Responding to last week's suicide of computer programmer and Internet activist Aaron Swartz, a group of hackers attempted to honor the 26-year-old computer programmer who co-founded popular social news website Reddit.
After battling depression for most of his life, Swartz committed suicide on Friday in New York City. His associates, friends, and family are blaming his death on the federal government and Massachusetts Institute of Technology for pursuing charges against him for allegedly hacking MIT computers in 2011 to gain access to the subscription-only database JSTOR that houses millions of scholarly papers for scientific and literary journals.
To honor the computer legend, the activist group Anonymous appears to have infiltrated an MIT website this past weekend. Anonymous put up a hacked post entitled "In Memoriam, Aaron Swartz, November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013, Requiescat in pace," which appeared on an official page on MIT's website this weekend.
The message from the hackers said: "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 . . . "
The note goes on to blame the injustice of U.S. computer crime laws for his depression, "particularly their punishment regimes, and the highly-questionable justice of pre-trial bargaining."
"Aaron's act was undoubtedly political activism; it had tragic consequences . . . Aaron, we will sorely miss your friendship, and your help in building a better world. May you read in peace," the hackers added.
They also demanded changes to computer crime laws, copyright, and intellectual property law, as well as "a renewed and unwavering commitment to a free and unfettered Internet."
The page has since been taken down by MIT, which was also inaccessible at times over the weekend, likely as a direct result to the hack, according to the New York Times.
Aside from co-founding Reddit.com, which is currently owned by Condé Nast Digital, Swartz helped develop the RSS standard, a tool that allows online content to be distributed.
In addition to his programming and online accomplishment, Swartz was a leading voice in the free culture movement that believes the Internet should allow for easy and open access to the world’s knowledge, without restrictions.
On Saturday, a White House petition was launched to remove U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz from his post, citing his supervision of the prosecution of Swartz's case which the petition defines as "overreach." As of 11 a.m. Monday, the petition had received nearly 12,000 signatures.
At the time of his death, Swartz, who police say hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment, was facing a 13-count felony indictment that could have led to millions of dollars in fines and up to 35 years in prison. According to the Internet activist's friends and family, Swartz was haunted over the past two years by the impending punishments, which prosecutors felt they would not have difficulty proving.
The Swartz family released the following statement over the weekend.
"Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy. 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."
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