Anonymous, or someone with that name, is reported to have downed the website of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
MIT runs the network via which, back in 2011, controversial internet activist Aaron Swartz allegedly acquired a whole bucketload of download-protected academic articles in contravention of his entitlement, with the aim of republishing them without restriction.
Swartz apparently went to the lengths of hiding a laptop in a wiring closet in a secure area, along with a bunch of removable hard drives for the data, and cut loose a pair of Python scripts called keepgrabbing.py and keepgrabbing2.py.
The scripts allegedly leeched 4.8 million articles from the JSTOR academic archive, including 1.7 million articles that weren’t free.
Swartz was caught.
He is said to have settled a civil matter with MIT, and that would probably have been the end of it had Swartz not also ended up charged by the authorities with a laundry list of criminal offences.
Sadly, Swartz killed himself last Friday.
It seems that his depression pre-dated the MIT event and his criminal charges, but there can be no doubt that the maximum sentence he faced – widely reported as including up to 35 years in prison – must have been a heavy burden to bear.
Quite whether Swartz would have been sentenced to, or served, 35 years, is a tragically moot point now. The Wall Street Journal suggests that the public prosecutors wouldn’t consider a plea bargain without some prison time, but we have no idea what length the prosecutors might have thought fitting.
→ At the risk of conflating two dissimilar cases, Gary McKinnon, the infamous UK hacker who successfully fought a ten-year battle against extradition to the USA on hacking charges was reported throughout his decade-long legal campaign to be facing 60 years in prison, but in 2003 was offered a plea bargain for a sentence around 5% of that length.
Some reports, both on Twitter and beyond, claim that the US Department of Justice (DoJ) website was knocked over by Anonymous, too.
Both sites seem to be fine now.
Neither site seems worthy of a generic broadside, however.
The DoJ website, for example, isn’t just about hounding alleged crooks and trumpeting the convictions of guilty ones. It also includes resources for the victims of crime, for getting copies of your own criminal record, and much more.
Likewise, the MIT network offers free online courseware from 2150 courses, itself providing just the sort of open availability of academic material that Aaron Swartz considered so important.
So one wonders just how much sympathy Anonymous deserves, or will get, for deliberately spoiling things for other people.
All to prove a point that others have made publicly, openly and much more visibly simply by professing their opinions about the tragic case of Aaron Swartz.