[A2k] MIT did not target Aaron Swartz before federal prosecution, review finds
Riaz K Tayob
riaz.tayob at gmail.com
Tue Jul 30 23:53:42 PDT 2013
[And pigs will fly...]
MIT did not target Aaron Swartz before federal prosecution, review finds
School did not request federal punishment of Swartz for alleged hacking
offences but did not intervene in court proceedings
Amanda Holpuch <http://www.theguardian.com/profile/amanda-holpuch>
in New York
* theguardian.com <http://www.theguardian.com/>, Tuesday 30 July 2013
* Jump to comments (46)
MIT president L Rafael Reif said: 'I am confident that MIT's decisions
were reasonable, appropriate and made in good faith.' Photograph: Chris
Stewart/San Francisco Chronicle/Corbis
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has released a long-awaited
review of its involvement in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz
<http://www.theguardian.com/technology/aaron-swartz>, who was facing
charges for hacking <http://www.theguardian.com/technology/hacking> into
the university's computers when he killed himself
The 182-page report
that school officials did not request federal prosecution of Swartz, and
that MIT was not consulted about the charges or punishment, but it also
questions the school's decision not to intervene in court proceedings.
Swartz had been federally indicted on 13 felony charges at the time of
his death and was facing up to $1m in fines and 35 years in jail for
downloading several million academic articles from the JSTOR database
through the MIT computer network. The aggressive prosecution was roundly
following his death.
"I am confident that MIT's decisions were reasonable, appropriate and
made in good faith," said MIT president L Rafael Reif in a statement
(pdf). He said the report also makes clear that the school did not
According to the report, MIT administrators did not know Swartz was the
person who had hacked into their networks until his arrest on 6 January
2011. The school also did not intend to "call in the feds" to take over
the investigation, saying the presence of a secret service agent at his
arrest was not their intention, "but a recognized possibility," when
they alerted authorities that its network was compromised.
The school said it did not request a criminal prosecution be brought
against Swartz and adopted a neutral position early in the prosecution.
Though they issued no public statements, "MIT did inform the prosecution
that it was not seeking punishment for Swartz, and it did inform the
defense that it was not seeking any civil remedy from him."
"MIT took the position that US v Swartz was simply a lawsuit to which it
was not a party, although it did inform the US attorney's office that
the prosecution should not be under the impression that MIT wanted jail
time for Aaron Swartz. MIT did not say it was actually opposed to jail
time," the report said.
According to the report, prior to his death, "the MIT community paid
scant attention" to Swartz's prosecution and few people expressed
concerns to the administration about the case. However, Swartz's father,
a consultant to the MIT lab and former student there, asked MIT to aid
efforts to have the charges dropped or to get a plea deal that would not
have jail time. Two faculty members advocated a similar appeal.
In choosing the position of neutrality, the report says the school did
not consider Swartz's contributions to internet
<http://www.theguardian.com/technology/internet> technology and was not
critical enough of the US government's "overtly aggressive prosecution."
MIT also did not account for Swartz's prosecution under the Computer
Fraud and Abuse Act
which the report called " a poorly drafted and questionable criminal
law." That law has been widely criticised
since Swartz's death.
"MIT's position may have been prudent, but it did not duly take into
account the wider background of information policy against which the
prosecution played out and in which MIT people have traditionally been
passionate leaders," it concludes.
Reif asked computer science professor Hal Abelson to lead a review the
school's involvement in his prosecution in January with assistance from
other members of the MIT staff. The group consulted 10,000 documents and
conducted interviews with 50 people to assess the school's involvement
in the case.
"Only Swartz knows why he committed suicide," the report said. "However,
for the final 24 months of his life, he was the subject of a vigorous
investigation and prosecution by the US Department of Justice, with an
indictment and then a superseding indictment that could have resulted in
years in prison."
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