Aaron Swartz, the 24-year-old co-founder of reddit.com and founder of the non-profit group Demand Progress, has been indicted in federal court for allegedly hacking into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer network to access and distribute millions of academic articles.
According to prosecutors, Swartz illegally entered a wiring closet in an MIT basement to activate a computer switch giving him access to JSTOR, a database of academic journals that makes material available through subscription. Swartz allegedly distributed more than 4 million JSTOR documents via file-sharing sites.
Swartz's Demand Progress organization is devoted to the free dissemination of information. It denounced Swartz's indictment and posted a message of support on its website from James Jacobs, the Stanford University Government Documents Librarian. Jacobs said, "Aaron's prosecution undermines academic inquiry and democratic principles."
In a statement to the press, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said Swartz stole information.
"Stealing is stealing," Ortiz said, "whether you use a computer command or a crowbar."
If convicted, Swartz could see jail time of up to 35 years and a fine of $1 million.
Demand Progress says MIT has asked the government not to prosecute Swartz. MIT is famous for elaborate "hacks" in which students execute challenging practical jokes, such as placing subway cars atop buildings.