Policy & Law
Agents of the formless hacktivist collective Anonymous have left a political message on at least two of MIT's websites in memory of recently-deceased information activist Aaron Swartz. In stark red-on-black formatting, the message calls Aaron's prosecution "a gross miscarriage of justice" that "highlights the injustice of U.S. computer crime laws, particularly their punishment regimes, and the highly-questionable justice of pre-trial bargaining." The authors go on to demand the reform of copyright and intellectual property laws, and "a renewed and unwavering commitment to a free and unfettered internet."
Aaron was arrested in January 2011 after he allegedly used a Python script running on a laptop hidden in a maintenance closet at MIT to rapidly download large quantities of publicly available academic papers from the JSTOR database. Despite JSTOR dropping its case and Aaron having access rights to the database, he was later indicted on federal charges under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Faced with up to 35 years of jail time and quickly-draining legal funds, Aaron committed suicide in his Brooklyn apartment on Friday, shortly after being denied further negotiation on his plea bargain by Assistant US Attorney Stephen Heymann.
A statement released by Aaron's family following the suicide blamed overzealous federal prosecutors and the MIT staff for being partially responsible for events leading to his death. MIT has since released its own statement, saying the school will be launching an internal investigation into its role in Aaron's prosecution and eventual death. In a postscript, Anonymous clarifies that it does not "consign blame or responsibility upon MIT for what has happened," and offers an apology for using MIT's websites to post its message.
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