In what's become a disturbing refrain of late, the crazy conspiracy theories of Internet activists have turned out to be right. The case against Aaron Swartz was more political persecution than criminal prosecution.
If you'll remember, Swartz was the activist who wanted to liberate scholarly journals. He took advantage of the policies at JSTOR (which stores journals) that allowed anybody from the MIT network unlimited access to the journals. Swartz simply hooked up to the free MIT campus WiFi (and later, Ethernet) and started downloading them. This explanation glosses over important details, of course, but these are the essentials of the case.
Neither JSTOR nor MIT wanted to prosecute Swartz, but the DoJ pursued the case none-the-less, charging him with numerous wire fraud and hacking crimes with a total punishment of 35 years. In response, Swartz committed suicide. (Again, this glosses over the detail that Swartz suffered from depression).
What has become clear from the FOIAed documents, congressional probe. and MIT's internal report is that that this prosecution was politically motivated. Had Swartz been unknown to the DoJ, they would likely have dropped the case. Instead, they continued the prosecution due to an interest in him dating back to 2008, when he wrote a manifesto declaring open access a human right.
Worse, once Internet activists started campaigning on Swartz's behalf, the DoJ increased the charges in order to make an example of him, as documented in this article on PJ Media.
I hate that Internet activists were right all along. Activists willfully ignore important details, making Swartz into the saint that he was not. But, as it turns out, in all important aspects, the activists were right: Swartz was politically persecuted, not prosecuted.
Our government seems increasingly less legitimate every day. We jail 1% of our population, 10 times more than other "free" countries, like Europe and Japan. Our books are full of vague laws, like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) that can be exploited in an arbitrary manner to prosecute people. It's not that such prosecutions target those who favor one political party or the other, but anybody who challenges the status quo. Those who are the targets of such discriminatory prosecution are those like Aaron Swartz, who becomes famous for speaking out. We need to change this.
Update: Skip to page 68 in the MIT report. That's where MIT tells the prosecutors they don't want jail time for Swartz, and the prosecutors respond by saying they are prosecuting Swartz as a deterrence of others. Later, it shows that after activists publicized the Swartz prosecution, the prosecutors felt they had to increase their efforts. This is a violation of the principle of the "rule of law", where everyone is treated the same, famous or obscure, rich or poor, powerful or weak.