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Lithium batteries are notoriously tricky things, as any laptop or consumer electronics manufacturer will tell you. But when you’re 30,000 feet up and in an aircraft packed with the things, a fire is a major problem, particularly if the ruptured batteries are leaking corrosive and conductive fluid over electrical systems.If on-board suppression systems can’t handle an in-flight fire, the only solution is to ditch the plane fast and get everybody off, and the 787 is designed for long flights over oceans. To date, no large commercial airliner has even landed intact on open ocean (despite what the pretty picture in the kiss-your-arse-goodbye folder shows) and no-one wants to be the next to try.Engineers are now going over the fleet to try and identify the problem. United is the only US airline using the 787 and its aircraft are confirmed down while checks are carried out, as are most of the others that have been delivered. Hactivist collective Anonymous briefly took over some of MIT’s websites earlier this morning to protest against the role computer crime laws may have played in the death of Aaron Swartz.

Reddit co-founder and internet activist Swartz was found hanged in his apartment in New York on Friday, having taken his own life at the age of 26. He was under indictment for computer and wire fraud, facing fines and over 30 years jail time, and some are now blaming strict computer laws and the US justice system for his suicide.Anonymous hackers posted their message in red on a black background, claiming that Swartz’s prosecution was unjust and his actions were political activism, not criminal activities.“Whether or not the government contributed to his suicide, the government’s prosecution of Swartz was a grotesque miscarriage of justice, a distorted and perverse shadow of the justice that Aaron died fighting for,“ the message read.“The situation Aaron found himself in highlights the injustice of US computer crime laws, particularly their punishment regimes and the highly-questionable justice of pre-trial bargaining. Aaron’s act was undoubtedly political activism, it had tragic consequences.“Swartz was arrested two years ago after allegedly using a laptop stashed at MIT to access JSTOR, an archive of academic journals, with a custom Python script and downloading 4.8 million articles. JSTOR charges for the documents, meaning the value of the articles amounted to millions of dollars.

JSTOR wasn’t interested in pressing charges, but the government proceeded with the indictment. Swartz’s lawyer, Elliot Peters, was attempting to negotiate a plea bargain with prosecutors, but they remained insistent that he would have to spend time in prison.Downloading the articles was part of Swartz’s campaign for free information online; he had pulled a similar stunt in 2008, when he snatched a fifth of the US court documents stored online and made them freely available to anyone.Although Swartz was suffering from depression, his family has attributed some of the blame for his death to his experiences of the criminal justice system. The Swartz family said in a statement that the US justice system is „rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach“.MIT has said that it will investigate how it handled the network breach and its role in Swartz’s prosecution. The Anonymous hackers were careful to say that they didn’t blame MIT, even apologising for hijacking the university’s websites.Anonymous called on the government to see the tragedy as a basis to reform computer crime and intellectual property laws and commit to a „free and unfettered internet“. Comment Aaron Swartz’s death has sent shockwaves through the internet community, but among the mourning and tributes there’s a growing undercurrent of anger that an enormously gifted young man may have been hounded to his death.

Swartz, who helped write the RSS standard at the age of 14 and co-founded Creative Commons, the Reddit online community and set up the Demand Progress group that did so much to stop SOPA/PIPA, was found hanging in his New York apartment by a friend on Friday. He was 26 and had been suffering from depression.“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy,“ his family said in a statement. „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.“Swartz was under indictment for claimed crimes that could have got him half a century behind bars and at least a million dollars in fines. He was being aggressively pursued by the US Department of Justice and was paying lawyer’s fees even before the case was due to come to court in April.Swartz was charged after he allegedly set up a custom Python script to download 4.8 million articles from JSTOR, an online archive of more than 1,000 academic journals via an MIT account. When his MAC address was blocked for slowing down the system he spoofed a new one and carried on downloading with a laptop stashed in a wiring closet, his indictment claims.

At the prices JSTOR was charging for the research papers, technically Swartz stole millions of dollars-worth of goods, although had he downloaded each one individually no laws would have been broken. JSTOR itself declined to press charges, indeed it opened its archives up for free on Wednesday in an unrelated move.“The case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge,“ said the academic publisher in a statement on Saturday. „Aaron returned the data he had in his possession and JSTOR settled any civil claims we might have had against him in June 2011.“But MIT and the US government weren’t so forgiving. Swartz was initially charged with five cases of computer and wire fraud, but US federal attorneys Carmen Ortiz and Steve Heymann increased the number of charges to 13. With bail set at $100,000 and a court sentence due, the pressure on Swartz must have been intense.

Swartz wasn’t exactly on the federal government Christmas card list anyway. The FBI investigated him in 2008 after he downloaded 20 per cent of the PACER US court document database and made it available online. No charges were pressed, but the case did him no favors in the eyes of the law and times are tough for those the government has deemed a „hacking threat.“Ever since WikiLeaks‘ release of State Department cables the government has been less tolerant of technology community shenanigans. Last year’s Black Hat was full of stories of researchers getting hassled on their way to the show. International travellers with online „form“ found attending the show hard: one guest shipped a laptop to the show because every time he flies he’s pulled over for questioning and his computer is taken away for examination. Since he can’t tell what’s been put on there by investigators the laptop is essentially useless until a full system wipe can be done, and even that’s not 100 per cent certain to get rid of spyware.

One theory regarding Swartz suggests that authorities racked up the charges against him as a bargaining tactic, but also with the intention of converting him to become a mole for the authorities. As we saw in the case of Anon-turned-mole Sabu this can be highly effective.Swartz isn’t known to have participated in Anonymous-style activity. He did believe passionately in the need for open information. When he scraped the JSTOR system he wasn’t looking for make a fast buck or damaging systems or denying access. JSTOR contained academic papers, for goodness‘ sake, hardly an area with a thriving black market. If he hadn’t handed the papers back they would simply have appeared online for free, as the PACER documents did.Swartz wowed the online world with his perspicacity as a teenager, co-authoring the RSS 1.0 standard at an age when most teenagers are still trying to shave and was part of a group that helped set up the Creative Commons licensing scheme. His role in setting up Reddit was all about opening information up in an egalitarian way and his active campaigning against the idiocies of SOPA/PIPA sprang from the same intellectual source.

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