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Hackers Take Over US Government Website to Avenge Swartz Suicide

January 27th 2013

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International computer hacking group Anonymous is threatening to release secret U.S. government information after hijacking the website of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent agency of the nation's judicial branch. The group says it took over the website to avenge the death of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide two weeks ago. Hackers took control of the commission's site early Saturday, replacing it with a message warning that "a line was crossed" with Swartz's death. The 26-year-old computer prodigy, who helped create RSS feeds and the social news site Reddit, had been set to go on trial later this year on federal charges that he stole millions of scholarly articles from the online archive and journal distribution service JSTOR. He had downloaded the articles to make them free to the public online and could have served 35 years in prison.

Swartz's family said in a statement that his death is the "product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach." JSTOR did not press charges against Swartz once it reclaimed the articles from him. But U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz reportedly would not drop the case. She is quoted as saying "stealing is stealing, whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars."

Family and friends of Swartz, who helped create Reddit and RSS, say he killed himself after he was hounded by federal prosecutors. Officials say he helped post millions of court documents for free online and that he illegally downloaded millions of academic articles from an online clearinghouse. The FBI's Richard McFeely, executive assistant director of the Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch, said in a statement that "we were aware as soon as it happened and are handling it as a criminal investigation. We are always concerned when someone illegally accesses another person's or government agency's network."

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