Issa probes attorney general over Aaron Swartz

The congressman asks whether political motivations influenced government decision to pursue the cyberactivist

Topics: Aaron Swartz, Darrell Issa, elijah cummings, cfaa, cybercrime, Department of Justice, Anonymous, sopa, Eric Holder, ,

Issa probes attorney general over Aaron SwartzAaron Swartz (Credit: Wikipedia)

Days after online activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide, chair of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa, R-Calif., announced that investigators would look into the federal case brought against the young technologist who downloaded millions of JSTOR articles. A heavy charge had been levied on the government by Swartz’s loved ones and supporters: The overreach of federal prosecutors had pushed Swartz to his death.

This week, Issa and top House Oversight Democrat Elijah Cummings, D-Md., sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder posing questions about Swartz’s prosecution. The letter was explicit in asking whether political motivations influenced the decision to pursue felony charges against the open-data activist, while JSTOR — the purported victim of his actions — had no interest in pressing charges.

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The letter asked, among more general questions about reasons behind the decision to prosecute, “Was Mr. Swartz’s opposition to SOPA [Stop Online Piracy Act] or his association with any advocacy groups considered?”

Swartz helped spearhead opposition to the Internet censorship bill SOPA and is partially credited for the act’s failure in the House following mass online protests. Issa too was a leading opponent of the bill and was among the first lawmakers from his party to speak out against it.

Issa told HuffPo that the Justice Department has promised to brief him and Cummings on the Swartz case. “I expect that we’ll be meeting with them next week,” he said. “We expect to have a candid and open discussion with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and then we’ll take it from there, but I promise you we will not leave one stone unturned.”

Meanwhile, California Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s proposal to amend the dangerously broad Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (under which Swartz was prosecuted) is reportedly facing push-back from the Justice Department. To aid in efforts to reform the legislation, Anonymous recently hacked the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s website and has threatened to release as of yet unknown information, believed to relate to Supreme Court justices, if changes to cybercrime laws are not made.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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