MIT “Whitewash” Report to Absolve Responsibility in Swartz Death
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) conducted their own investigation into how Aaron Swartz was treated by the college prior to his “suicide”. MIT reported that they acted “prudently” in how they handled their involvement in the federal government’s prosecution of Swartz.
Swartz was accused of using MIT computers to download nearly 5 million articles from a website database of journals at JSTOR. By using academic access, Swartz allegedly entered into an unlocked closet in the basement to plug into the school’s internet connection.
The internal investigation was initiated by Rafael Reif, president of MIT, who passed the buck to Hal Abelson, professor of computer science.
Reif stated that this report would set “the record straight by dispelling widely circulated myths” regarding how Swartz was targeted by MIT who then acted as if they were neutral in their position as the federal government sought to persecute Swartz.
Abelson’s report cites that MIT was not in pursuit of federal prosecution of Swartz, nor did the college oppose his entering a plea bargain for charges against him.
Abelson stated: “We were not engaged. As a result, we as a community failed to live up to high standards that MIT has set for itself in the past.”
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The report said that MIT failed to recognize Swartz as a contributor to internet technology; and then created a “poorly drafted and questionable criminal law as applied to modern computing” under which he was charged, and that “the United States was pursuing an overtly aggressive prosecution.”
The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and MIT’s involvement should become a national debate, according to the report.
It was also stated that MIT “should consider beefing up its internal legal expertise on cybercrime matters and expressed concern that minor violations of the terms of service for its computer network could result in felony charges and create a chilling effect on important research.”
Nowhere in the report was Swartz praised or given support by MIT. A sense of feigned neutrality was clear throughout the document.
The release of this report made a determined attempt to give the impression that it was the government and not MIT who wanted Swartz to receive a jail sentence.
In 2011, MIT officials uncovered what is believed to be Swartz’s laptop connected to their network and contacted the New England Crimes Task Force (NECTF).
A member of the US Secret Service was present when Swartz was arrested on the MIT campus.
Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Swartz’s girlfriend, said the report was a “whitewash” and that MIT’s behavior throughout the investigation was “reprehensible”.
Stinebrickner-Kauffman stated: “Here are the facts: This report claims that MIT was “neutral” — but MIT’s lawyers gave prosecutors total access to witnesses and evidence, while refusing access to Aaron’s lawyers to the exact same witnesses and evidence. That’s not neutral. The fact is that all MIT had to do was say publicly, “We don’t want this prosecution to go forward” – and Steve Heymann and Carmen Ortiz would have had no case. We have an institution to contrast MIT with – JSTOR, who came out immediately and publicly against the prosecution. Aaron would be alive today if MIT had acted as JSTOR did. MIT had a moral imperative to do so.”
Swartz was known for advocating for the free-flow of information without the constraints of copyright laws.
In the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto (GOAM), Swartz said “information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations.”
Swartz pointed out that scientists have to “sign their rights away” when publishing under academic channels; however with the advent of the Open Access Movement (OAM), “those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.”