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Former Reddit programmer arrested

Aaron Swartz, an early employee of social news site, Reddit, has been arrested on charges of hacking into MIT's network.


Kevin Morris


Posted on Jul 19, 2011   Updated on Jun 3, 2021, 3:56 am CDT

Former Reddit employee Aaron Swartz was indicted in Boston earlier today on charges he hacked into MIT’s computer network and stole more than 4 million academic documents with the intent to distribute them for free online.

If convicted, Swartz, 24, could face up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

The indictment, filed by the office Cameron Ortiz, the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, alleges that between September 2010 and January 2011 Swartz broke into a restricted computer wiring closet at MIT. He used this to hack into the school’s computer network and download the files from JSTOR, a nonprofit archive of academic journals.

The indictment charges Swartz with computer fraud, wire fraud, obtaining information from a protected computer, and criminal forfeiture

Swartz joined Reddit in 2005 after his company, Infogami, was acquired by the social news site. As part of the merger, Swartz was given the title of “cofounder.” Reddit has since distanced itself from Swartz—understandably, given the controversy he’s consistently courted. According to Reddit general manager Erik Martin, Swartz “was fired from Reddit five years ago” and “we don’t consider him a cofounder.”

Since leaving in 2007, he went on to found Demand Progress, a left leaning political action group.

At the time of the alleged crimes, Swartz was working as fellow at Harvard University’s Center for Ethics.

“This makes no sense,” Demand Progress executive director David Segal said in a statement. “It’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”

JSTOR is a not-for-profit archive of academic and scientific journals. The organization shares a portion of its licensing fees with the over 1,000 academic publications that use its service. According to Segal, JSTOR had settled the matter with Swartz and asked the government not to prosecute.

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*First Published: Jul 19, 2011, 3:45 pm CDT