Anonymous hacktivists angry over the prosecution and suicide of a prominent computer programmer and free-speech activist attacked the websites of the Department of Justice and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology yesterday (Jan. 13).
Aaron Swartz, 26, hanged himself Friday (Jan. 11) in his Brooklyn apartment. In April, Swartz would have begun trial in Boston over allegations that he had broken into MIT's network to download more than 4 million articles from JSTOR, an online repository of archived scientific and academic journals. Prosecutors dropped the charges today (Jan. 14).
"Whether or not the government contributed to his suicide, the government's prosecution of Swartz was a grotesque miscarriage of justice, a distorted and perverse shadow of the justice that Aaron died fighting for," said an Anonymous statement posted on the MIT website yesterday and reproduced elsewhere.
JSTOR subscriptions can cost academic institutions tens of thousands of dollars per year. Swartz, who was 14 when he helped to develop the protocols for RSS readers, and later helped develop Reddit, had long argued that information in the public domain ought to be freely available.
JSTOR declined to press charges against Swartz, but the U.S. Department of Justice, with MIT's partial cooperation, indicted Swartz in July 2011 on four counts of wire fraud and computer hacking.
According to the New York Times' estimate, Swartz faced up to 35 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines.
"Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy," a statement by Swartz's family said Saturday (Jan. 12). "It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's office and at MIT contributed to his death."
As of 9:30 a.m. EST today, the MIT website was back up, as was the main Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov. An alternate Department of Justice site, www.doj.gov, was unreachable.