Aaron Swartz, famed internet activist and co-author of the RSS 1.0 specifications, committed suicide in New York City on Friday, January 11. The news of his death was confirmed earlier Saturday by his attorney Elliot R. Peters. In an email to MIT's paper The Tech, Peters stated, "the tragic and heartbreaking information you received is, regrettably, true.”
In 2011, Swartz had faced considerable legal trouble after he broke into a restricted area at MIT and downloaded millions of documents from the digital library JSTOR. Charged with wire fraud, computer fraud, obtaining information from a protected computer and criminal forfeiture, Swartz was successfully indicted and could have suffered a $1 million fine and 35 years in prison but was released on a $100,000 unsecured bond.
Jason Segal, executive president of Demand Progress (an anti-censorship movement started by Swartz), was then quoted as saying, "it’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library."
Swartz had last appeared in court on September 24, 2012, where he plead not guilty, although he was still expected to face imprisonment.
The 26 year-old had also come in the limelight in 2009, when he downloaded 19 million pages of federal court documents from a government database system because he felt they should be made available for free. Although he had come under investigation, no charges were filed.
Having previously written about his depression, Swartz was not in the best of mental health so it can assumed that legal troubles might have played a role in deteriorating his psychological condition to the point of suicide.
Other than his accomplishments with the RSS, Swartz was one of the disputed co-founders of Reddit, had completed a fellowship at Harvard's Ethics Center Lab on Institutional Corruption, and was one of the key figures opposing the censorship laws SOPA and PIPA.