Internet activist charged with hacking, theft of millions of digital documents

24-year-old Aaron Swartz, renowned programmer and Internet activist, stands accused of having stolen over 4 million digital documents from MIT’s JSTOR archive with the intent on distributing them freely online.

He has been charged with wire and computer fraud, unlawfully obtaining information from a protected computer and recklessly damaging it by the United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, and if convicted, could receive a prison sentence of up to 35 years and be ordered to pay a $1 million fine.

According to the indictment, he broke into a wiring closet in a basement at MIT in order to access the educational institution’s network from a computer switch located in that closet.

His target was JSTOR, the massive online archive of digitized scientific journals and academic papers, which he accessed via the MIT network and from which he allegedly proceeded to exfiltrate documents indiscriminately, “all with the purpose of distributing a significant proportion of JSTOR’s archive through one or more file-sharing sites”.

According to Wired, Swartz has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and has been released on bond. His next court date is September 9 for a status conference.

The case proceeds even though JSTOR has stated it would not press charges against Swartz.

“We secured from Mr. Swartz the content that was taken, and received confirmation that the content was not and would not be used, copied, transferred, or distributed,” it said in the statement made available online. “The criminal investigation and today’s indictment of Mr. Swartz has been directed by the United States Attorney’s Office.”

Even though Swartz hasn’t, de facto, hacked into MIT’s network but registered to the network legally – MIT offers campus guests a temporary account that allows them to access the network form 14 days – he is still accused of so-called felony hacking because he violated the two institutions’ terms of service.

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