Hactivist group Anonymous has claimed responsibility for an attack that took the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MITs) website offline for several hours on Sunday.
The attack follows the suicide of Aaron Swartz, a 26-year-old Internet freedoms campaigner who committed suicide on Friday. Swartz was facing 35 years in prison for having downloaded four million academic papers from the JSTOR online journal archive from MIT computers.
According to a news report by MIT’s online newspaper The Tech, two of the university’s subdomains carried a message from Anonymous, which was also posted on Pastebin.
"Whether or not the government contributed to his suicide, the government’s prosecution of Swartz was a grotesque miscarriage of justice, a distorted and perverse shadow of the justice that Aaron died fighting for — freeing the publicly-funded scientific literature from a publishing system that makes it inaccessible to most of those who paid for it — enabling the collective betterment of the world through the facilitation of sharing — an ideal that we should all support," the message read.
Some observers have been critical of MIT’s role in the case, arguing that it should have done more to fight Swartz’s prosecution. However, the Anonymous message said "we do not consign blame or responsibility upon MIT for what has happened".
The attacks came hours after MIT president L. Rafael Reif posted a message on mit.edu pledging an investigation into the institution’s role during the two years leading up to Swartz’s suicide.
On Friday, Swartz’s family released a statement saying decisions made by US government officials contributed toward his death.
"Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy," the statement read. "It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach."
Swartz was a technological prodigy, having co-authored the first specification of the RSS syndication standard at age 14. He later turned his attention to matters of Internet freedom and information rights, and played a significant role in the successful campaign against the US anti-copyright bill, SOPA.