MIT has released its internal report on its role in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz. In January 2013, Swartz, 26, a well-known Internet freedom activist, prodigy programmer, and entrepreneur, committed suicide while facing 13 felony counts related to his downloading of over 4 million articles from the scholarly database JSTOR using MIT’s network.
He had been the target of a two-year investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The case has become an international cause celebre in the world of Internet freedom and open culture activism. While JSTOR came out publicly against his prosecution, MIT did not. Instead, the review, led by MIT computer science professor Hal Abelson, finds that while maintaining a publicly “neutral” stance, MIT aided the investigation against Swartz by providing some documents to the Secret Service without subpoena.
The review castigates MIT’s role in the case in mild terms: “MIT is respected for world-class work in information technology, for promoting open access to online information, and for dealing wisely with the risks of computer abuse. The world looks to MIT to be at the forefront of these areas. … [B]y responding as it did, MIT missed an opportunity to demonstrate the leadership that we pride ourselves on.”
Reactions online were much harsher. Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Swartz’s girlfriend, called the report a “whitewash,” and said MIT had a “moral imperative” to oppose Swartz’s prosecution.
MIT report on A. Swartz is out. Still no info on why the SECRET SERVICE was involved in case over "heinous" crime re: downloading articles!
— Gabriella Coleman (@BiellaColeman) July 30, 2013
— Charlie Furman (@DigitalCharlie) July 30, 2013
Quinn Norton, a journalist who has covered Anonymous extensively, was a target of the investigation as she used to date Swartz:
You know @MIT, this just makes it look like you drove the whole insane prosecution, tried to destroy Aaron and are trying to cover it up.
— Quinn's internet ???? (@quinnnorton) July 18, 2013
[Image by Flickr user ragesoss]