House panel wants answers over Swartz prosecution

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Two members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are attempting to call the Justice Department to account over the treatment of internet activist Aaron Swartz.

Swartz committed suicide earlier this month - two years to the day after he was arrested over the 'theft' of four million academic documents. He'd been told he faced over fifty years in prison, and $4 million in fines.

The behavior of federal prosecutors in the case has already come in for severe criticism. And, now, they're likely to have to explain their actions, following a letter to  Attorney General Eric Holder from Darrell Issa and Elijah Cummings - the top Republican and Democrat, respectively, on the committee.

Their letter asks for an explanation of why the decision was made to prosecute Swartz in the first place.

"What factors influenced the decision to prosecute Mr Swartz for the crimes alleged in the indictment, including the decisions regarding what crimes to charge and the filing of the superseding indictment?" it reads.

"Was Mr Swartz's opposition to SOPA or his association with any advocacy croups among the factors considered?"

The two also want to know how the charges, penalties and plea offers in the case compare with others brught in the past under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

There's particular concern about the number of felony counts with which Swartz was charged. While this was just four counts to start with, the number was later increased to thirteen.

This, say the committee members, was done by turning the date of each action taken by Swartz into a separate felony charge, massively increasing the potential penalty.

The two are asking for a briefing to answer their questions by February 4.