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Swartz Remembered In Capitol Hill Tribute

WASHINGTON — On Monday night, family, friends and congressional supporters of the late Internet activist Aaron Swartz called for changes in the law used to prosecute him.

Swartz, a 26-year-old former Harvard University fellow, killed himself last month while facing charges for hacking into a Massachusetts Institute of Technology network.

He was remembered by hundreds of mourners at a tribute here on Monday.

Flowers and enlarged portraits of the young man who devised many ways to share knowledge and information online turned a stately Capitol Hill hearing room into a memorial hall. Many who loved and admired Swartz continue to blame his suicide on overzealous federal prosecutors in Boston.

Bob Swartz said his son was focused on one goal.

“He wanted to make the world a better place,” Bob Swartz said. “For this he was hounded to his death by the government. Aaron was sensitive and fragile, but he was thrown into a system that is cruel and vindictive.”

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz declined comment for this story but has said that the conduct of her office was appropriate in bringing and managing charges that Swartz stole thousands of articles from a protected academic site.

Half a dozen U.S. senators and members of Congress who attended the memorial service disagreed. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden says he backs a bill to be filed soon that would amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the law used to prosecute Swartz.

“He hacked to promote openness and innovation,” Wyden said. “When Aaron hacked, a poorly written criminal law called him a dangerous criminal. Common sense and conscience knows better, and we are going to change this unjust law.”

The U.S. Department of Justice has agreed to provide a briefing on how federal prosecutors handled the Swartz case.

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