[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 
<http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jul/30/mit-review-aaron-swartz-federal-prosecution>

School did not request federal punishment of Swartz for alleged hacking 
offences but did not intervene in court proceedings

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  *
    Amanda Holpuch <http://www.theguardian.com/profile/amanda-holpuch>
    in New York
  * theguardian.com <http://www.theguardian.com/>, Tuesday 30 July 2013
    19.47 BST
  * Jump to comments (46)
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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 
<http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jan/12/aaron-swartz-hacking-reddit-dies> 
in January.

The 182-page report 
<http://swartz-report.mit.edu/docs/report-to-the-president.pdf> finds 
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 
criticized 
<http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/jan/13/aaron-swartz-family-mit-government> 
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 
<http://swartz-report.mit.edu/docs/letter-from-president-reif.pdf> 
(pdf). He said the report also makes clear that the school did not 
"target" Swartz.

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 
<http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/mar/20/computer-fraud-abuse-act-law-technology>, 
which the report called " a poorly drafted and questionable criminal 
law." That law has been widely criticised 
<http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jan/24/hacking-us-government-cyber-crackdown> 
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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