one point as she spoke about the case. But she said her office handled it fairly and appropriately.

Swartz was a young teenager when he helped create RSS, technology for gathering updates from blogs, news sites and elsewhere on the Web. He later co-founded the social news site Reddit and Demand Progress, a group that campaigns against online censorship.

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Follow Jennifer Peltz at http://twitter.com/jennpeltz

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