The websites of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have been knocked out today and are currently down. The work is attributed to the loose collective of computer hackers known as Anonymous. At 7:23PM on the Twitter page of @AnonymousIRC, they noted “by the way. http://mit.edu/ down. #Anonymous #AaronSwartz”
DOJ.gov and MIT.edu are both either not loading or giving error messages.
The action was taken as a tribute to the suicide death of web inventor and Chicago native Aaron Swartz. He was a co-founder of the site Reddit.com and at the age of 14, co-developed the RSS web protocol that is the key component of much of the internet’s publishing infrastructure.
At the time of his death, Swartz was being prosecuted by the federal government for downloading articles from JSTOR, an online database of scholarly work. He allegedly used a simple code to use MIT’s network to download academic articles from the entire site and make them freely available. These articles are available for download to anyone for free on JSTOR. He was charged with abusing the system, collecting over 5 million articles with the intent to make them available on the internet in places other than the JSTOR site. Federal prosecutors charged him with a 13 felony counts indictment, while JSTOR was willing to forget about the whole thing, MIT was not.
Due to the pressure from his impending trial and possible imprisonment, Swartz hung himself. He was facing a possible sentence of up to 30 years in prison and a 1 million dollar fine. His body was found Friday in his New York City apartment.
In a less destructive form of tribute, hundreds of academics worldwide have begun tweeting links to their copyright-protected research in Swartz’s honor, using the hastag #pdftribute. Links from Twitter posts with the hastag are being collected at Pdftribute.net. The links appear to be to academic papers.
In a statement about his death, Aaron’s family and partner wrote in part:
"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 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…Today, we grieve for the extraordinary and irreplaceable man that we have lost.”