Monday, January 14, 2013

RIP Aaron Swartz: Anonymous hacks MIT's website

Anonymous isn't being quiescent this year, despite what McAfee said earlier. After the death of Aaron Swartz, first reported on Saturday, Jan. 12, a day later the loosely knit hacker group defaced MIT's Web site.

The reason for that action, for those unaware, is that the 26-year-old Swartz was in a legal battle involving MIT. Swartz was arrested in July of 2011 and accused of stealing four million documents from MIT and JSTOR, which is an archive of scientific journals and academic papers. He pleaded not guilty on Sept. 24, 2012, and faced $4 million in fines and 30 to 50 years in prison if convicted.

Swartz was a champion of free and open access to online documents. Anonymous targeted at least two MIT Web sites. The message posted on the websites (shown above) was a call to support Swartz's mission in memory of him. In part, the message said that Swartz was dedicated to "free ... publicly funded scientific literature from a publishing system that makes it inaccessible to most."

Anonymous' suggestions under a section labeled "Our wishes" were:
  • We call for this tragedy to be a basis for reform of computer crime laws, and the overzealous prosecutors who use them.
  • We call for this tragedy to be a basis for reform of copyright and intellectual property law, returning it to the proper principles of common good to the many, rather than private gain to the few.
  • We call for this tragedy to be a basis for greater recognition of the oppression and injustices heaped daily by certain persons and institutions of authority upon anyone who dares to stand up and be counted for their beliefs, and for greater solidarity and mutual aid in response.
  • We call for this tragedy to be a basis for a renewed and unwavering commitment to a free and unfettered internet, spared from censorship with equality of access and franchise for all.
MIT had already responded to Swartz death before Anonymous' hack, but it seems that the hacking group did not feel MIT's announcement was a sufficient action. MIT had announced an internal investigation, examining the university’s role in Swartz case, which first began in 2010.

MIT president L. Rafael Rief said:
I have asked Professor Hal Abelson to lead a thorough analysis of MIT’s involvement from the time that we first perceived unusual activity on our network in fall 2010 up to the present. I have asked that this analysis describe the options MIT had and the decisions MIT made, in order to understand and to learn from the actions MIT took. I will share the report with the MIT community when I receive it.
While JSTOR eventually dropped its charges against Swartz after he handed over his hard drives, the U.S. attorney’s office continued prosecuting the activist. MIT is considered to have tacitly supported the continuing prosecution.

Meanwhile, in an interesting twist, ThinkProgress issued a report on Monday detailing a ten far more heinous crimes that would result in less jail time than Swartz was threatened with. They included Helping al-Qaeda develop a nuclear weapon, selling slaves, selling child porn, and threatening the President, among others.

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