In an effort to eulogize Aaron Swartz, the 26-year-old genius computer programmer who took his own life, Anonymous successfully hacked into MIT’s website last week and posted a page commemorating Swartz.
Swartz worked at the forefront of internet technology, pioneering programs such as RSS feeds at the age of 14, contributing to the development of Reddit, and co-founding Demand Progress, a group that helped combat the internet piracy bills SOPA and PIPA. Swartz was an outspoken advocate of free information, but ran into trouble in 2011 after improperly accessing and downloading 4.8 million documents from JSTOR, a subscription service that archives academic articles and journals.
Though Swartz had returned the articles and settled with JSTOR before intense litigation, the U.S. Attorney’s office decided to pursue the charges against Swartz, which would have amounted to $4 million in fines and more than 50 years in prison if Swartz would have lost, according to NBC news.
Though the Defense Department dropped the charges after Swartz’ suicide, Anonymous has fervently supported changes to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act they call “Aaron’s Law,” in pursuit of the freedom of access to information.
On the hacked MIT site Sunday, Anonymous wrote, “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 — freeing the publicly-funded scientific literature from a publishing system that makes it inaccessible to most of those who paid for it — enabling the collective betterment of the world through the facilitation of sharing — an ideal that we should all support.”
Anonymous also wrote in a press release last week that Anonymous members are planning to protest live on Jan. 25 in Boston and Washington, D.C. The protests, in line with the statement on MIT’s website, are to combat the “unfair” persecution and punishment of hackers.
"It is our conclusion that dubious laws such as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act serve only to provide prosecutors with the means to selectively target and unfairly punish online activists,” Anonymous wrote in the press release.