Anonymous Hacks MIT on Anniversary of Aaron Swartz Suicide

Memory of innovator, activist spurs debates on cybercrime, NSA, Internet freedom.

Business partners Aaron Swartz and Simon Carstensen, right, have a working lunch outside in Cambridge, Friday, Aug. 31, 2007.
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Anonymous hacked the servers of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in protest a year after the suicide of innovator and digital rights activist Aaron Swartz, whose death spurred debates on Internet freedom, computer crime penalties and is now a rallying cry against mass surveillance.

Swartz, who committed suicide on Jan. 11, 2013, helped create the online syndication system RSS at 14, developed Infogami, which merged with online news site Reddit, and became a leading advocate for a free and open Internet. In January 2011 the U.S. Secret Service arrested Swartz for downloading more than 4 million copyrighted academic articles from Journal Storage, also known as JSTOR, which charges libraries for access to its journals. If found guilty of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Swartz faced decades in prison. The stress of that prosecution contributed to Swartz' suicide, according to his father Bob Swartz.

Anonymous hacked the website of MIT Saturday, advertising a mass Internet protest planned for Feb. 11, by a partnership of groups including digital rights advocates Demand Progress and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, along with Internet companies Reddit and Mozilla. The protest is meant to celebrate Swartz' Internet freedom advocacy and to call for an end to the collection of phone and Internet metadata by the National Security Agency.

[READ: Who Are the Syrian Electronic Army Hackers?]

Hacktivist group Anonymous also attacked the network of MIT a year ago shortly after Swartz' death, blaming the university for allowing the litigation that contributed to his suicide. The university published a report in July detailing its role in the prosecution, claiming it did not seek federal prosecution or jail time for Swartz. Bob Swartz spoke this month for an article in Boston Magazine accusing MIT of complicity with the prosecution because the university did not publicly oppose prison time for his son and aided the government in computer surveillance on Swartz.

[OPINION: Will Aaron Swartz’s Death Open up the Academy?]

Swartz' death galvanized criticism that computer crime penalties are too broad and harsh, and in June led to the introduction of bipartisan bills in Congress entitled "Aaron's Law" to reform the CFAA. The bipartisan bills, introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have not yet been voted out of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.

As an activist for open content on the Web, Swartz also helped develop Creative Commons, which enables people to license content for free, and he became a leading figure in the protest against Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) anti-piracy legislation that was defeated in Congress in 2012 following outcry from Internet users and technology companies including Google. The legislation would have targeted strict penalties at websites for being linked with copyright-infringing material, which critics including Google claimed would curtail free speech.

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