Demand Progress rallies for reforms in the wake of Swartz's death

ADVERTISEMENT
Swartz faced federal hacking charges for allegedly stealing academic articles from a computer archive at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The 26-year-old programmer killed himself last week.

The group is pushing for Congress to update the decades-old Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which is one of the laws used to indict Swartz. The anti-hacking law is written so broadly that it makes violations of a website's terms-of-service agreement "a felony, potentially punishable by many years in prison," the letter says.

To that end, Demand Progress asks its supporters to back a draft bill introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), called "Aaron's Law," that would amend the CFAA so it excludes terms-of-service violations. Still, the group says the law needs to be amended further to "make sure that victimless computer activities are not charged as felonies."

"This is a solid start that we can pass now and it's a law [Swartz] wanted to change," the letter says. "Then we'll keep pushing forward."
 
The Justice Department has come under fire from Swartz's friends and family since his death. Swartz faced a maximum penalty of up to 35 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million for the charges against him.

His family blamed the prosecutors' aggressive penalties for contributing to his death.

Demand Progress said House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) agreed to examine the prosecutors' handling of the case and is sending an investigator to the U.S. attorney's office in Boston. The group wants the inquiry to be expanded so it looks into other cases that are similar to Swartz's.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz spoke out for the first time since Swartz's death and defended her office's prosecution of the young programmer on Wednesday.

"The career prosecutors handling this matter took on the difficult task of enforcing a law they had taken an oath to uphold, and did so reasonably," she said in a statement.