A citizens' petition at Whitehouse.gov launched Saturday demanding the removal of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz over the prosecution of Aaron Swartz is gaining steam, with more than 26,000 signatures -- exceeding the 25,000 threshold needed to generate an official response from the White House under the Obama administration's stated terms.
The U.S. attorney's office in Boston declined yesterday to discuss the growing controversy over its prosecution of Swartz, the Internet freedom advocate and Reddit.com founder who was accused of hacking into MIT computers to steal millions of academic papers from an online archive. Swartz was found dead Friday of an apparent suicide.
A related petition on the White House site calling for the removal of the lead prosecutor, assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Heymann, had garnered 1,400 votes as of last night, while a petition asking for a posthumous "pardon" for Swartz had more than 3,000. Swartz was never tried or convicted, and the charges were dismissed yesterday due to his death.
The petition to fire Ortiz was created by a person identified only as "Larry P." of Eugene, Ore. The others cite authors with different names in Alaska and California.
The hacker collective that calls itself "Anonymous" posted behind a link to a White House petition to fire Ortiz, calling the prosecution a "gross miscarriage of justice," when they hacked the MIT website Sunday.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology spokeswoman Kimbery Allen said MIT's website was hit with a denial of service attack Sunday evening. She said other sites at the school were also hacked.
"We can't say who did it," Allen said. "Though we have no reason to believe those taking credit are mistaken."
In response to Swartz's death, MIT has appointed computer science professor Hal Abelson to lead an investigation into what role the university may have played, president L. Rafael Reif said in a statement that called Swartz "a gifted young man well known and admired by many in the MIT community."
"Now is a time for everyone involved to reflect on their actions, and that includes all of us at MIT," Reif said in the statement.
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