In the wake of the suicide of noted developer Aaron Swartz, who faced hacking charges many believed were excessive, hacking group Anonymous defaced a Massachusetts Institute of Technology website to denounce the charges against him and urge computer crime law reform and more support for open access initiatives.
The hacktivist group quoted Swartz's call for open access in the message left on MIT's website: "There is no justice in following unjust laws. It's time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture."
A spokeswoman for MIT confirmed that the university had been subjected to a denial of service attack on Sunday, but didn't immediately answer questions about how two of its servers -- rledev.mit.edu and cogen.mit.edu -- had been compromised.
[ Should DDoS attacks be protected under the First Amendment? Anonymous thinks so. Read more at Anonymous Says DDoS Attacks Like Free Speech. ]
Anonymous characterized its actions as a "little tribute" to Swartz.
Swartz, 26, was found dead on Friday in his Brooklyn, N.Y. apartment, having apparently hung himself. The co-creator of the RSS 1.0 specification, he also helped establish Reddit after his startup Infogami merged with the popular online discussion site. He was widely respected in the Internet community as an advocate for open access to information.
At the time of this death, Swartz faced the prospect of up to 35 years in jail. He was being tried following his 2011 arrest for "computer intrusion, fraud, and data theft" downloading and sharing academic journals from MIT and JSTOR, a non-profit academic archive.
JSTOR reportedly asked the U.S. government not to prosecute Swartz. MIT reportedly failed to do so. On Sunday, MIT president L. Rafael Reif sent an email offering condolences and asking for an internal investigation of Swartz's actions and of MIT's role and decisions following Swartz's activities on the university's network.
Swartz's online supporters have characterized the charges brought against Swartz as "complete garbage."
Swartz's family has responded similarly. "Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy," his family said in a statement. "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."
The Justice Department has reportedly withdrawn the charges against Swartz, a standard practice following the death of a defendant. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Massachusetts did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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