Anonymous Retaliates: Activism or Vandalism?

Editorial By Vagabond 'Tony' Carter

Users of the Anonymous meme are at it again it seems, targeting the U.S. Sentencing Commission website in a show of support and outrage over the trial and subsequent suicide of computer scientist and hacktivist Aaron Swartz.

Commission Website1


The defacement claims that with Aaron’s death “a line was crossed.”,  and that they’ve infiltrated several government computer systems and copied secret information that they now threaten to make public. The Department of Justice has yet, as of this writing, to issue a statement (as of this moment the site appears also to be down).

This leads me to wonder a few things, much of which is the same thing that runs through my mind every time someone puts on a virtual anonymous mask and commits a crime of this nature, and yes, this was a criminal act.

Do you honestly think this somehow helps?

While I agree that Aaron’s being charged as a criminal for a violation of a company’s Terms of Service was a travesty of justice and that his death was and is an absolute tragedy. How does actually breaking the law in any way help the cause of an innocent man, whose trial was never completed and who may have even been acquitted had he lived?

As I’ve said many times before: I agree with the sentiment, but not the method. Acts like this do nothing to aide the cause and only drag the names of the true victims, in this case Aaron Swartz, in the mud. A line was crossed alright – by the Anonymous meme user or users responsible for this act of vandalism.

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  1. Thank you for the article, but I wonder why you characterize Swartz as “a black hat hacktivist” in the lede?

  2. Fair question, Magda. Aaron was, without a question, very active in the online community in terms of cyber rights and (legal) civil protests. The use of the phrase “black hat hacktivist” was an editors choice (IE, not my original phrasing) and referred simply to that fact. It is not intended to carry the same meaning as “criminal”. A “black hat” need not be criminal to carry the moniker. Apologies to my readers for any confusion there.

  3. “Black Hat” refers to the means by which hacktivists access, retrieve and distribute information. In this case, it was pointed out that Aaron Swartz did not hack into the JSTOR facility, but in fact had his own account, and did no hacking at all to download the database he copied. They freely gave him that access. We have removed the phrase “black hat” from the description of Mr. Swartz in the opening paragraph. – Ed.

What do you think?