Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on
Oversight and Government Reform, and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)
have asked the Justice Department for a briefing on the reasons for bringing
criminal charges against Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who died of an
apparent suicide Jan. 11.
Swartz had led an Internet effort to block passage of SOPA
and PIPA piracy legislation, which was eventually scuttled in part because of
that opposition. Issa, a former tech exec whose district is in Northern
California, had also actively opposed to the bills.
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, they have asked
what factors went into seeking a raft of felony charges with stiff penalties for
Swartz allegedly using MIT computers to illegally download scientific journals
(a reported 4.8 million documents) from a subscription site.
Among the questions they want answered is whether Swartz's
opposition to SOPA or PIPA played into the decision to charge him with 13
felony counts carrying penalties of up to 50 years in prison and $1 million in
They also want to know what plea offers were made, how the
charges or those offered compared with other prosecutions of computer fraud,
what factors went into sentencing, and why the government modified its original
July 2011 four felony count charges to 13 in September 2012.
They have requested the briefing be no later than Monday,
Demand Progress, the activist group Swartz founded to help
fight SOPA/PIPA, praised the move.
"We commend Representatives Issa and Cummings for
taking the first steps in an investigation into Aaron's prosecution," said
Demand Progress executive director David Segal. "We believe that a
non-partisan inquiry into prosecutors' handling of Aaron's case will air
important facts, demonstrate the over-breadth of the Computer Fraud and Abuse
Act -- under which he was prosecuted, and might even reveal misconduct on the
part of the prosecutors who led the crusade against him."
The Obama Justice Department has taken
steps to crack down on online piracy, with plenty of support from TV and
film studios who are increasingly moving their product online. As commerce,
government services, health monitoring, education and more move online, there
is arguably a growing national interest in ensuring that information is secure,
and in treating online theft as a crime.
Last week, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) a member of the Senate
Judiciary Committee, asked Holder to look into what he says was its overly
aggressive prosecution of Swartz.