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Open-Access Activist Faces Additional Felony Charges for Rogue Downloads

A well-known computer programmer and activist who allegedly downloaded millions of files from JSTOR, a nonprofit journal archive, now faces nine additional felony charges from federal prosecutors in an indictment issued last week.

The new charges are the latest in the unusual saga of the programmer, Aaron Swartz, who was first charged in July 2011 on four felony counts for allegedly abusing computer networks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and disrupting JSTOR’s servers. Mr. Swartz was arrested on January 6 after allegedly tapping into MIT’s network to download more than 4.8 million academic articles and files from JSTOR. The new charges came in the form of a “superseding indictment” that built on the earlier charges.

Mr. Swartz’s defense lawyer, Martin G. Weinberg, said his client planned to plead not guilty to the new charges, which include several counts of computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, and recklessly damaging a protected computer. The new indictment breaks out specific dates of alleged violations as separate charges rather than grouping them under fewer counts. The trial date has been set for February.

“Mr. Swartz intends to raise both legal and factual defenses all consistent with our pivotal assertion that he is not guilty of each of these charges,” Mr. Weinberg said in an e-mail interview.

Prosecutors could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

According to the original indictment, Mr. Swartz was working as a research fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, but used MIT’s network from September 2010 to January 2011 in order to download vast amounts of JSTOR material that exceeded the organization’s terms of service.

Mr. Swartz worked around JSTOR’s efforts to block his laptop’s access and brought down some of JSTOR’s servers in October 2010 with the volume of his downloading, the original indictment states. He then plugged his laptop into a basement wiring closet at MIT and kept harvesting JSTOR material via external hard drives in November. A Webcam allegedly caught him visiting the closet while shielding his face with a bicycle helmet in January 2011.

Mr. Swartz has been known for downloading large data sets in the past—in 2008, the FBI documented that he downloaded data from the federal courts’ PACER system.

Some members of the programming community expressed dismay on Twitter at the additional charges. “The persecution of @aaronsw is a travesty,” tweeted Andrew McLaughlin, an entrepreneur in residence at betaworks and former vice president of the blogging platform Tumblr. “And the US Atty’s misuse of our computer crime laws is a disgrace.”

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