The tragic suicide of Reddit co-founder and political hell-raiser, Aaron Swartz, at the young age of only 26 has awakened the fury of Anonymous. The hacktivist collective placed the blame for his suicide squarely on the shoulders of the United States Government and their overzealous prosecution of computer crime. Anonymous and other organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, are highly critical of the manner in which the Federal government uses cyber-crime laws to control knowledge and silence critics. To express their outrage, Anonymous hacked the MIT website and replaced the homepage with a memorial to Aaron Swartz.
For years now, the federal government has been spending vast sums of money on prosecutions of young activists for hacking and software piracy. There was Operation Bandwidth in 2001 that cost millions of tax dollars and resulted in 21 individuals being charged with conspiracy to commit copyright infringement for pirating several million dollars worth of software. Seven years later, the case was finally closed with a press release on the DOJ website and not one day in jail for any of the defendants or one cent of promised restitution.
Aaron Swartz was awaiting prosecution for allegedly using MIT”s computer’s to hack Jstor, a subscription-only service for distributing important scientific and literary journals. Disturbed by the secrecy of government funded scientific research, Swartz threatened to release millions of pages of research to the public. Facing a trial in April of 2013 and the possibility of millions of dollars in fines and 35 years in prison, Swartz took his own life.
While others might claim that Aaron was also suffering from severe clinical depression and that was the reason for his suicide, Anonymous, the feared hacking group, is convinced the US government is to blame. Today, in memory of Aaron Swartz, they hacked the MIT website and posted their tribute to a fallen cyber-warrior.
Anonymous slammed the Federal Prosecutors Office for “a grotesque miscarriage of justice” and “a distorted and perverse shadow of the justice that Aaron died fighting for” and posted a list of demands:
“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.”
The debate over the right of the public to have free access to information has raged for centuries. The Roman Catholic Church censored knowledge by burning people at the stake or silencing them in fear as they did to Galileo. The United States Government is holding several hackers in prison right now, without bail, including LulzSec Member, Jeremy Hammond. Hackers are facing life in prison for releasing information that many feel is for the good of society.
Recently, Anonymous went from heel to hero when they hacked the hated Westboro Baptist Church after the religious fanatics from Kansas threatened to picket the funerals of the children killed in Newtown,Connecticut. After they exposed all the personal information of the leadership of the Westboro Church, the group was suddenly viewed as performing a public service.
America has a long tradition of heroes like Aaron Swartz, who sacrificed their own freedom, and sometimes their lives, to preserve our nation. Our government has not always conducted itself in an ethical and honorable fashion and it is up to each and every one of us to preserve our Republic or go down in the flames of tyranny.
Aaron was a brilliant young man who had so much more to give to the world. His death, by his own hand, at only 26 years old is a tragedy. How much better might our lives have been if Aaron had lived to fulfill his dreams and achieve all his goals? While we may contemplate the answers, we give the final word to his family and his life partner:
“Our beloved brother, son, friend, and partner Aaron Swartz hanged himself on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment. We are in shock, and have not yet come to terms with his passing.”
“Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable—these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.”
“Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the scope and accessibility of human knowledge. He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across generations and continents. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.”
“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. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.”
“Today, we grieve for the extraordinary and irreplaceable man that we have lost.”