We do need more protection from federal government overreach. But Swartz is a lousy poster boy, because physically breaking into a network and committing massive copyright violation really is a criminal offense in many places, and it was reasonable to charge him.
Whether or not he should be prosecuted is one thing, but for (presumably) one count of Breaking & Entering, and multiple counts of Copyright Violation, the circus that grew up around Swartz before the state dropped those original charges was disproportionate.
As for the punishment, Massachusetts State Law on the subject of Breaking & Entering with intent to commit a felony (what he was originally charged with) has this to say:
"Section 16. Whoever, in the night time, breaks and enters a building, ship, vessel or vehicle, with intent to commit a felony, or who attempts to or does break, burn, blow up or otherwise injures or destroys a safe, vault or other depository of money, bonds or other valuables in any building, vehicle or place, with intent to commit a larceny or felony, whether he succeeds or fails in the perpetration of such larceny or felony, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than twenty years or in a jail or house of correction for not more than two and one-half years."
That in itself raises questions - Swartz's intention was to commit Copyright Violation, which in itself is only a felony under certain circumstances - Copyright infringement is a felony only if the infringement involved reproduction or distribution of at least 10 copies of copyrighted works worth more than $2,500 in a 180-day period, or involved distribution of a "work being prepared for commercial distribution" over a publicly-accessible computer network. As we are talking about much more than 10 articles, where access to the articles is free under restricted circumstances, which were downloaded over a period of a few weeks, a felony charge is not beyond the bounds of possibility with a penalty of 20 years in State Prison, or a Correction Facility for 2.5 years. However, that charge was dropped in early 2012.
Carmen Ortiz et al then opened a case based on Wire Fraud, Computer Fraud, unlawfully obtaining information, and reckless damage. Effectively, this was to be a prosecution under 18 USC 1343 - Fraud by wire, radio, or television, and 18 U.S.C. 1030 - Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Both of those pieces of legislation are so vaguely worded that their use as legislative statues cannot easily be established by reading the Acts themselves, so a body of case law needs to be built up to establish the actual meaning of the wording of the Acts. In the case of 18 USC 1343, the law has been on the books since the 1950's, so there is a substantial (but not entirely consistent) body of case law to define its scope. In the case of CFAA, the body of case law is still being formed so the result is probably a crapshoot, with the prosecutors hoping to use Swartz's violation of the JSTOR ToS as grounds for prosecution... which brings me to the question of the day - when was the last time anyone (apart from me) read through the ToS for a web site or the EULA for a piece of software to see what it did or did not allow, and whether your intended use would violate those ToS, thus making you potentially liable for prosecution under the CFAA?
Sorry for raising what might be a Straw Man, but I tend to assume that if you give someone in power a weapon, they will at some point find a way to use it in a way that is more in their own interest than the peoples' interest. Call me a cynic...