Just hours after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology pledged an investigation into its role in events leading up to the suicide of Aaron Swartz, online hacktivist group Anonymous defaced the school's Web site.
Swartz, who championed open access to documents on the Internet, committed suicide on Friday. The 26-year-old was arrested in July 2011 and accused of stealing 4 million documents from MIT and Jstor, an archive of scientific journals and academic papers. He faced $4 million in fines and more than 50 years in prison if convicted.
After MIT President L. Rafael Reif issued a statement this afternoon promising a "thorough analysis of MIT's involvement from the time that we first perceived unusual activity on our network in fall 2010 up to the present," Anonymous targeted at least two MIT Web sites. Lacking the loose-knit group's usual feisty language, the message posted on the Web site was a call for reform in the memory of the late Internet activist.
After calling the prosecution of Swartz "a grotesque miscarriage of justice" and "a distorted and perverse shadow of the justice that Aaron died fighting for," Anonymous outlined its list of goals under a section labeled "Our wishes:"
- 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.
CNET has contacted MIT for comment on the apparent hacking and will update this report when we learn more.
Critics of the prosecutors in the case say the feds were unfairly trying to make an example out of Swartz. "Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy," Swartz's family said in a statement released yesterday. "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."
CNET has also contacted the U.S. Attorney's office and will update this report when we hear back.