After suicide, Congress questions computer crime penalties

Silicon Valley's U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., is pushing a law that would make it tougher for federal prosecutors to threaten computer hackers with long prison terms, in some cases. Read her proposal here.

She's acting following last week's suicide of popular RSS developer and cofounder Aaron Swartz, an advocate of opening government and academic databases, who faced up to 30 years in prison on federal charges he illegally downloaded thousands of academic papers from the JSTOR access-only record system through an MIT account. Lofgren calls her bill "Aaron's Law."

Ars Technica's Philadelphia-based Timothy B. Lee wrote about Swarz' case here and, after Swatrz killed himself, here. The Swartz family, in a statement here, blames the government and MIT in Swartz's death. MIT article here.

But given the long history of U.S. rights struggles and failed prosecutions that provoked epic reforms in the past, the public part of the tragedy is that Swartz didn't last long enough for his day in court and vindication that would have advanced his causes.

Lofgren's solution is to restrict enforcement of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which was also used, for example, by Philadelphia-based federal prosecutors to charge, convict and imprison three young hackers in 2010 after they briefly stopped Comcast's customer email system -- for fun, according to the indictment.

A little more on Lofgren's plan and the reaction to Swartz's death from AllThingsD's Mike Isaac here.