Hack-collective Anonymous broke into MIT’s website over the weekend and subverted it into a tribute to open-access activist Aaron Swartz, the internet hero who committed suicide on Friday last week. Describing the $1m lawsuit Swartz faced for hacking into the JSTOR database as “a grotesque miscarriage of justice,” Anonymous also called for “reform of computer crime laws,” CNET reports, in addition to “a renewed and unwavering commitment to a free and unfettered internet.”
In a lengthy post, including a link to details on Swartz’s funeral on Tuesday this week and a copy of the “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto,” Anonymous describes Swartz as “A hero in the SOPA/PIPA campaign, Reddit cofounder, RSS, Demand Progress, Avaaz, etc.” and sets out a list of “wishes” for legal and ethical change moving forward. “The situation Aaron found himself in highlights the injustice of US computer crime laws,” the hackers wrote, “particularly their punishment regimes, and the highly-questionable justice of pre-trial bargaining.”
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.
However, contrary to some of Anonymous’ more aggressive take-overs, the hacking team included an apology to MIT for co-opting their site. In fact, despite complaints from some that MIT had let Swartz down by not vigorously defending him when the US government decided to prosecute over the JSTOR case, Anonymous claims not to blame the institution:
“We tender apologies to the administrators at MIT for this temporary use of their websites. We understand that it is a time of soul-searching for all those within this great institution as much — perhaps for some involved even more so — than it is for the greater internet community. We do not consign blame or responsibility upon MIT for what has happened, but call for all those feel heavy-hearted in their proximity to this awful loss to acknowledge instead the responsibility they have — that we all have — to build and safeguard a future that would make Aaron proud, and honour the ideals and dedication that burnt so brightly within him by embodying them in thought and word and action” Anonymous
Swartz had a history of butting heads with the law as he pushed for freedom of data. Back in 2008, he wrote a custom app to take advantage of free Pacer digital judicial library accounts to gather around 20m documents in a more easily-accessed place, while the similar hack which led to the JSTOR indictment saw him pull almost the entire database using a secretly-installed laptop.