Early Saturday, the hacktivist group 'Anonymous' had apparently hijacked the U.S. Justice Department's Sentencing Commission Web site to protest the recent suicide of 26 year-old Web activist and Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz. The hactivist group is calling their attack "Operation Last Report" and is urging the government to reform its justice system.
Swartz, who committed suicide, was due to appear in federal court in April and face several charges ranging from wire fraud to computer fraud for illegal downloading.
House lawmakers are also investigating whether the prosecutors need to be held accountable for their actions. One member from the House Judiciary Committee, Jared Polis said, "The charges were ridiculous and trumped-up. Prosecutors shouldn't have the kind of discretion to seek absurd penalties for minor crimes."
US prosecutors Carmen Ortiz and Stephen Heymann were relentlessly going after Swartz, rejecting a plea bargain and even escalating the existing charges. The felony count went from four counts to thirteen with five counts of computer fraud, five counts of unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer, one count of reckless damaging of a protected computer and two counts of wire fraud. The prosecutors were determined to convict him and their critics claimed the severe punishment did not fit the crime.
The U.S. Government alleges that Swartz illegally downloaded millions of scholarly and documents and literary journals from the subscription-based website, JSTOR. Swartz was also accused of abusing guest access rights at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), by using their computers to download an enormous number of documents from JSTOR. Prosecutors decided to proceed with the case, although JSTOR declined to press charges against the Harvard University research fellow.
The pressure that Swartz faced as he drained his bank account to pay for lawyers became unbearable. His family and girlfriend said he was battling depression during the entire ordeal. Ortiz's husband, IBM Executive Tom Dolan, defended his wife's actions under his Twitter account saying, "Truly incredible in their own son's obit they blame others for his death."
Swartz would have faced 35 years in prison and a $1 million or more in fines, if he had been convicted. The family released a statement after his death saying, "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 US Attorney's office and at MIT contributed to his death."