MIT Clears Itself in Suicide of Aaron Swartz

But internal report also finds faults with school's behavior

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 30, 2013 12:25 PM CDT

(Newser) – MIT has released its own internal report on the suicide of hacker activist Aaron Swartz, and the Verge highlights one anonymous quote it contains that seems to sum things up: "MIT didn't do anything wrong; but we didn't do ourselves proud." The report, by well-regarded computer science professor Hal Abelson, found that the school tried to maintain a neutral stance in the criminal case against Swartz, who had downloaded millions of scholarly articles from MIT's online archive, reports the New York Times. Critics say federal prosecutors went after Swartz too aggressively and were bent on locking him up for decades as an example, with MIT's help. But the school says the report shows it didn't "seek federal prosecution, punishment, or jail time" for Swartz.

The report, however, faults "the MIT community's apparent lack of attention to the ruinous collision of hacker ethics, open-source ideals, questionable laws, and aggressive prosecutions that was playing out in its midst." Basically, it says this wasn't just a simple case of a hacker caught red-handed; bigger principles were at play, and the school seemed ignorant of them. Swartz's girlfriend calls the report a "whitewash," adds the Atlantic Wire. "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." Swartz's father, Robert, has a similar take: "MIT claimed it was neutral, and it was not—and besides, should have advocated on Aaron's behalf."

A file photo of the late Aaron Swartz.   (AP Photo/ThoughtWorks, Pernille Ironside, File)
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We recognize the desire for a simple take-away. We can’t offer that. We have not found a silver bullet with which MIT could have simply prevented the tragedy. - MIT report

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