reddit arrested, co-founder

Reddit Co-founder Aaron Swartz could face up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted on charges filed by the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney alleging that the 24-year-old programmer stole over four million documents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and JSTOR, the popular article archiving site. The New York Times reports:

“Demand Progress said on its site that it appeared Mr. Swartz was ‘being charged with allegedly downloading too many scholarly journal articles from the Web.’ It quoted the group’s executive director, David Segal, as saying, ‘It’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.’

The charges filed against Mr. Swartz include wire fraud, computer fraud, obtaining information from a protected computer and criminal forfeiture.

‘Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars,’ said Ms.Ortiz (Massachusetts U.S. Attorney) in the press release.”

The press release elaborated that Mr. Swartz broke into a restricted area of M.I.T. and entered a computer wiring closet where he apparently accessed the M.I.T. computer network and took millions of documents from JSTOR. JSTOR is a subscription-based not–for–profit service that provides scholars, researchers, and students, use of a wide range of content from thousands of academic journals and scholarly publications.

Upon early news of the arrest, some in the tech community have come to Swartz’s defense.Wired.com‘s Ryan Singel seemed puzzled, and claims the government is charging a well-known coder for violating federal hacking laws for downloading articles from a subscription database service that M.I.T. had given him access to.

“The feds clearly think they have a substantial hacking case on their hands, even though Swartz used guest accounts to access the network and is not accused of finding a security hole to slip through or using stolen credentials, as hacking is typically defined.

In essence, Swartz is accused of felony hacking for violating MIT and JSTOR’s terms of service. That legal theory has had mixed success — a federal court judge dismissed that argument in the Lori Drew cyber-bullying case, but it was later re-used with more success in a case brought against ticket scalpers who used automated means to buy tickets faster from Ticketmaster’s computer system.”

Swartz is a online political activist who created a site called Infogami that later merged with the social news site Reddit, owned by parent company Conde Nast who also owns Wired. He has had writings published on a variety of topics, especially “the corrupting influence of big money on institutions including nonprofits, the media, politics, and public opinion.” Swartz founded and directs the nonprofit group Demand Progress, which calls itself a political action group hoping to change public policy that relates to the Internet.

In 2008 Swartz was investigated for “exfiltrating” public records when he installed a small PERL script in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals library in Chicago, but the case was dropped by the FBI.