Swartz, co-author of the initial RSS 1.0 online subscription tool and founder of the online group Demand Progress, was arrested last year for systematically downloading academic journal articles from the digital library JSTOR and breaking into computer networks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was charged with wire fraud and computer fraud and faced up to 35 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.
His family released a statement blaming overzealous prosecutors for his death.
"Aaron's commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the scope and accessibility of human knowledge," the family statement said.
"Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's office and at MIT contributed to his death. The U.S. Attorney's office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims," the statement said.
"Aaron built surprising new things that changed the flow of information around the world," Susan Crawford, a professor at the Cardozo School of Law in New York who served in the Obama administration as a technology adviser, was quoted by The New York Times as saying. She called Swartz "a complicated prodigy" and said "graybeards approached him with awe."