Don’t get me wrong — I don’t advocate black-hat actions pretty much ever, even simple defacement. But the government’s pursuit of Aaron Swartz is one of those undeniably disproportionate responses to an internet activist for the crime of downloading too many PDFs at the same time. WITH AUTHORIZATION, no less.
What happened here, Anonymous hacking the USSC website to express their outrage at that travesty of justice — I’m fairly sympathetic to that cause. While it had already raised a public outcry, it certainly didn’t get enough of an outcry for the severity of the injustice perpetrated.
The Anonymous video, with text-to-speech of the USSC hack:
The most fascinating part of this is the “warhead” they included in the hack — links to an AES256 encrypted set of files with the names of the Chief Justices of the US as the filename. The files are intended to be spliced together — and Anonymous gave the command to do it, but also included “delete everything on your hard drive” at the end of the command in case you’re one of those types to blindly copy/paste commands into your command line.
The “warhead” will be “set off” by Anonymous releasing the decryption key for the encrypted file. Speculation abounds at what is in them, but Anonymous’ hack says:
The contents are various and we won’t ruin the speculation by revealing them. Suffice it to say, everyone has secrets, and some things are not meant to be public. At a regular interval commencing today, we will choose one media outlet and supply them with heavily redacted partial contents of the file. Any media outlets wishing to be eligible for this program must include within their reporting a means of secure communications.
Of course they won’t want to ruin speculation. That’s how things like this go viral.
In case you weren’t aware, Swartz’s story from that earlier Rolling Stone link:
On January 6th, 2011, MIT and Cambridge police, with the help of special agent Prickett, arrested Swartz on charges of breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony. As blogger Marcy Wheeler suggests, the early involvement of the Secret Service “makes it clear that this was a nationally directed effort to take down Swartz.”
JSTOR chose not to pursue charges against Aaron Swartz – who not only returned all downloaded content, but also ensured it “was not and would not be used, copied, transferred or distributed.” That didn’t stop MIT and the feds from indicting Swartz on 13 felony charges and insisting on prison time.
Ortiz and Heymann charged Swartz under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a 29-year-old law, notorious in the legal world for being broadly interpretable. They argued that Swartz accessed MIT and JSTOR computers without “authorization,” despite MIT’s extraordinarily open network policy and Swartz’s legal access to JSTOR content.
Despite admitting that Swartz wasn’t financially motivated by his act – and even after learning that the 26-year-old had battled depression – Ortiz and Heymann refused to offer a deal that didn’t include at least six months of prison time and a guilty plea on all 13 charges. If Swartz chose not to label himself a felon for life, he’d risk the possibility of many years in the slammer.
Bear in mind that Swartz was one of the biggest and most key figures in encouraging big websites to protest the SOPA/PIPA power grabs.