4:36 pm
Wed January 16, 2013

Friend: 'Swartz Wasn't Willing To Be Labeled a Felon'

Since cyberactivist Aaron Swartz took his own life on January 11, the Internet itself seems to be in a state of networked grief.

This Dec. 8, 2012 photo provided by ThoughtWorks shows AaronSwartz, in New York. Swartz, a co-founder of Reddit, hanged himself Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, in New York City. In 2011, he was charged with stealing millions of scientific journals from a computer
Aaron Swartz
Credit (AP Photo/ThoughtWorks, Pernille Ironside)

On Tuesday, mourners gathered for Swartz's funeral outside of Chicago, where the 26-year-old programming prodigy was remembered as an idealist who was one of the most brilliant contributors to technology in the last 25 years.

Swartz, who worked with MIT and Harvard researchers on developing online ethics, had been indicted on federal charges that included wire and computer fraud.

Brookline-based social justice lawyer Bettina Neuefeind, who attended Swartz's funeral and raised money for his legal defense team, told Boston Public Radio that Swartz set out to make a systemic change in freedom of information.

"He really regarded his role in life as being about humanity, so when he realized what was happening with threats to Net neutrality and freedom of information, he set about making systemic change."

As his court date neared, she said she urged Swartz to be more active in his defense. Neuefeind, and others including Swartz's family, political activist Lawrence Lessig, and Internet sociologist Danah Boyd, said they believe prosecutors set out to make an example of Swartz in the wake of WikiLeaks.

"What breaks my heart about the situation was that Aaron was not willing to be labeled a felon because he felt that he had not done anything wrong," Neuefeind said. "The idea that he should live for the rest of his life as labeled as a felon and having people believe that he was a criminal when what he stood for was justice was impossible for him to accept."

Listen to Bettina Neuefeind's full interview here: